Perfect Pan Seared Scallops

Learn how to make restaurant quality pan seared scallops at home! This easy recipe results in perfectly seared scallops that are caramelized on the outside and buttery tender on the inside. 

Overhead shot of a plate of seared scallops with half a lemon.

We’ve all been there. Spending a boatload of money on fresh seafood and then coning home and messing it up. Well I’m here to make sure that never happens to you again, starting with this recipe for seared scallops!

It’s really not difficult to make restaurant quality pan seared scallops at home, but there are some crucial steps you must take in order for them to be made properly. I’ve made this recipe hundreds of times while working as a private chef, and I want to teach you exactly how to replicate them

Just like a good Lobster Bisque or clam chowder, pan seared scallops are all about nailing the technique. With my easy-to-follow tutorial, I’m going to show you everything you need to know to make this recipe perfectly on the first try.

Sea scallops are loaded with natural sugars, and when seared properly, they caramelize to create the most delicious golden brown crust. But, not all scallops are created equal, so keep reading to learn my top tips for buying, prepping and cooking pan seared scallops at home.

Why you'll love this Pan Seared Scallops Recipe

  • Restaurant quality scallops at home. Save money and enjoy sweet and succulent scallops whenever you want!
  • Great as an appetizer or main course, for weeknight dinners or weekend entertaining.
  • Only 4 ingredients. 
  • Ready in less than 10 minutes!
Seared Scallops Ingredient Notes

Sea scallops - Use dry packed sea scallops or diver scallops, not bay scallops, which are much smaller. See my tips below for how to buy scallops. 

Oil - Use a light oil with a high smoke point, that can be heated over high heat, like avocado, light olive oil, vegetable, canola, grapeseed or peanut oil.

Aromatics - Optional. You can add a few cloves of raw garlic, half of a shallot, or woody fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary to add a touch of flavor to the scallops.

*Find the full ingredient list in the recipe card below!

How To Buy Scallops

  • The key to restaurant-quality pan-seared scallops is to start with great scallops. Choose very fresh, large sea scallops, not bay or Nantucket scallops, which are very small. 
  • Diver scallops have been hand plucked right out of the ocean by divers and are always of exceptional size and quality. If you're lucky enough to find these, use them.
  • Always buy from a reputable source, and ask your fishmonger for dry-packed scallops. Dry-packed or "dry" scallops are not treated with anything and are exactly what you want. Wet-packed scallops have been infused with a chemical solution to make them retain water, which will ooze out when cooking and prevent them from browning. It will also give them an odd flavor.
  • You can use any size scallop you prefer, but the bigger the better. The number refers to how many scallops per pound. The smaller the number, the larger the scallop. 10/20 is a good size to look for, which means there are between 10 and 20 scallops per pound.

Helpful Equipment

Cast Iron Skillet - A cast iron skillet is one of the most versatile kitchen tools. It makes a deliciously puffed dutch baby pancake, makes the perfect vessel for a fennel and onion gratin, and pan-sears scallops for a perfect golden, caramelized crust. Cast iron is one of the best ways to cook scallops since the pan will hold high heat and allow the scallops to nicely brown while they sear quickly. 

Pro Tip: Scallops will not brown as well in a non-stick pan, so avoid using one for best results. Cast iron, stainless steel or carbon steel is best.

How to Sear Scallops (The Best Way to Cook Scallops!)

Scallops often have a tough, chewy muscle on their side that needs to be removed before cooking. They can easily be pulled off by hand.

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil.
  2. Pat the scallops very dry with paper towels, then season on one side with salt and pepper RIGHT before cooking and no sooner. 
  3. Carefully place the scallops in the hot oil, seasoned side down, and let cook, undisturbed for about 2 minutes or until nicely browned around the bottom. Season the other side while they cook.
  4. The scallops should easily release from the pan once they brown. Flip, lower the heat, then add the butter and aromatics if using.
  5. Tilt the pan to the side and use a spoon to baste the scallops with the melted butter for about 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on their size and desired level of doneness.
  6. The scallops are done when they look mostly opaque throughout. I prefer my scallops medium to medium well so I remove them when they are still a bit translucent in the center.
  7. Remove the scallops from the pan and serve immediately with lemons on the side.

Seared Scallops Recipe Tips

  • Rinse the scallops under cold water to remove any sand that may be present, then pat them very, very dry. This is essential for them to get beautifully caramelized as they sear. 
  • Season your scallops on both sides with salt and pepper RIGHT before cooking. If you do it any sooner, the salt will draw out their moisture, making them wet again and preventing caramelization.
  • A cast iron skillet is perfect for pan-searing scallops since the cast iron holds heat so well. Avoid a non-stick pan, which will prevent the scallops from browning.
  • For the perfect sear, get the pan nice and hot. I prefer using oil to sear the scallops and butter to finish, which adds great flavor.  
  • Do not walk away from the pan, and do not disturb the scallops until at least 2 minutes have passed. You want them to sit on the hot pan and caramelize, so leaving them undisturbed is essential. 
  • Do not overcook! Leaving the scallops in the pan for just a minute too long will turn their buttery texture into rubber. As the scallops cook, they will become opaque. Remove them from the pan while the center is still slightly translucent - they will finish cooking to perfection on the plate.

What to Serve with Pan-Seared Scallops

These scallops are perfect for a cocktail party appetizer, but they’re also wonderful served as a meal. Try serving with these other dishes for a surf and turf dinner or a seafood feast:

How to Store and Reheat Leftovers

Seared scallops are best enjoyed fresh, but you can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in a microwave for about 30 seconds or in an air fryer for about 2 minutes. You want to avoid further “cooking” while warming them to prevent the scallops from becoming rubbery. 

FAQS About Pan Seared Scallops

Do scallops need to be cooked all the way through?

No! Good quality scallops can actually be enjoyed raw. I prefer my seared scallops to be about medium inside, not well done. If you prefer yours well done, still be sure to remove them from the pan just before they're fully cooked through to account for some carry over cooking.

How many minutes should scallops be cooked?

A rule of thumb is to cook scallops for two minutes on one side, then anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes on the other, depending on size. When done, the scallops should be springy to the touch, not firm (overcooked). Remove them from the pan before they're fully cooked to ensure they don't become overdone once they rest.

Should scallops be cooked in butter or oil?

I prefer to start the scallops in oil to get a nice sear, then finish with a little bit of butter to add more flavor. This prevents the butter from burning and allows the scallops to get ultra caramelized.

Side view close up of seared scallops on a plate with a fork.

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Close up of golden brown seared scallops with a lemon.
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How to Sear Scallops

Learn how to make restaurant quality pan seared scallops at home! This easy recipe results in perfectly seared scallops that are caramelized on the outside and buttery tender on the inside. 
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 3 servings
Calories: 211kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dry sea scallops or diver scallops
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • thyme garlic or other aromatics (optional)
  • lemon for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil.
  2. Pat the scallops very dry with paper towels, then season on one side with salt and pepper RIGHT before cooking and no sooner. 
  3. Carefully place the scallops in the hot oil, seasoned side down, and let cook, undisturbed for about 2 minutes or until nicely browned around the bottom. Season the other side while they cook. 
  4. The scallops should easily release from the pan once they brown. Flip, lower the heat, then add the butter and aromatics if using. 
  5. Tilt the pan to the side and use a spoon to baste the scallops with the melted butter for about 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on their size and desired level of doneness. 
  6. The scallops are done when they look mostly opaque throughout. I prefer my scallops medium to medium well so I remove them when they are still a bit translucent in the center. 
  7. Remove the scallops from the pan and serve immediately with lemons on the side. 

Notes

  • Rinse the scallops under cold water to remove any sand that may be present, then pat them very, very dry. This is essential for them to get beautifully caramelized as they sear. 
  • Season your scallops on both sides with salt and pepper RIGHT before cooking. If you do it any sooner, the salt will draw out their moisture, making them wet again and preventing caramelization.
  • A cast iron skillet is perfect for pan-searing scallops since the cast iron holds heat so well. Avoid a non-stick pan, which will prevent the scallops from browning.
  • For the perfect sear, get the pan nice and hot. I prefer using oil to sear the scallops and butter to finish, which adds great flavor.  
  • Do not walk away from the pan, and do not disturb the scallops until at least 2 minutes have passed. You want them to sit on the hot pan and caramelize, so leaving them undisturbed is essential. 
  • Do not overcook! Leaving the scallops in the pan for just a minute too long will turn their buttery texture into rubber. As the scallops cook, they will become opaque. Remove them from the pan while the center is still slightly translucent - they will finish cooking to perfection on the plate. 

Nutrition

Calories: 211kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 56mg | Sodium: 653mg | Potassium: 312mg | Sugar: 0.01g | Vitamin A: 238IU | Calcium: 11mg | Iron: 1mg

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14 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Absolutely perfect. great tutorial! I followed it to a T and my scallops came out perfect. Made them for my boyfriends bday dinner and he loved them!