Here’s the trick to how to cook pan seared scallops and get that perfect brown crust! Follow these simple tips for a fast and easy dinner.

Pan seared scallops

Here’s how to make your favorite restaurant style scallops at home: easy Pan Seared Scallops! Scallops have a beautiful, mild sweet flavor that’s easy to love: and there’s nothing better than that perfect seared crispy outside. But let’s be straight about it. Scallops are easy to cook, but they’re tricky to get right. It takes a little know how to get that golden brown crust without under cooking or overcooking them. But once you know a few secrets…it’s very easy and takes only 5 minutes to cook. Here’s everything you need to know about pan seared scallops…done right.

The type of scallops to buy

Let’s start at the beginning. What type of scallops should you buy for this recipe? There are lots of options you’ll see at the store: here’s the scoop:

  • Sea scallops: Sea scallops are large and the variety to use when pan searing. Avoid bay scallops: they are very small and mainly used in stews.
  • Fresh vs frozen scallops: You can use either! Many frozen scallops are wet (see below), but our method has a secret step that allows you to use either.
  • Wet scallops vs dry scallops: Wet scallops are treated with water and sodium tripolyphosphate and then frozen, which can give them a soapy taste and bouncy texture (read more). Buy dry scallops if you can find them — but you also can freshen wet scallops using a trick! Keep reading.
  • Wild caught vs farmed: Fish that is wild caught in your country is usually a sustainable choice. There are also quality options in well-regulated farms; see Seafood Watch Consumer Guide.
Pan seared scallops

A secret to pan seared scallops: brine them!

OK, got your scallops? Great. Here’s a trick to making the best flavor for pan seared scallops. Brine them first! What does this mean? You’ll simply let them sit in a solution of salt water for 10 minutes before cooking. Why do you have to brine scallops?

  • This freshens up the flavor of wet scallops. If you buy wet scallops, it evens out the flavor and removes the chemical taste. You can also add a little lemon juice to really get the flavor to pop.
  • It helps season the inside of the scallop. If you just season before cooking, sometimes only the outside retains flavor.

How to thaw frozen scallops

Convinced on the brining step? Great. Just make sure that if you do buy frozen scallops, you thaw them completely before brining. Thinking ahead the day before is perfect, because they’ll be ready to go when you wake up. But if not, here’s a last minute trick to how to thaw scallops:

  • Day before (best option): Simply place the frozen scallops in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Day of (in a pinch): Keep the frozen scallops in the package or place them in a resealable plastic bag. Place the package or bag into a large bowl with cold water. The scallops should thaw in about 30 minutes.
Pan to use for seared scallops

What pan to use for seared scallops?

Last up: you’ve got to have the right equipment for seared scallops. Here’s what to know about the type of pan to use:

  • Do not use a non-stick pan for seared scallops! The non-stick surface does not allow the scallops to stick to the surface of the pan, creating that gorgeous crust through the Maillard reaction.
  • Use your largest stainless steel, copper, or cast iron skillet. You’ll want it to be as large as possible to be able to cook as many scallops as you can at once.

How to cook scallops: the master method

Now that you know the scallops to buy, the pan to use, and the secret brining step: let’s make pan seared scallops! Here’s what to know about how to cook scallops:

  • Pat the scallops dry! This is perhaps the most important step. If there’s any water on the scallops, they will steam instead of browning. This is a huge no-no!
  • Keep the scallops as far apart as possible in the pan. You may find you need to do 2 batches. If the scallops are touch, they also risk steaming instead of browning.
  • Cook for 2 to 3 minutes without touching them! Yes, just stand back and don’t do anything. Do not move the scallops around in the pan! Not moving the scallop allows the brown crust to form. This is called the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction that creates that beautifully browned flavor on seared proteins.
  • Flip and cook another 2 to 3 minutes without touching. Same deal, this forms the crust on the other side!

And voila! Perfectly seared scallops that are crispy golden brown on each side. See, it wasn’t that hard!

Pan seared scallops

Top with Lemon Herb Sauce, if desired

Want to add a sauce to these beautifully pan seared scallops? Great! The technique for this is to remove the scallops from the pan, make the sauce, and then add them back to the warmed sauce. There’s a separate recipe for that: it’s a very easy lemon herb sauce! To make it, go to Lemon Herb Sauce for Scallops.

More with scallops? Try our 12 Easy Scallop Recipes!

Make it a meal: what to serve with pan seared scallops!

Here’s the fun part: making a meal around these beautifully pan seared scallops! They’re healthy, light and have a Mediterranean-vibe. Here are a few side dishes to serve with scallops:

Sauce for scallops
Add this garlic herb sauce dresses up the scallops even more

This pan seared scallops recipe is…

Gluten-free and pescatarian. For dairy-free, omit the butter.

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Pan seared scallops

Pan Seared Scallops (Tips & Tricks!)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


Here are the tricks to how to cook pan seared scallops and get that perfect brown crust! Follow these simple tips for a fast and easy dinner.


  • 1 pound sea scallops, thawed if frozen
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • Lemon wedges, for serving


  1. Thaw the scallops, if frozen (see above).
  2. Brine the scallops: In a shallow dish, mix together 4 cups room temperature water and 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Place the scallops in the water and wait for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the scallops and dry thoroughly. Lightly season with a several pinches kosher salt.
  4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. If using a medium skillet, cook the scallops in two batches. Once the oil is hot, add the scallops and cook without turning for 2 to 3 minutes,  until an even brown crust clearly forms on bottom.
  5. Flip scallops with tongs. Cook additional 2 to 3 minutes on the other side, until a crust just forms on bottom and the center of the scallop is almost opaque.
  6. Turn off the heat and add the butter. When it melts, spoon the melted butter over the scallops and serve with a squeeze of lemon. Or, go to Lemon Herb Scallop Sauce to make a 2 minute pan sauce.
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Seared
  • Cuisine: French inspired
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Keywords: Pan seared scallops, seared scallops

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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    1. I made this dish with sea scallops that had been frozen and it was wonderful!!! I followed the advice and brined them for 10 minutes. The brining step is important (especially if you bought wet scallops). I read and re-read the “tips” portion of this blog and was really glad I did. After brining in kosher salt (also really important that you use kosher and not table salt), make sure to thoroughly blot the scallops with paper towels to remove the water. You are right that you want to be sure to remove water from the scallops, but blotting them well with the paper towels does the trick. I think you may not have read the full blog, which states: (Brining) “freshens up the flavor of wet scallops. If you buy wet scallops, it evens out the flavor and removes the chemical taste. You can also add a little lemon juice to really get the flavor to pop.
      It helps season the inside of the scallop. If you just season before cooking, sometimes only the outside retains flavor.
      Bon apetit!!!

  1. We find 2~3 minutes of cooking per side at high heat yields scallops too well-done for our tastes.
    We crust our scallops by using clarified butter or vegetable oil and heat pan until butter/oil starts to smoke. We then back off on the heat a tad, add room-temp. scallops and sear for 90 seconds per side.
    We will try brining scallops next time (if we’ve wet scallops). We already brine chicken, turkey and shrimp; we add a little sugar and dash of lemon juice when brining shrimp.

  2. Nice job on the scallop sauce. Seems so right. I have never really gotten my version to click. Do not know why. Tiny block I guess. Thinking you have addressed all my issues. And, not that typically present, the serving ideas are helpful. Part of my problem has been tangling with Jonathan Waxman’s famous scallop chablis (on pasta)-talk about mayhem. I have not knowingly run into you guys before. Will have to take a look at your books. Stuart Itter

  3. What did I do wrong? Up till pat dry…in cast iron pan I put in a bit of avocado oil till very hot. Added scallops, took out added garlic, butter, herbs.. burned. Everything burned. BUT 2-3 minutes each side was prefect. PLEASE HELP

    1. I’m so sorry! Your stove must run a little hotter than ours. I would turn off the heat for a minute before making the pan sauce.

  4. OMG….this recipe was amazing! The brining process was flawless…I used my chephelon frying pan w Avacado oil, seared perfectly. I deglazed the pan w a little white wine added lemon and a little elephant garlic. The sauce turned out silky and delicious. I used true wild rice (Thousand Lakes) for the side, place the scallops on a bed of the rice and poured the sauce over. Also has some yellow squash w it. The perfect meal…very rich and delicious. Enjoy 😉