Cook a Perfect Steak with the Reverse Sear Method

The practice of “reverse searing” has become more popular. Even though it contradicts every conventional cooking instruction found in earlier manuals, it is now widely accepted as the best method, particularly for cooking thick steak.

In the reverse searing technique, the steak is initially cooked low and slowly over indirect heat before being seared over extremely intense direct heat.

Continue reading to learn more about the reverse searing method, its advantages and disadvantages, and how to reverse searing a steak at home.

Learn more about the reverse sear method

This is a relatively new cooking technique that apparently was started as a cheaper and easier alternative to sous vide cooking in the early 2000s. The reverse sear was popularized by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Food Lab in 2017 on Serious Eats.

The award-winning chef and cookbook author swears by this method when it comes to cooking thick steaks.

The idea is to slowly and evenly cook the meat at a low temperature until it almost reaches the doneness temperature you want, and then to finish it up by searing it over direct heat.

This method ensures that the meat is cooked evenly and that the juices and flavors are sealed inside the meat thanks to the searing at the end.

Even though the method seemed to have appeared as a much more affordable and readily available cooking method than sous vide, some chefs and pitmasters claim that it is better than sous vide when it comes to cooking steaks. The reason is that the steaks develop better and more delicious crusts when reverse seared, rather than being taken out from the wet sous vide bag and placed in the scorching hot pan or grill.

What makes the reverse sear method great?

Photo credit: delish

The main advantages of the reverse sear method include:

  • The meat cooks much more evenly on the inside, and there is a low risk of burning the outside of the steak while leaving the meat inside raw
  • The steak will develop a much better browning and crust because it will dry completely on the surface during low and slow cooking and then will be placed dry in the hot pan or grill for that beautiful crust
  • The meat will be tenderer and moist thanks to the low and slow cooking, which is similar to fast dry-aging the meat and making it as tender as possible as the muscle proteins are broken down at a low enough temperature
  • There is a lower risk of overcooking the steak when using the reverse sear method because it will be cooking slowly and at a low enough stable temperature that you will have time to monitor its internal temperature and capture that exact moment when it reaches close to the doneness temperature you want than when it is cooked quickly at a higher temperature
  • Once you get the hang of this method, it becomes really easy to perform and master it for the best results and steakhouse quality steaks
  • It doesn’t require expensive sous vide equipment, bags, vacuum sealers, and others. All you need is a grill, or an oven and a stovetop and a reliable meat thermometer
  • The process is less stressful when you are cooking a lot of steaks at the same time

Downsides of the reverse sear method

Reverse searing has some downsides, too, including:

  • It is not suitable for all meat cuts or for all steaks. In fact, his technique is appropriate for thicker steaks which are about 1.5-2 inches thick, but even if you are worried that this is way too thick, a 2-inch ribeye steak is suitable for feeding two people, so you can simply lower the number of steaks you will be cooking by half
  • It takes more time than simply flipping the steak on the grill
  • Plus, with reverse searing, the steak will produce very little or no fond, which are the small brown debris which get stuck to the bottom of the pan and which traditionally are used for making a pan sauce, but the good part is that this means that all the tasty bits are stuck on the steak itself, and it will most likely be so delicious that you can do without pan sauce

The reverse sear method for a steak

While it takes longer than traditional steak grilling, reverse searing is actually quite simple and includes only a few easy steps.

Plus, you will have plenty of time to prep the meal, side dishes, and get organized while the steak is cooking low and slow.

You can use a charcoal grill, smoker, or an oven and stovetop to reverse sear the steak.

One of the key elements is to have a good meat thermometer handy to keep an eye on the internal temperature of the meat during the cooking so that you achieve the perfect doneness for your taste.

The right temperature

Since reverse searing includes two cooking stages, it is essential to remember that you will need to stop the low and slow cooking of the steak and take it out for the searing when its internal temperature is about 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit from the desired doneness. This is because it will be finished over direct heat and will continue cooking in the pan or on the grill.

Here are the internal temperatures and the time required for low and slow cooking of a ½ inch steak at 250 degrees Fahrenheit:

For rare

The final target temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius)

The target temperature in the oven is 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius)

The time for low and slow cooking is 20-25 minutes

For medium-rare

The final target temperature is 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius)

The target temperature in the oven is 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius)

The time for low and slow cooking is 25-30 minutes

For medium

The final target temperature is 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius)

The target temperature in the oven is 125 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius)

The time for low and slow cooking is 30-35 minutes

For medium-well done

The final target temperature is 150 degrees Fahrenheit (66 degrees Celsius)

The target temperature in the oven is 135 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius)

The time for low and slow cooking is 35-40 minutes

Once again, you will need a suitable meat thermometer if you want to use the reverse sear method for cooking your steak.

Dry brining the steak

It is recommended to dry brine the steak on the night before the cooking. This goes for any thick-cut steak.

Use kosher salt and ground pepper and sprinkle the meat generously. Set the steak on a wire rack in a baking sheet and leave it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight.

This will help dry the surface of the meat for better results from the reverse searing.

Start your grill

Preheat your grill or the oven to a temperature of 200 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit (93 to 135 degrees Celsius).

Remember that the lower and slower the cooking, the more even the cook will be, but it will take longer too.

If you have an accurate oven or a smoker, you can even set the temperature to a temperature lower than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

When cooking outdoors on a grill, you can create a two-zone cooking surface by using a charcoal chimney on one side or by only turning half of the gas grill’s burners. Then cover it and let it heat up.

Cook at low heat

When the grill or oven has preheated to the set low temperature, place the steak inside the oven or on the cool zone of the grill. Place it with the fatty side of the bone side down.

Let it cook slowly via indirect heat for as long as it takes for the meat to reach an internal temperature that is just about 10-15 degrees F lower than the target doneness temperature.

It is crucial to use an accurate meat thermometer if you want to avoid overcooking or undercooking the steak. Insert the probe into the thickest part of the cut to get the right temperature readings.

Thankfully, due to the low temperatures and the longer cooking time, it is much less likely to let the steak overcook using the reverse sear method.

Sear over high heat

When the time comes to take the steak off of the grill or out of the oven, heat up a skillet with some cooking oil in the hot zone of the grill or on a very hot stovetop or other searing station.

If using a skillet, opt for a cast-iron one or a pan made of triple-clad stainless steel.

When the oil begins smoking, it is ready to add the steak with a tablespoon of butter. Let the steak cook by swirling it in the pan but not flipping it. You can lift it with a spatula to see how it is browning and keep basting it with the butter.

When the first side is nicely browned and seared, which will usually take about 45 seconds, you can flip the steak over and repeat the process. Then, use the tongs to sear the edges of the steak until it is completely crisped and browned.

Let it rest

Actually, while resting, the cooked meat is almost always essential for the best results, with reverse searing, you will not need to rest the steak before cutting into it or serving it, according to some pitmasters.

Others recommend that it is rested for at least 8 to 10 minutes for the juices to be preserved.

So this is a dispute which is ongoing.

So, you may want to follow your gut or experiment with the resting to see which results you like better.

How to serve it?

The reverse-seared steaks should be served immediately with the side dishes and garnishes of your choice.

Final thoughts

As you can see, reverse searing is not as complicated as some people think, and there is some pretty good logic behind reversing the traditional meat cooking method of searing it first and cooking it afterward.

With reverse searing, you can better monitor the internal temperature and doneness of your steaks and will get an even cook, tenderer meat and still have a beautiful brown crust at the end.

Let us know whether you have tried reverse searing and what you think about this cooking technique.

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