Why is it that when you go to a steakhouse, the meat tastes significantly different (and better) than what you grill at home?
Visit any great steakhouse and chances are good that you’ll see the same tried-and-true methods of preparing meats. Steaks are grilled over a super hot fire or seared in a hot skillet, then finished in an oven to order.
There’s an updated technique for this, and it’s called reverse searing. This method is similar to the way restaurants achieve consistent results night after night. Learning how to reverse sear at home is simple, and it will allow you to make perfectly cooked steaks that are delicious, time after time.
Did culinary schools get it wrong?
Reverse searing is the term for a cooking method coined in the early 2000s. Over the last two decades, the popularity of reverse searing has caught on with home cooks, becoming the new favorite method for grilling enthusiasts all over the world.
Culinary schools always taught that steaks needed to be quickly seared in a pan or on the grill, and then put into an oven to finish cooking. Reverse searing operates on the same principles, but in reverse.
You start by roasting the meat first and getting it close to your desired doneness. Then just before it’s time to serve, you finish the meat with a hot sear, hence the term “reverse sear.” By reversing the steps of the traditional method of searing and then roasting, you have more control over the final results.
Why Reverse Sear Meat?
You might choose to reverse sear a steak for several reasons, including
- Even Cooking: Reverse searing involves cooking the steak at a low temperature in an oven or on a grill until it reaches the desired internal temperature and then finishing it off with a quick sear on a hot pan or grill. This method allows the steak to cook more evenly and ensures that the center is cooked to the desired temperature without overcooking the outer layers. Doing most of the cooking at low heat instead of high ensures a more controllable cook with more reliable results.
- Better Texture: By cooking the steak at a low temperature first, the connective tissue and fat inside the meat break down slowly, resulting in a more tender and juicy steak. The final sear adds a crispy crust to the outside of the steak, enhancing its texture.
- More Control: Reverse searing allows for more control over the cooking process, as the chef can monitor the internal temperature of the steak more closely and adjust the cooking time as needed. This makes it easier to achieve the perfect level of doneness.
- More Flavor: The final sear adds caramelization and Maillard reaction to the surface of the steak, creating a rich, savory flavor and aroma. This can enhance the overall taste of the steak and make it more enjoyable to eat.
Another great reason to reverse sear is that first cooking the meat slowly will allow more of the exterior moisture to evaporate. This drier exterior is the key to creating a perfectly seared crust.
Our favorite reason for reverse searing, however, is all about the taste.
By doing a reverse sear, when you can cook your meat over a wood fire or in the smoker, the food gets infused with amazing flavors that are unachievable with other cooking methods.
The result is steak with a deep, smoke-roasted flavor, a beautiful crust, and a gorgeous pink interior!
Recommended cooking wood: We love using hickory for its amazing heat and bold smoke flavor with steak.
How to Reverse Sear a Piece of Meat
Reverse searing is great for just about any meat from picnic-cut pork ribs to beef and pork loins, and steaks. Traditional recipes are easily adaptable to this method. (I’ve even reverse-seared a rack of ribs after cooking them low and slow and they were delicious.)
For this article, let’s focus on traditional cuts of beef steak.
Our goal is to cook a perfect medium-rare to medium steak, low and slow over chunks, splits, or logs (depending on the size of your cooker), and then finish it by quickly searing both sides over a high-temperature (the higher the better) bed of wood coals to form a crust on the outside of the meat.
And of course, if you want the best flavors, don’t forget to use the best firewood for cooking.
Preheat and stabilize your outdoor grill or smoker to 180F-225F. This is a good time to add your choice of wood chunks or splits and get the smoke rolling.
If you are using a grill, establish a hot and a cool zone for cooking. Known as two-zone cooking, one zone will radiate the heat and the other zone will remain cooler. The cool zone is where you will place and roast the steak.
It’s perfectly fine to start the reverse sear with your steaks at refrigerator temperature. For this method, when the meat starts out cooler, it takes longer to roast, which is a good thing. The extra time allows more smoke flavor to be absorbed and gives the seasonings more time to mingle with your meat.
Pat the steaks completely dry and season them generously, Place a leave-in digital-probe thermometer into the very center of the steak, equidistant from the top and bottom of the meat to monitor the internal temperature of your meat while it is cooking.
Place the steak on the indirect (cool) side of your grill and begin roasting.Roast the steak until it reaches an internal temperature of 110F for medium-rare or 15 to 20 degrees under your desired doneness. If this temp seems low, remember that you want your steak mostly cooked before searing, but not completely cooked.
We undershoot the desired finish temperature at this point because of something called carryover cooking. Carryover cooking is when a hunk of meat continues to cook even though it’s been removed from the heat. We’ll get much closer to your desired temperature in the next step when searing the meat.
Remove your meat from the grill or smoker and let it rest loosely tented in foil while you prepare your grill for searing
Crank up the heat on your gas grill or add cooking wood to build up your fire. Once you’ve created the hottest possible fire, it’s time to sear your steak directly over the heat or coals.
Sear the meat for 45-90 seconds per side, flipping frequently but don’t pay too much attention to your stopwatch. You want the meat to be well seared, charred in some places, and some of the external fat rendered. Use your eyes and nose to decide how long the steak needs to be seared. The high heat will quickly form a nice crust so don’t step away!
Most people prefer a steak that has been cooked to medium-rare (130-135F internal). Remove the steak from the heat and allow it to briefly rest until it reaches your desired internal temperature.
Then grab a knife and fork, and dig in immediately!
Is it possible to get smoky flavor when reverse searing?
It’s quite possible to get smoky flavor on your steaks when reverse searing, and it’s simple to do. There are two easy methods for adding smoke flavor to your meat when reverse searing:
- Use a smoker: If you have a smoker, meats can be slowly smoked before searing, which will add loads of smoky flavor. A benefit of using a smoker before searing is that smokers typically operate at lower temperatures than you can get using open-fire cooking. For best results, smoke the meat at a temperature between 180F and 225F until it reaches your desired internal temperature.
- Add smoking wood chunks to your cook: You don’t need any special equipment to add smoky flavor to your dish. Smoking wood chunks can be added to both charcoal and gas grills, bringing a delicious pop of flavor. Make sure that the smoking wood chunks are smoldering and not completely on fire. You can do this by placing the chunks adjacent to your charcoal. Position them close enough so the heat causes them to smoke, but not so close that they start to burn. For gas grills, put the smoking wood directly over the flame and allow it to begin smoldering. If it starts to catch fire, blow it out and allow the hunk to continue smoking.
It’s hard to deny that cooking with wood is one of the simplest ways to add flavor to your food. When you use wood for grilling, the smoke that’s released is absorbed into your meat, essentially seasoning the food and enhancing its flavor.
While you can cook solely using wood, combining wood with charcoal brings additional benefits. You can stoke the fire by placing kiln-dried cooking wood chunks directly on burning charcoal. This creates a hotter fire, perfect for quickly searing steaks.
Cooking wood chunks off to the side of the charcoal will burn slower and at a lower temperature, perfect for adding a rich flavor to grilled vegetables and slowly simmering side dishes.
Find the best quality firewood for cooking by visiting our online store today. Cutting Edge Firewood offers a variety of high-quality smoking chunks, including white oak, hickory, cherry, and pecan, that you can use when grilling steaks or other meats.
We offer complimentary shipping for our smoking chunk products across the United States.