There may be nothing more awesome than a perfectly seared medium rare steak. When you slice through the crisp, crackly crust and reveal tender, juicy beef, you know that steak is going to be delicious. Getting the ideal sear isn't difficult, but it does take a little practice and some know-how. It might surprise you to know there is more than one way to sear a steak. Reverse sear is a popular trend right now that you'll see on the menu at many of the greatest steak houses. So we're going to explain how a reverse sear works, why it creates such a fantastic piece of beef, and how you can get that five-star texture and flavor at home.
Searing vs Reverse Searing
Let's start out by discussing some simple techniques grill masters use to get a perfect steak. Most people are familiar with searing and it's a method that you can use on almost any type of meat. A sear starts with room-temperature beef and a seriously hot cast iron pan, grill, or griddle. Searing is simple: put the meat on the hot surface and let it set for a minute or two. Flip it and wait a minute or two. Next, you remove the meat from the high heat and finish cooking it at a low temperature. This technique was thought to lock in moisture, but science proves to us that searing only adds flavor.
A reverse sear is nothing more than reversing that process. You start by cooking your beef at a low temperature until it is nearly done. Then, you remove it and put it on a hot grill, cast iron pan, or griddle. After a minute or two you will flip and repeat. That's all there really is to reverse seared steak. Sounds simple, doesn't it? It isn't any more difficult than searing and you'll get great results using the reverse sear method. In fact, you may grill the best steak of your life once you know how to tell that it is perfectly done.
Is Reverse Searing Better than Searing?
Before we start a big argument, let's get this out of the way – we are big fans of the reverse sear method. It's a technique we use for steak, roasts, game, and all sorts of other meats. We love the technique because it actually does lock in juiciness. It gives us the perfect crust we want, and our meat is cooked a perfect medium rare from edge to edge. When you traditionally sear a steak, you end up with a gray band around the edges. The gray area is well-done or over done, depending on the thickness of the steak. A reverse sear gives steak a tenderness that no other method can compete with. We aren't knocking anyone who loves to sear a steak but we think the reverse sear is the way to get the best steak of your life.
Sciencey Things about the Reverse Sear
Tens of thousands of professional chefs and generations of pit masters learned to sear meat before cooking to lock in moisture and add flavor. The reverse sear method developed from Sous Vide cooking style. This style immerses meat sealed in a bag into water and gently cooks it at low temperatures for a long period of time. Numerous people began using the reverse sear method around 2001. Given the number of fantastic barbecue joints all over the U.S., it's no surprise the reverse sear method took off the way it did. So, why does it work?
When you cook a steak, several complex reactions occur. The first thing that must happen is the temperature must increase. This is called thermal transfer, and the composition of the meat and the temperature of the cooking surface determine how quickly this happens. Next, moisture must evaporate from the surface being cooked. Water begins to evaporate at about 212 degrees, meaning the surface of the meat must exceed that temperature. That delicious, dark brown crackly bark you want happens due to a thing called the Maillard Reaction.
Explaining the Maillard Reaction
As the temperature of your steak increases, several chemical reactions happen due to the increasing temperature. The Maillard reaction describes what happens when proteins and sugars are exposed to high temperatures. The reaction doesn't get going until the surface of your steak is around 300 degrees and it will need to be around 350 degrees or higher before you get a perfect sear.
The reaction happens when sugars begin to break down and interact with amino acids. Any number of chemical reactions can occur – each responsible for different levels of aroma and flavor. The seasonings you use on your meat will play a huge part in the results of the reaction. This reaction is responsible for the unique flavors of steak, toasted marshmallows, fresh baked bread, and a few other things we eat all the time.
How Sear Affects Your Steak
Reverse searing takes advantage of science because the process allows chemical and thermal reactions to happen gradually. Bringing the internal temperature of your steak up to the same temperature as the outside cooks the meat at the level of desired doneness all the way through. Cooking steak using the reverse sear method works great whether you are cooking an inch thick T-bone or a ribeye that's several inches thick. Searing a thin steak is a sure-fire way to get tough, dry, and overcooked beef. This is because as the Maillard reaction is occurring, the internal temperature of the meat is also increasing rapidly. The gray layer you see is the result of overcooking in that region.
How to Reverse Sear a Steak
The main trick to perfecting the reverse sear method is learning to be patient. The process takes a little longer. You can use your smoker, a gas grill on indirect heat, or your oven to cook your steak. Our preferred way is to use our Traeger Ironwood 885 to smoke our steaks a bit on a low temperature. Then we pan sear them on a preheated cast iron skillet for the final step. When we have lots of food cooking at once, we often will sear a steak or a roast on the Big Green Egg.
Preparation and Equipment
Your best friend for perfecting the reverse sear method is an accurate meat thermometer. We use a probe while slow cooking to constantly monitor temperatures and verify them with our trusty Bearded Butchers Instant-Read thermometer.
The best way to get a great flavor from the reverse sear method is to use a dry rub. We like to use a combination of our favorite seasonings like the Bearded Butchers Blend Original with Hot to enhance the flavor. Get a good layer of your favorite flavor rubbed on your beef and keep it in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
We set the smoker to 225 degrees to cook the steaks. The goal is to slowly increase the temperature of your steak until it reaches between 117 and 122 degrees for a perfect medium rare steak. You can use a gas grill by lighting one side of the grill and adjusting the temperature to keep a constant, low heat. Cook the steak on the indirect heat side.
When you hit the ideal internal temperature, place the steaks on a very hot surface. A cast iron skillet is one of the best ways to get the sear the steaks for a perfect crust. Cast iron will get extremely hot which allows the reaction to happen quickly without overly increasing the internal temperature of the meat. Use your instant-read thermometer to monitor the temperature. It will only take one or two minutes per side to get a perfect sear.
Don't forget to let your steak rest after you sear it. Now that the beef has cooked completely, the sear will drive moisture to the outer layer. Resting is just as important for reverse seared beef as it is for smoked or grilled meat.
Reverse Searing is the Way to Go
We think you should give the reverse sear method a try if you never have. For those of you who have tried it and didn't get the results you were looking for, hopefully understanding the science behind the method will help you perfect the technique. When you master a reverse seared steak, you'll agree it's the best way to cook a steak.
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