How to Cook Scallops to Perfection in 3 Easy Ways

Stop obsessing over that astronomically priced scallop dish at your local seafood hotspot—cooking high-quality scallops at home is easier than you'd ever imagine. Here are three methods that get you the perfect sear.

Scallops rank among the most indulgent options on a restaurant menu—and alas, they're a splurge. But here's something every scallop lover should know: Once you learn how to cook scallops at home, you'll wonder why you ever paid so much to have someone else cook them for you. We'll show you all our tricks for making scallops, including how to cook them in a pan, on the grill, or in the oven, plus how to tell when scallops are done. So the next time you go out to eat, you can skip the scallops knowing you can easily get the same delicious results at home.

Cutting scallops in half
Scott Little

How to Cook Scallops

Before you roll up your sleeves and learn how to cook scallops, note that there are two basic types of scallops: the larger sea scallops (about 1½ inches in diameter) and the smaller bay scallops (½ inch in diameter), which are sweeter. Here we're focusing on cooking the more common (larger) sea scallops.

Whether you want to cook your scallops in a pan, on the grill, or in the oven, these basic concepts apply to any method:

  • How to cook frozen scallops? Thaw first. Before cooking scallops, they must be thawed. It takes several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Never thaw scallops at room temperature.
  • Rinse and pat dry. Rinse the scallops, then pat them dry with paper towels before cooking. If scallops have too much moisture on the outside, they won't brown properly.
  • Halve if instructed. If directed in your recipe, use a thin, sharp knife to cut large scallops in half crosswise (as shown above) to ensure even cooking.
  • Season them. Scallops are mild and need a little flavor boost. It can be as simple as a squeeze of lemon, a dry rub, or an intriguing Asian-inspired sauce.
  • Add some fat. Because scallops are so lean, cooking scallops requires some fat such as oil or butter during the process.
  • Cook them quickly. Scallops are a lean protein source and should be cooked quickly at relatively high heat to prevent them from drying out. This also creates a Maillard reaction, which helps achieve pleasant browning on the outside and a delicious caramelized flavor.
Lemon Scallops
Carson Downing

How to Cook Scallops in a Pan on the Stove

When it's foolproof ease you're looking for, the best way to cook scallops is on the stovetop. Start by choosing a heavy, quality skillet for the job: Cast iron or stainless steel is perfect. These materials provide even heating and can withstand high temperatures.

Here's how to cook scallops in a pan (for four servings):

  • Thaw 1 to 1½ pounds of sea scallops if frozen. Rinse scallops and pat dry with paper towels. Season generously with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on a plate. Chill, uncovered, for 2 hours. Remove and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
  • Heat a heavy 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.
  • To check if the pan is hot enough, add a large drop of water (⅛ teaspoon) to the skillet. When you can roll it around the pan, it's ready. This will take 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Remove skillet from heat; add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Swirl to coat bottom of skillet.
  • Return pan to medium-high heat. Add scallops, half at a time (don't crowd the pan or they will steam instead of sear).
  • For this method, the scallops' cooking time is 4 minutes total. First, cook the scallops for 2 minutes or until a crust forms on one side (be patient; the scallops will easily release when they're ready to be turned). Then turn and cook for 2 minutes more or until scallops are crusted on the second side and opaque throughout.

Test Kitchen Tip: How do you know when scallops are done? While the estimated scallops cooking time for our stove-top method is about 4 minutes, the real test is opaqueness—AKA they should no longer be translucent.

  • Remove scallops from the pan to serve. At this point, you can serve scallops simply with melted butter, (clarified butter if you're feeling fancy), a squeeze of lemon, and, if you like, a sprinkling of fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, and/or mint are great options). Or serve your scallops with the quick and simple pan sauce in this Lemon Scallops recipe.

How to Broil Scallops in the Oven

The best way to cook scallops in the oven is to turn on the broiler. This is because the broiler offers the kind of direct high heat that help scallops cook quickly, making them moist and tender rather than dry and tough.

Here's how to cook scallops in the oven (for four servings) under the broiler:

  • Thaw 1 pound sea scallops if frozen. Rinse scallops; pat dry with paper towels. Halve any large scallops.
  • Stack scallops onto four 8- to 10-inch metal skewers, leaving a ¼-inch space between pieces.
  • Preheat broiler. Place skewers on the greased, unheated rack of a broiler pan.
  • Prep some melted butter for brushing the scallops (you'll need about 3 tablespoons). Season the butter with salt and pepper and, if you like, about ⅛ teaspoon paprika.
  • Brush half of the butter over scallops. Broil about 4 inches from the heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until scallops are opaque, turning and brushing with the remaining melted butter halfway through broiling.

How to Grill Scallops

Outdoor cooking enthusiasts often declare grilling as the best way to cook scallops. We agree that it's a great method: The direct heat and a quick cooking time can keep the scallops tender and moist, and the char-grilled flavor is an irresistible bonus!

While you can certainly go fancy with a marinade or one of our great salsas, if you want to start with a basic recipe, here's the easiest way to cook scallops on the grill. This method serves four.

  • Thaw 1 pound sea scallops if frozen. Rinse scallops and pat dry with paper towels. Halve any large scallops. Thread scallops onto four 8- to 10-inch skewers, leaving a ¼-inch space between pieces.
  • Prep some melted butter for brushing the scallops. You'll need about 3 tablespoons; season the butter with salt and pepper, and, if you like, about ⅛ teaspoon paprika.
  • Brush half of the butter over scallops. Place the kabobs on a greased grill rack. Grill, uncovered, directly over medium coals 5 to 8 minutes or until scallops are opaque, turning and brushing with the remaining melted butter halfway through grilling.

Test Kitchen Tip: How to know when scallops are done? While the estimated scallops cooking time when grilling is 5 to 8 minutes total, the real test is opaqueness—the scallops should no longer be translucent.

How to Buy and Store Scallops

If you're unsure where to buy scallops, search out fresh scallops at specialty seafood stores and most large supermarkets. When buying, look for scallops that are firm and moist and retain their shape when touched. They should be creamy beige to light pink in color and should not smell fishy, sour, or sulfurlike.

Test Kitchen Tip: A stark bleached-white color or excessive milky liquid in the display tray can be a sign the scallops have been treated heavily with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP). While STP is useful to help bind natural moisture to seafood during the freezing and thawing processes, it can be overused and cause scallops to soak up additional water.

To store fresh scallops: Refrigerate, covered in the clear juices, up to 2 days.

Frozen scallops are readily available and easy to keep on hand in the freezer. The only trick to knowing how to cook frozen scallops is knowing how to thaw them: The best way is to thaw the seafood gradually in the refrigerator overnight. Never thaw scallops at room temperature.

Test Kitchen Tip: If dinnertime is approaching and you forgot to thaw the scallops, there's hope! According to the FDA, "If you have to thaw seafood quickly, either seal it in a plastic bag and immerse it in cold water or—if the food will be cooked immediately thereafter—microwave it on the "defrost" setting and stop the defrost cycle while the fish is still icy but pliable."

Now that you know how to cook scallops—and you're an expert on knowing how to tell if scallops are done—take advantage. Swing by the seafood counter whenever you're at the supermarket, and if the scallops are looking good (or better yet, if they're on sale), bring some home. You'll never have to endure overcooked and rubbery (or undercooked and chewy) scallops again.

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