The reverse sear is a method in which meat is brought up to an internal temperature just below desired doneness and then placed over intense heat to start the Maillard Reaction.

This is called “reverse” because the normal and most widely accepted method is to sear the raw meat first and then bring up to internal temperature.  The reasoning is thought to be that searing the meat first seals in the juices.

The Myth

Searing the meat seals in the juices.  

– Grandma

No it doesn’t.  I hate to say it, but grandma’s tales of old are incorrect.  The thought is that because searing creates a harder shell around the meat that it would somehow hold in the juices.  

FACT:  Animals and meat are 75% water.  Think about this for a moment… If you had a sponge that was 75% filled with water, it’d be dripping significant quantities of water. The only reason this doesn’t happen with the meat is because the H2O molecules are bound to the protein molecules.

When you apply heat, the proteins begin to constrict and will squeeze out the water like squeezing a sponge.  This will happen, regardless of what you do to the outside.  The water WILL escape.  This is why your meat shrinks…

The Reverse Sear

Now that we are finished debunking the myth, lets talk about the reverse sear method.

The reverse sear method has two main advantages:

1. Best presentation – The reverse sear provides for the best presentation of cut meat by minimizing the overcooked ring.  It’s that “edge to edge” pink that you often see in photos.  Well, don’t be fooled too much, most of those picturesque photos are photoshopped and fake.  Here is a picture of my latest attempt at reverse sear reality.

Medium Rare

2. Significantly better control –  Depending on the method used to slowly heat the meat, you could dial in the temperature quite precisely prior to the sear, guaranteeing that you won’t under/over cook the meat.

Common methods of slow heating

When we discuss the method of slowly heating, we are talking about lower temperatures that don’t overcook the meat on the outside before the inside is at the target temperature.

Sous Vide – The absolute best and easiest way to bring a piece of meat to temperature is Sous Vide.  Sous Vide, another French invention, not only guarantees the meat will be at the perfect temperature, it will keep it at that exact temperature for at least 2 hours.

Oven – Setting the oven to a low temperature, around 225 degrees F, will be sufficient for slowly heating the meat.  If available, using a wire rack for maximum airflow is ideal.

Grill – Keep the meat over indirect heat.  The grill tends to be the easiest and most common method as it is really simple to move the meat from indirect heat to direct heat to finish the cook.

Common methods of Searing 

Pan Sear – Heat a cast iron or stainless steel pan on the stove for at least 5 minutes on medium high. Searing in a cast iron needs minimal to no oil added. The steak will release significant liquid.  Add meat and sear 1-2 minutes per side.

Grill – Place the meat on a preheated grill on the highest heat possible; Charcoal grills are ideal for searing. Sear for approximately 2-3 minutes per side.            

Afterburner – This is my favorite, but also the biggest pain as well as the largest waste of charcoal.  It involves partially filling a charcoal chimney with charcoal and lighting.  Once at full temperature, a stainless steel grate is put over the top and the steak takes <30 seconds per side.  It is a lot of work for a very short period of time but it makes the perfect sear.  

How to Reverse Sear Meat

While this is a very simple process, it does take some practice.  It will yield some of the best steaks you’ve ever had! The process below is for steaks that are ~1″ thick. If you have a thicker steak, you will have to adjust accordingly, as mentioned below.

Step 1: Prepare your meat as you’d like. I like plain salt and pepper.

Step 2: Slowly heat using one of the common (or uncommon but don’t ever do this unless you want a kitchen fire) heating methods.  Check the internal temperature after 20 minutes, and every few minutes thereafter to ensure it is pulled at the correct temperature. Please use a reliable digital thermometer.

Pull the meat at the following temperatures:
Rare: 85 degrees
Medium Rare: 95 degrees
Medium: 105 degrees
Well Done: 115 degrees

If your piece of meat is 1.5″ thick, add 10 degrees F. If you have a 2″ thick piece of meat, add 15 degrees F.

Step 3: Sear the meat on a very hot surface for ~1-2 minutes per side.  Measure the temperature.  When it is about 5 degrees from the target temperature, remove and let rest for ~10 minutes.  If it is not within 5-8 degrees of the target temperature, continue flipping every 30 seconds and measuring again.

Target Temperature:
Rare: 120-130 degrees
Medium Rare: 130-135 degrees
Medium: 135-145 degrees
Well Done: 145+ degrees

Thinly slice for the most perfect steak you’ve ever had! This meal was my reward for writing this article. 🙂

(If you like the look of those asparagus, check out how)

Happy Q’ing!

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