When I was googling what to title this post, there were a ton of searches on how to reverse sear a steak. And yes, the best way to cook a steak is the reverse sear method. Sorry you immersion cooking fans (that’s the sous vide crowd), but I’ll take the reverse sear method over immersion cooking. Since this is the internet, and if I say I like apples some jack hole is going to assume I hate oranges (even though I said no such thing – I happen to like both). Nevertheless, I have to explain that I don’t hate sous vide. Sous vide is amazing. I just prefer the reverse sear. I’ll get into why as we go through the rest of this tutorial of How to Reverse Sear: With Pictures. But the reason I didn’t include steak in the title of this post is that I reverse sear all kinds of proteins. Steak is just one of them (and this reverse seared steak with beef tallow is one of if not the best steak I’ve ever had). I also reverse sear pork and chicken and lamb and even fish! The science behind the reverse sear works on any protein. Which begs the question:
What is so Great about the Reverse Sear Method?
There are a number of reasons why the reverse sear method is great. First, by smoking the meat at the beginning, which means cooking the meat at a much lower temperature than searing, the temp of the meat comes up much more slowly and thus we get more even cooking while infusing with smoke flavor. When searing first (at temps north of 400F) there’s a grey band around the outside because that cold meat hit that super hot metal and the extreme temperature shock results in over cooking the outside. By smoking first (at temps under 300F), the meat comes up to temp much more slowly and we will get a coast to coast redness like with this steak:
Some are wondering about the grill marks or flavor crust one gets by searing first. We get that too. Just at the end. So the flavor crust is there and is spectacular, particularly if you bring cast iron into the mix. More on that later.
If we sear first, not only do we get the gray bands around the outside:
But also, when that steak is moved over to the side of the grill with no direct heat to bake/smoke, it’s just not taking on any smoke flavor. The meat is cooked too much after the sear to take any smoke. By smoking first, with the reverse sear method, that smoke is infused into the meat and THEN we get the char from the sear. That’s a win/win.
Also, I want to apologize for that picture above with the grey bands around the outside of the steak. Once you see it, you can’t ever not see it. Listen, that steak above is still delicious. The one above it is just more delicious. If the worst thing you did in a day is eat that steak with the grey bands, you had a damn good day. But if the worst thing you did in a day was eat the steak above it, well, send me some of the lottery winnings from that day because you had one of the best days in the history of all days.
So let’s get to the process
How to Reverse Sear: With Pictures
The process is simple. Smoke the protein to between 10 and 20 degrees below what you want the desired doneness to be and then sear. So if you want a rare steak, smoke until it hits 100F-105F then sear to take it that last 15F-20F degrees. So yes, an instant read thermometer is vital to this method as I’m doing with this lamb I’m taking to medium rare (122 is not the finished temp, it still needs to sear):
After those lamb racks smoked to about 120F, they were seared:
If you want to cook something to medium, smoke to 125F-130F and then sear.
Reverse Sear on a Pellet Grill
If you have a dedicated smoker, set it to 225F-275F and smoke the protein like with these steaks:
That dedicated pellet cooker has a built in probe thermometer so I can monitor the temps and not risk going beyond.
Reverse Sear on a Gas Grill
If you have a gas grill, turn on the burner on one side and put some smoke wood on it and place the protein on the far side like I did with this fish:
Wood chips in a foil pouch with some holes in it make for the smoke action I need.
Reverse Sear on a Kamado Grill
With a kamado grill place the heat deflector(s) between the meat and the hot coals and smoke wood. On a regular grill place the charcoal on one side and the meat on the other side. In this case, I did this with some chicken lollipops on a kamado grill because my Primo kamado is oval and I can bank coals to one side and place a ton of chicken legs on the other side:
Reverse Sear on a Standard Charcoal Grill
And here is another picture of some tomahawk pork chops being reverse seared on a standard grill with coals and smoke wood on the right, chops on the left:
Once the protein hits to 10F-20F shy of the desired doneness, crank up the heat to north of 400F and sear off the outside. Take a look at those chicken lollipops getting a sear on the kamado:
And here is some of that wonderful browning:
But if you want to take it up notch, grab a cast iron skillet of griddle. The older I get the more I realize that cast iron is just plain magic. I will show this with just one picture. These steaks are being seared on a standard charcoal grill:
Want to see that reverse seared steak sliced?
Or maybe those tomahawk pork chops?
Don’t forget to sear the outside edge:
This is the exact cast iron griddle I used in all of those pics above. I know it says it’s a pizza stone, but I use it as a griddle and it’s amazing.
You could also spark up the charcoal chimney and place a grill grate on top and sear that way, in case these boneless pork chops:
And just because I know you want some more food porn, or in this case steak porn or more specifically reverse seared steak porn:
How to Reverse Sear: With Pictures Summary
So let’s sum up.
- Wonderful smoky flavor: Check
- Even cooking with no gray band around the outside: Check
- Wonderful char from the sear: Check
That list and these pics should be all you need. And realize that the Good Eats episode from Alton Brown on grilling a steak was redone to be about reverse searing. I have immense respect for Alton Brown. Give that episode a look if this wasn’t enough.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or send me an email.