When we cook steak, we want two things: tender, juicy meat and a flavorful, seared crust. We can have both with this reverse sear method! What’s the best part? It’s very simple and mostly hands-off. Read Through this article to get comprehensive information on How to Reverse Sear a Steak.
What is Reverse Searing?
Reverse searing involves baking the steak on low heat in the oven before searing it in a pan with olive oil and butter.
By baking the steak low and slow, you allow it to rise to the proper temperature before searing it in a hot pan, resulting in a tender slow cooked interior with a crispy, pan-seared exterior.
This method is very similar to the Sous Vide method of cooking steak, but it does not require any fancy, expensive equipment. The reverse searing method gives you more control over how your steak cooks.
Why Should you Reverse Sear your Steak?
The reverse sear is so named because it turns tradition on its head. Historically, almost every cookbook and chef taught that the first step in cooking a piece of meat should be searing.
The most common explanation is that searing “locks in juices.” We now know that this statement is completely false. Searing does not actually seal in juices; it simply adds flavor.
Better results are obtained by flipping the formula so that the searing occurs at the end. But what exactly are those improved outcomes?
They directly related the rate at which they transferred energy to a piece of meat to the temperature gradient that builds up inside it—that is, the difference in temperature as you work your way from the edges toward the center.
The higher the cooking temperature, the faster energy is transferred and the less evenly your meat cooks. In contrast, the gentler a steak is cooked, the more evenly it cooks.
By beginning steaks in a low-temperature oven, you get almost no overcooked meat. Your reward will be more juicy results.
2. Better Browning
The goal when searing a piece of meat is to create a crisp, darkly browned crust that contrasts with the tender, pink meat underneath.
To accomplish this, we must start the Maillard reaction, which is a series of chemical reactions that occurs when proteins and sugars are exposed to high heat.
Consider your steaming-hot cast-iron skillet to be a large bucket, and the heat energy it contains to be water filling that bucket. When you put a steak in that pan, you essentially transfer that energy from the skillet to the steak.
3. More Tender Meat
Enzymatic tenderization is less obvious, but it can still make a noticeable difference. Meat contains cathepsin enzymes, which help to break down tough muscle protein. Their activity causes the tenderness of dry-aged meat.
Cathepsins operate slowly at fridge temperatures—dry-aged meat is typically aged for at least four weeks—but as the meat heats, their activity increases more and more rapidly, until it abruptly drops off at around 122°F (50°C).
By slowly heating your steak, you are effectively “aging” it, making it more tender. Traditional-cooked steaks pass through that window quickly, reaching the 122°F cutoff point too quickly for this activity to have any real effect.
4. More Flexibility
When cooking steak at a high temperature, you only have a very short window of time to ensure that the center of the steak is a perfect medium-rare.
A minute too soon and your steak will be raw; a minute too long and it will be overcooked. Slow cooking broadens that window of time, making it much easier to achieve the desired temperature time after time.
The Science of Great Barbecue author Goldwyn compares it to shooting an arrow at a tortoise versus a rabbit: the slower it moves, the easier it is to hit.
How to Reverse Sear a Steak
The reverse-searing method is extremely simple: Season a roast or thick-cut steak (the method works best with steaks at least one and a half to two inches thick).
Place it on a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake it at a low temperature of 200 to 275°F (93 to 135°C). You can also do this outside by placing the meat on the cooler side of a closed grill with half the burners turned 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 remove it and sear it in a hot skillet or on a grill. Then dig into the best-cooked steak you’ve ever had in your life.
Below are the directions on how to reverse sear a steak
‣ Generously season steak all over with salt and pepper: If desired, place the steak(s) on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate overnight, uncovered. Otherwise, move on to the next step.
‣ If Cooking in the Oven: Set steak on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Preheat the oven to anywhere between 200 and 275°F (93 and 135°C); if your oven goes lower, you can set it to an even lower temperature, though it will take longer to cook.
‣ Cook steak: Cook until an instant-read thermometer reads 105°F (41°C) for rare, 115°F (46°C) for medium-rare, 125°F (52°C) for medium, or 135°F (57°C) for medium-well.
This will take about 20 minutes for a rare steak and up to 40 minutes for a medium-well steak; cooking time can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors, so check frequently.
‣ Add the needed ingredient: Add 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil to a cast iron, carbon steel, or heavy stainless steel skillet and heat over high heat until smoking, just before the steak(s) come out of the oven.
Cook until the steak(s) and butter are well browned on each side, about 45 seconds per side. Hold the steak(s) sideways with tongs to sear the edges.
‣ If Cooking on the Grill: Light one full chimney of charcoal. Pour out and spread the coals evenly over half of the coal grate once all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash.
Alternatively, turn half of the burners on high on a gas grill. Set the cooking grate in place, cover the grill, and let it heat up for 5 minutes.
‣ Pay attention to the steak:Place the steak(s) on the cooler side of the grill and cook, uncovered, until an instant-read thermometer reads 105°F (41°C) for rare, 115°F (46°C) for medium-rare, 125°F (52°C) for medium, or 135°F (57°C) for medium-well.
Because cooking times can vary greatly, check the steaks frequently.
‣ Transfer steak to a platter and tent with foil: If you’re using a charcoal grill and the coals have gone out, make the biggest fire you can. If you’re using a gas grill, make sure all of the burners are set to high heat and let the grill preheat with the lid closed.
Disadvantages of Reverse-Searing Steak
I’ll be the first to admit that reverse-searing isn’t all rose-pink centers. The procedure has three major drawbacks. The first factor is time. It’s much faster to season a steak and place it in a hot pan, flipping it every now and then until it’s done.
The second disadvantage is that reverse-seared steaks produce almost no fond, the browned bits that stick to the pan and serve as the foundation for pan sauces.
So, if you want a sauce to accompany your reverse-seared steak, you’ll have to make it separately. This second disadvantage is, of course, not significant.
Is Sous-Vide Steak Better Than Reverse-Seared Steak?
Although the reverse sear mimicked the effects of sous vide cooking, it turns out that the method is actually superior in one important way: searing.
Even if you carefully pat them dry, sous vide steaks come out of their bags wet, making it difficult to get a good sear on them. A steak cooked in the reverse sear will have a better crust and, as a result, a deeper, roastier flavor.
However, sous vide cooking is even more foolproof than reverse-searing. It’s nearly impossible to overcook a steak when cooking it sous vide, so if consistency is your goal, sous vide is the way to go.
Learning how to reverse-sear means you can serve steakhouse-quality meals in the comfort of your own home. The secret to this ingenious cooking method is to first cook the steak in a low oven before quickly sear both sides in a blazing hot skillet.
As a result, the steak has a deeply browned crust, and an evenly cooked interior. This method is useful when cooking thick steaks.
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