The Reverse Sear method is here! This style of barbecuing steak is an exciting alternative to traditional Sous vide steak! This technique has been around in some form or another for years now, but it’s always been somewhat unknown to all but the most up-to-date grill masters. However, recently the reverse sear style has grown in popularity and has become a must-try method of BBQ for BBQ aficionados everywhere. This is the best method out there if you’re looking for consistent results with medium-rare edges and a crisp exterior.
But where to start? Well, look no further as we explain in this article all about the art of the Reverse-sear steak, and how to do it yourself!
The reverse sear is a little murky in history but is known to be, at least officially, the brainchild of chef and author J Kenji Lopez Alt, who stated he had been cooking in the style for a decade. It’s one of those methods that focus on food science and precise cooking techniques much like sous vide that emerged in the early 2000s. Likely, it was just waiting for its chance to come into the limelight.
Through tests and trials that we, alongside many other chef authors, have performed, the pros and cons of each style have become clear. Overall, with standard BBQ cooks, a grey band of overcooked meat often forms around the outside edges of a steak when it’s cooked in conventional methods. Sous vide, thanks to the low temperature at which it cooks, eliminates this grey band, resulting in a well-cooked steak from edge to edge. However, for those looking for a nice outer sear, something that Sous Vide isn’t the best at providing, Reverse sear has your back. Though it will not provide as consistent a cook-through as Sous Vide, it will give both a delicious sear as well as cook the whole steak through without a tough overcooked shell.
How to Reverse Sear a Steak
If you’re looking to step up your meat game, look no further than reverse-searing. Here’s how it works: Season a roast or steak (one and a half to two inches thick works best), place the meat on a wire rack on a baking sheet, and put it in a low oven—between 93 and 135°C (200 and 275°F). Another option is to cook the meat outdoors by placing it directly on the cooler side of a closed grill with half the burners turned on. Cook it until it reaches 6 to 8°C below your desired serving temperature, then remove from heat and sear in a ripping-hot skillet or grill that’s been preheated as much as possible.
Then dig into the most delicious steak you’ve ever tasted.
For the best results, refrigerate your steaks uncovered overnight to dry out their exteriors. A Thermometer is fairly important for this, but fortunately, you don’t need anything good. A cheap meat thermometer will work fine!
Temperature and Timing for Reverse-Seared Steak
Rare – Your target temperature for your oven should be 40°C (105°F), and the final temperature should be 49°C (120°F). You should cook it in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Medium-Rare – Your target temperature for your oven should be 46°C (115°F), and the final temperature should be 54°C (130°F). You should cook it in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
Medium – Your target temperature for your oven should be 52°C (125°F), and the final temperature should be 60°C (140°F). You should cook it in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes.
Medium-Well – Your target temperature for your oven should be 57°C (135°F), and your final temperature should be 66°C (150°F). You should cook it in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes
What is Reverse Sear, and Why should you try Reverse Sear?
This cooking method is called the reverse sear because it does the opposite of what most people do. Usually, when meat is being cooked, the first step is searing it. The reason given is often that juices will be locked in, but we know now that this assertion is unequivocally untrue. Searing does not retain liquids; it simply adds flavour. The technique should be reversed so that the searing comes last, producing better results. But what exactly do those greater outcomes entail?
An Even Cook
The rate at which energy is transferred to a piece of meat—the temperature gradient that forms as you journey from the edges toward the middle—is directly linked to the degree of heat applied. The faster energy is passed into your meat, the more unevenly it cooks. Inversely, how gently a steak is cooked has an impact on how evenly it cooks. The hotter the skillet, the quicker the outside of the steak will cook in comparison to the inside, very likely resulting in a rind of overcooked grey steak. If you start your steaks in a low-temperature oven, you’ll wind up with barely any overcooked meat, and on top of this, you’ll get more juice.
When it comes to searing a piece of meat, we want to produce a crisp, darkly browned crust that contrasts nicely with the soft, pink flesh beneath, and avoid a ring of overcooked meat. To accomplish this, we need to start something called the Maillard reaction, which is a chain of chemical reactions triggered when proteins and sugars are exposed to intense heat.
An approach for thinking about it is to think of your screaming-hot cast iron skillet as a big bucket, and the heat energy inside it as water filling that bucket. You’re essentially pouring heat energy out of the skillet and into the steak when you put a steak in it.
That steak, in turn, contains three smaller buckets that can be refilled with energy:
- The first temperature change bucket refers to the energy it takes to raise the surface temperature of the steak.
- The second is the evaporation bucket which examines how much energy is needed to evaporate moisture from steaks.
- Finally, we have the Maillard browning bucket which encompasses the research on how much energy causes those browning reactions.
The thing is, all of those buckets need to be filled in order. Water won’t start evaporating until it has been heated to 100°C (212°F). The Maillard reaction doesn’t take place in earnest until you hit temperatures of around 150°C (300°F) or higher, and that won’t happen until most of the steak’s surface moisture has evaporated.
When searing a steak, you want to make sure that the temperature and evaporation buckets are as tiny as possible so that you can quickly fill them up and move on to the crucial step of browning.
Let’s suppose you grab a steak straight out of the fridge. Which bucket is the largest, according to this quiz? You could assume it’s got to be one of the temperature buckets since we’re starting with something that’s nearly frozen-cold and gradually heating it to boiling temperatures.
The evaporation bucket is the largest by far. It takes approximately five times more energy to evaporate a gram of water than it does to raise the temperature of that same gram of water from freezing to boiling. That’s a big bucket!
In other words, too much moisture prevents a good sear, so any method that reduces the surface moisture on a steak will make it brown and crisp better. To avoid overcooking the steak, use a pan with thick walls and lean out any excess liquid as soon as possible. This technique also aids in reducing cooking time because it allows the meat to cook more evenly throughout its entire surface. To get the juiciest results, start with the driest steak imaginable.
The reverse sear pulls surface moisture from the steak, so it’s essential to get rid of excess water. As the steak cooks slowly in the oven and comes up to temperature, its surface will dry out and form a thin pellicle that browns rapidly. If you want an even better result, set your steak on a rack on a rimmed baking sheet and leave it uncovered overnight in the fridge. When you’re ready to cook the next day, just pop the whole rack and baking sheet into the oven.
Naturally Tenderised Meat
The enzymes present in meat (such as those produced by cathepsins) help break down hard muscular protein naturally. The activity of these enzymes is what gives dry-aged meat its tenderness.
At refrigerator temperatures, cathepsins work very slowly—dry-aged meat is generally aged for at least four weeks—but as the meat warms up, their activity rises progressively until it drops off sharply at around 50°C (122°F). By gradually cooking your steak, you are effectively “ageing” it to make it more tender. Steaks cooked via conventional methods pass through that window too rapidly for this process to have any impact; instead, they reach the 50°C shutdown temperature too soon.
Even More Flexibility
When you’re cooking steak at a high temperature, there’s a concise period when the centre of the steak is ideal medium-rare. A minute too brief and your steak is uncooked; a minute too long is overcooked. The window of opportunity for achieving the proper temperature with slow cooking is considerably extended, making it much simpler to hit repeatedly. Meathead Goldwyn compares shooting an arrow at a tortoise versus shooting at a rabbit: The slower it goes, the easier it is to hit.
Disadvantages of Reverse-Searing Steak
Indeed, reverse-searing isn’t always a rainbow of rosy pink centres. There are three major drawbacks to the technique. The first is time. It’s much faster to simply season a steak and throw it in a hot pan, flipping it every so often until it’s cooked.
The second disadvantage is that steaks cooked via the reverse sear produce almost no fond, the browned bits that get stuck to the pan and form the base for pan sauces. So, if you want a sauce with your reverse-seared steak, you’ll have to construct it separately. The second eliminates the need for a sauce because all of the flavours are already in your meat. You’ll probably find that a reverse-seared steak is best without any additional sauces or spices.
Finally, the technique isn’t very effective on fillets thinner than an inch and a half or so; they overcook too quickly. I recommend serving a single large steak for every two people if a two-inch-thick steak seems too enormous.
Is Sous Vide Steak Better Than Reverse-Seared Steak?
The reverse sear was intended to take aspects of sous vide cooking, but it is superior in one essential regard: searing. Even if you carefully pat them dry after removing them from their plastic bags, sous vide steaks emerge wet from the water and are difficult to sear. When cooked via the reverse sear, a steak will have a better crust and, as a result, a more intense, roasted flavour, making it perfect for BBQs. Sous vide cooking is even more foolproof than reverse-searing; it’s nearly impossible to overcook a steak when it’s prepared sous vide. Sous vide should be your go-to method for preparing steaks as long as you don’t mind if the meat is slightly undercooked in some spots (which isn’t ideal), but with the all-important BBQ, the best style by a long shot is the Reverse Sear Steak!
Once you let go of reverse-seared notions about cooking steak, I guarantee that you won’t want to use anything but the traditional method to cook your meat in the future.
Wait—strike that. Reverse it!