Garlic Butter Scallops

4.93 from 14 votes
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I tend to view garlic butter scallops as more of a beginning than a whole dish in and of itself — unless you feel rich and want to gorge yourself on sweet scallops, rich butter and savory garlic, that is.

Great as an appetizer by themselves, garlic butter scallops are fantastic added to any number of your favorite meal vehicles.

garlic butter scallops on a platter
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I mostly add them to pasta, serve them as tacos or on tostadas, on top of rice or a big main-course salad, and they are pretty damn good in a sandwich.

The trick to really good garlic butter scallops is not to cook the scallops in the garlic butter, but to sear your scallops in a small amount of high-smoke point oil and then toss them with the butter sauce at the end. A little lime or lemon juice and some herbage — parsley, cilantro, basil or somesuch — at the end.

Actually the real key for this recipe is the quality of the ingredients. As always, when you have only a few ingredients, they all must shine to make the whole dish shine.

In a perfect world, you would use herbs and garlic from your own garden. There really is a difference when you use an herb that was growing minutes before; you can taste the vitality. And tired old Gilroy garlic is, well, OK, but nothing like homegrown, or garlic from the farmer’s market. That said, fresh Italian parsley and garlic from the supermarket will still make good garlic butter scallops.

More important are the butter and the scallops themselves. As for the butter, use unsalted, and buy the best you can afford, with the highest butterfat content. I prefer cultured butter, too. There are lots of brands that are nice, so pick one you like.

Closeup view of garlic butter scallops
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Scallops. I mostly use weathervane scallops from Alaska, but any small or medium scallop will do. Really large sea scallops do work, but the cooking process is a bit different: You’d sear those scallops on one side, basting the tops with the hot oil, then simply dress the large scallop with the butter sauce.

Get “dry scallops” if you can, as they will not be injected with sodium tropolyphosphate, which keeps them moist looking long after they shouldn’t be. Wet scallops don’t sear well. Thawed or fresh is fine. I mostly use thawed scallops.

With small or medium scallops, you get them nice and dry, then sear them in one layer, leaving space between the individual scallops, in hot oil like canola, grapeseed or safflower, then toss them once or twice to get another side seared.

Add garlic and butter to the pan, drop the heat and toss, toss, toss — doneski. Garlic butter scallops. Easy peasy.

A few more considerations. First, I love my carbon steel pan for this, but they aren’t that common. Stainless steel pans are good, as are cast iron skillets. Don’t use non-stick, because they don’t like the intense heat you need for this recipe. Second, know that this could easily be garlic butter shrimp, or crawfish. Or you could lightly flour chunks of firm fish and go from there.

Finally, you’ll want a little touch of acidity. I prefer lemon juice right when you serve, but any citrus or vinegar would do well, as would verjus if you can find it.

Closeup view of garlic butter scallops
4.93 from 14 votes

Garlic Butter Scallops

Definitely read the headnotes for tips and tricks on making this recipe as best as it can be. Once made, this is best eaten straight away, but it's also OK at room temperature.
Course: Appetizer, lunch, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons canola, safflower or grapeseed oil
  • 1 pound scallops
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Zest and juice of a lemon


  • Get a pan large enough to hold all the scallops hot, set over high heat. While it's heating, pat the scallops dry with paper towels. Add the canola oil to the pan and swirl it around.
  • When you see the slightest wisp of smoke coming up from the oil, toss in the scallops, moving the pan constantly -- the goal is to toss the scallops in and coat them with the hot oil before they stick to the pan. This should just take a few seconds. Then let the scallops rest undisturbed for 2 minutes. Toss the pan to move the scallops around, then let them sear 1 minute. Salt them as they sear.
  • Add the garlic and toss to combine. Drop the heat to medium-low and add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Toss to coat after each tablespoon melts. When it's all combined, turn off the heat, add the parsley, zest and lemon juice and serve.


Calories: 272kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 65mg | Sodium: 449mg | Potassium: 268mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 694IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 22mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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  1. Hi Hank,
    I really enjoy reading all of your emails but this one I had to comment on. My wife and I love scallops I make them all the time! Mostly I make fried rice that we eat them with but occasionally we have them with a steak. Probably my favorite seafood if I was forced to pick lol. Pretty much cook the same as you and I agree on the garlic, we get as much as we can from a local farm at the farmers market ( i don’t even think they like garlic as much as we do). Anyhow can’t wait to read the next recipe and look forward to seeing you at a pheasant fest again hopefully in the near future!



  2. Hi Hank!
    What if a person is unable to toss the scallops in the pan? How long do you leave the scallops ( large bay ones from Alaska) to cook and brown the bottom of one side and then how to you turn them to the other side and for how long? Recently cooked a beautiful batch of large bay scallops which were so tender and delicious that I even enjoyed eating them cold! But I cooked them in a massive amount of salted butter which of course made the pan very “dirty” and had to soak it overnight in order to get it clean. Someone said that clarified butter would be the way to go. What do you think? Love the sound of your recipe and will try it the next time I get scallops!

    1. Nancy: You don’t turn them over. You baste the exposed side with hot oil or clarified butter while the side searing browns. That’s all scallops need. Use high smoke point oils like I suggest in the recipe to do the actual cooking, and add the butter at the end. That prevents burning.

  3. How does one keep the garlic from burning and the butter becoming brown after searing the scallops?I would want to take a chance on ruining those expensive little baby`s.Also could bay scallops be used?THX

    1. LowandSlow: Yes on bay scallops. You prevent them from burning because they’re only in at the end. You’ll see in the recipe steps.

  4. Why not use salted butter? In the recipe, it calls for unsalted butter then adds salt. I used to churn butter with my Grandmaw on the farm. The cream from the Jersey cows was kept in the spring house in a trough with the spring water flowing around it. There it would stay until it became somewhat tangy. She would take me to the spring house and select a crock of cream, dipping her finger in it and tasting. Then she would have me taste various crocks looking for that tang. It was not sweet-cream butter but cultured butter and after churning, she would wash it and then salt it. Sweet cream butter is a hoax on the public because it is so much cheaper to make but nowhere near the flavor. Now I am getting hungry and thinking about making a batch of cultured butter. You don’t need a churn just shake it in a closed quart mason jar.

    1. Jacob: No chef uses salted butter because it can oversalt a dish quickly. We prefer to control the amount of salt in a dish, rather than using too many pre-salted ingredients. It’s a habit. I am sure it will be fine with salted butter, but you might not need any additional salt in that case.