If a dish that includes scallops is always your go-to dinner selection when you’re out at a restaurant, you don’t have to wait until your next outing to have your favorite food. You can make it right at home. While many people may shy away from cooking scallops at home because they’re afraid it’s just too difficult and they can’t do it, think again! Unlike learning to shuck oysters, cooking scallops at home is easy when you have the right tools and know what to do. 

The team at NC Seafood in Raleigh, NC wants you to be able to have scallops at home anytime you want them which is why we’ve put together this guide on how to cook scallops to perfection every time. From the right scallops to buy to the right cooking techniques, we’re sharing all you need to know to cook seafood at home like a chef.

cooking scallops perfectly every time

Are you ready? Let’s get cooking!

What Type of Scallops Should I Buy?

Before you can start cooking scallops at home, it’s important to recognize that all scallops are not created equal. There are different types of scallops and buying the wrong ones can tank your scallop dish in no time. 

Here’s what you need to know:

Wet vs. Dry Scallops

There are two basic types of scallops at the fish market, wet scallops and dry scallops. Wet scallops have been soaked in a preservative phosphate solution and are not as fresh as other varieties. This means the scallops absorb more water which isn’t a good thing. You’ll quickly find that they tend to stick to the pan even when you use the right oil and cookware. Thus, they won’t have the crispy, brown sear and tender middle. The phosphate solution also gives the scallop a strange flavor.

A dry scallop has no chemical additives or solutions. Dry scallops darker than wet scallops and have a pure flavor. You can always taste the freshness with dry scallops which is why you should opt for these whenever possible.

Bay Scallops vs. Sea Scallops

As you’re shopping for scallops, you’ll also notice that there are bay scallops and sea scallops. Bay scallops are found in the waters closer to shore, while sea scallops live farther from the coast in the open ocean.

Bay scallops are much smaller than sea scallops. Due to their size, bay scallops will cook quicker. Sea scallops have a larger surface area that takes longer to cook and is best for grilling and searing. Also, keep in mind that bay scallops have a sweeter flavor while sea scallops are meatier.

Scallop Size

You can choose any size scallop you prefer, but the bigger ones are usually better. Look for scallops that are 10/20 in size. That means there are about 10-20 scallops per pound. The smaller the number, the larger the scallop.

Tips for Cooking Scallops Perfectly

After you decide what type of scallops you’re going to cook, you need to keep some tips in mind so that your scallops come out delicious.

  • Rinse the scallops under cold water to remove any sand and be sure to dry them very well.
  • Scallops have a chewy muscle on their side that you’ll want to remove before cooking. You can simply pull it off by hand.
  • Season the scallops right before cooking. Don’t do it sooner because the salt will draw out their moisture.
  • Use a light oil with a high smoke point that can be heated over a high heat. Popular choices include light olive oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil.
  • Use a cast iron skillet because it holds the heat well.
  • Don’t use a non-stick pan because it will prevent the scallops from browning.
  • Always watch the pan and avoid overcooking. Even if you leave the pain for one minute too long you’ll end up with rubbery scallops. 
  • Remove the scallops from the pan while the center is still a bit translucent because they will finish cooking to perfection when you put them on the plate.

Now that you have some tips to get you going in the right direction, it’s time to start cooking scallops to perfection right at home!

Your Guide to Cooking Scallops Perfectly at Home

Follow this step-by-step guide to cooking scallops perfectly at home.

  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add oil.
  • Use paper towels to pat the scallops until they are very dry.
  • Season on one side with salt and pepper right before cooking, not any sooner.
  • Place the scallops in the hot oil, seasoned side down.
  • Let them cook, untouched or until you notice they are nicely browned around the bottom.
  • Season the other side while they cook.
  • Once they are brown, the scallops should release from the pan. Flip them and then lower the heat, adding butter and any other seasonings you’d like.
  • Tilt the pan to one side and use a spoon to baste the scallops with the melted butter for 30 seconds to 1 minute depending on the size of your scallops.
  • When the scallops look mostly opaque, you’ll know they’re done. If you like them medium to medium well, you’ll want to remove them when they are still a bit translucent.
  • Remove the scallops from the pan and serve right away.

Once you get more comfortable cooking scallops at home, you can try different recipes with a variety of flavors until you find your favorite one!

Scallops have similar nutrition as shrimp — they’re low in fat and have virtually 0 carbs but feature an attractive protein count.

Side Dishes for Scallops

You want to have some side dishes to go along with your scallops. Here are some ideas:

Choose one or a couple of these side dish options for the perfect meal at home!

FAQ Regarding Cooking Scallops

How many minutes should scallops be cooked?

Typically, scallops are cooked for two minutes on one side and anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes on the other, depending on the size. When the scallops are done, they won’t feel firm, rather they’ll be springy to the touch. You’ll want to remove them from the pan before they are fully cooked so that they don’t get overcooked.

How long can I keep scallops in the fridge?

You shouldn’t keep scallops in the fridge for more than two days. You’ll notice that when you buy them they are fresh and have a sweet ocean smell. Once they start to spoil, they will have a stinky fish smell.

Can scallops be reheated? 

Yes, but be careful not to cook them further. Heat them until they’re just warm enough to eat.

How do I cook frozen scallops?

Frozen scallops are not going to be as fresh and may differ in texture. Many frozen sea scallops have to be thawed, but some will specifically say not to defrost them. Read the label to see if defrosting is necessary.

Are You a Seafood Lover? Sign Up for the NC Seafood Newsletter!

If you love fish as much as we do, you’ll want to sign up for our monthly newsletter. Here you’ll find everything new that’s going on at NC Seafood in Raleigh as well as our favorite seafood cooking tips and special deals! Be sure to sign up today so you don’t miss out.

Newsletter Form