One of the best methods for steak: start it low, cook it slow, then quickly sear or grill for a beautiful crust.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
- An optional overnight dry-brining step helps dry out the exterior of the steak, resulting in even better browning later.
- By slowly bringing the steak(s) up to temperature in a low oven or on the cool side of a grill, then searing after, you get a perfectly cooked interior and a beautifully brown crust.
There's no need for a resting period before serving, thanks to the low-heat method used in the first stage of cooking.
Reverse sear—the technique of slow-cooking a steak or roast before finishing it off with a hot sear. It's a really remarkable method, and if you're looking for a steak that's perfectly medium-rare from edge to edge, with a crisp crust, there's no better technique.
Why Should You Reverse Sear Your Steak?
More Even Cooking
The temperature gradient that builds up inside a piece of meat—that is, the difference in temperature as you work your way from the edges toward the center—is directly related to the rate at which energy is transferred to that piece of meat. The higher the temperature you use to cook, the faster energy is transferred, and the less evenly your meat cooks. Conversely, the more gently a steak is cooked, the more evenly it cooks.
By starting steaks in a low-temperature oven, you wind up with almost no overcooked meat whatsoever. Juicier results are your reward.
When searing a piece of meat, our goal is to create a crisp, darkly browned crust to contrast with the tender, pink meat underneath. To do this, we need to trigger the Maillard reaction, the cascade of chemical reactions that occur when proteins and sugars are exposed to high heat. It helps if you think of your screaming-hot cast iron skillet as a big bucket, and the heat energy it contains as water filling that bucket. When you place a steak in that pan, you are essentially pouring that energy out of the skillet and into the steak.
In turn, that steak has three smaller buckets that can be filled with energy.
- The first is the temperature change bucket: It takes energy to raise the temperature of the surface of that steak.
- Next is the evaporation bucket: It takes energy to evaporate the surface moisture from the steaks.
- Third is the Maillard browning bucket: It takes energy to trigger those browning reactions.
The thing is, all of those buckets need to be filled in order. Water won't really start evaporating until it has been heated to 212°F (100°C). The Maillard reaction doesn't really take place in earnest until you hit temperatures of around 300°F (150°C) or higher, and that won't happen until most of the steak's surface moisture has evaporated.
Your goal when searing a steak is to make sure that the temperature and evaporation buckets are as small as possible, so that you can rapidly fill them up and move on to the important process of browning.
NOTE: Moisture is the biggest enemy of a good sear, so any process that can reduce the amount of surface moisture on a steak is going to improve how well it browns and crisps—and, by extension, minimize the amount of time it spends in the pan, thus minimizing the amount of overcooked meat underneath. It's a strange irony that to get the moistest possible results, you should start with the driest possible steak but its 100% true.
The reverse sear is aces at removing surface moisture. As the steak slowly comes up to temperature in the oven, its surface dries out, forming a thin, dry pellicle that browns extremely rapidly. Want to get your steak to brown even better? Set it on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, and leave it in the fridge, uncovered, overnight. The cool circulating air of the refrigerator will get it nice and dry. The next day, when you're ready to cook, just pop that whole rack and baking sheet in the oven.
More Tender Meat
This one is not quite as obvious, but it can still make a detectable difference: enzymatic tenderization. Meat naturally contains enzymes called cathepsins, which will break down tough muscle protein. Their activity is responsible for the tenderness of dry-aged meat.
At fridge temperatures, cathepsins operate very, very slowly—dry-aged meat is typically aged for at least four weeks—but, as the meat heats up, their activity increases more and more rapidly, until it drops off sharply at around 122°F (50°C). By slowly heating your steak, you are, in effect, rapidly "aging" it, so that it comes out more tender. Steaks cooked via traditional means pass quickly through that window, reaching the 122°F cutoff point too rapidly for this activity to have any real effect.
When you're cooking steak at a high temperature, you have a very narrow window of time in which the center of that steak is a perfect medium-rare. A minute too short, and your steak is raw; a minute too long, and it's overcooked. With slow cooking, that window of time is greatly expanded, making it much easier to nail the right temperature time after time.
How to Reverse Sear a Steak
The process of reverse-searing is really simple: Season a roast or a thick-cut steak (the method works best with steaks at least one and a half to two inches thick),
arrange the meat on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, and place it in a low oven—between 200 and 275°F (93 and 135°C).
You can also do this outdoors by placing the meat directly on the cooler side of a closed grill with half the burners on.
Cook it until it's about 10 to 15°F below your desired serving temperature (see the chart at the end of this section), then take it out and sear it in a ripping-hot skillet, or on a grill that's as hot as you can get it. We chose to start our steaks on a propane grill to control the temperature and finished it on a roaring hot charcoal grill.
Follow the above method and you’ll be enjoying the best-cooked steak you've ever had in your life tonight.
For even better results, refrigerate the steaks uncovered overnight to dry out their exteriors.
NOTE: A good thermometer is absolutely essential for this process. All time ranges are approximate. Use a thermometer!
Temperature and Timing for Reverse-Seared Steak