The best way to cook a nice thick steak is with the reverse sear method.
This process involves slowly cooking the steak at low temperature and then finishing it on a blazing hot grill.
It’s the best way to guarantee succulent, better than steak-house quality steak at home.
For this recipe I used my Weber Kettle charcoal grill, but you can easily use your oven and then finish the steak in a hot cast iron pan.
So don’t risk ruining an expensive, thick-cut steak, read on and learn how to use the reverse sear method.
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What is the reverse sear method?
The reverse sear method is a better way to cook thick steaks. The process involves slowly bringing the steak up to temperature in a grill or oven at low heat and then searing it at high heat.
This method gives you more control over how the interior of the steak cooks so you can achieve a perfectly uniform medium rare with a beautiful brown crust.
You’ve probably seen recipes that call for searing a thick piece of meat first to “lock in the juices” and then finishing it in the oven.
Food scientists have actually proved that this is false.
The reverse sear method simply flips the traditional approach on its head for a better end result.
The method originates from sous vide cooking, where the meat is sealed and then slowly brought up to temperature in a controlled water bath.
You don’t need to invest in expensive sous vide gear to do the reverse sear though. A smoker, grill, or oven all work for the low and slow stage and then you can finish the steak over a hot grill or in a cast iron pan.
Benefits of the reverse sear method
If you’re cooking steak that’s 1 inch or thicker, the reverse sear method has a lot of advantages.
- Inside cooks more evenly – Because the steak cooks at a low temperature first the entire steak cooks more evenly instead of the out side burning while the inside is still raw.
- Better crust – While the steak cooks at low temperature the surface dries. The Maillard reaction can’t start until most of the steak’s surface moisture has evaporated so this process helps ensure a beautiful crust.
- Easier to avoid overcooking – When searing a thick steak, the outside will burn before the inside is done. There’s also only a narrow window when the center will be perfect. With the reverse sear the temperature moves so slow it’s easy to take it off at the right moment.
I just find the whole process much less stressful, especially if I’m cooking multiple steaks.
Disadvantages of the reverse sear method
The reverse sear definitely isn’t a perfect method for every cut of meat.
- More time consuming – It’s faster to just throw a steak on the grill and flip it a few times until it’s done.
- Only works on thick steak – The method breaks down if the steak is less than an inch thick. 1.5 – 2 inches+ works much better.
If you’re concerned that the streak is two big, I find that one two inch thick rib eye is enough for two people.
How to reverse sear a steak
The beauty of the reverse sear method is that the process can be broken down into a few simple steps.
Unlike the normal way of cooking steak, you actually have plenty of time to get organised.
I used a charcoal grill for the entire process, but you can easily use an oven and then finish on the grill, or stay inside and finish on a hot cast iron pan.
Temperature for reverse seared steak
|Doneness||Low Heat Target||Final Temperature|
I wont include the target temps for anything above medium, you might as well just throw your steak in the microwave if you’re going to cook it until well done.
This method of cooking steak relies on a meat thermometer.
1. Salt the steak the night before
Once you have a thick cut steak the reverse sear process is simple. I like to start the night before by dry brining the steak.
Sprinkle a generous amount of kosher salt and let is sit uncovered in the fridge.
This helps the the outside of the steak get dry, while making the steak more moist.
You can also do this a few hours before you want to eat.
2. Fire up your grill
For the low and slow phase of the cook you want to get your grill up to about 200 – 250°F.
To do this on the Weber Kettle I used about 1/2 a chimney of charcoal briquettes.
Briquettes are best for this step because the heat is more regular.
Once the briquettes have started to ash over dump them into one side of the grill.
I used the charcoal basket that came with the Kettle to keep the coals contained.
I had the vents fully open until I got up to about 180°F and then closed the bottom vent about 3/4.
You can also use a water pan to help keep the temperature stable.
You could definitely add a chunk of smoke wood here for an extra smoky flavor.
3. Cook the steak at low heat
Once your grill is up to temp it’s time to place the steak on the cool side of the grill.
It’s also helpful to monitor temperature at the same location as the steak. The built in thermometer will read much higher because it’s closer to the charcoal.
I set up the grill temperature probe on my ThermoWorks Smoke on the cool side of the grill next to the steak.
Position the steak so the fattier side is pointing towards the charcoal. If you have a bone-in steak then the bone side should face the coals.
This will help protect the meat.
You want to place a probe in the thickest part of the steak so you can monitor temperature.
For medium rare you want to bring the steak up to 110 – 115°F.
You will also use the steak temperature to let you know when you should fire up some more charcoal to get ready for the searing stage.
4. Sear the steak over high heat
To properly sear the steak you’re going to need to add more charcoal.
This is where doing both the low and slow and searing steps in the same grill can be a little bit annoying.
You can always do the first step in the oven, and then have your grill setup for searing, but I decided to do it all in the Weber.
Once the steak hits 80 – 85°F internal temperature get a full charcoal chimney going. I’m using lump charcoal because it burns a little bit hotter.
By the time the steak hits 110°F, the new chimney of charcoal should be ready.
Set the steak aside, remove the grill grates and pour the charcoal on top of the original briquettes.
If you had to close the vents during the low and slow part of the cook, open them up all the way now.
Give the steak a quick wipe with paper towels and then apply a small amount of vegetable oil, as well as salt and freshly ground black pepper before carefully placing back on the hot part of the grill.
The actual sear stage won’t take long. About two minutes total.
Ignore the advice you often hear about not turning a steak more than once. Flipping multiple times gives you a move even sear and tastier crust.
If you are grilling a steak with lots of fat like a rib eye you’re going to get some flare ups. If that happens just flip the steak.
Don’t forget to hit the sides of the steak as this will help render the fat.
Once both sides of the steak have developed a nice crust I start probing with my Thermapen Mk4 every 20 – 30 seconds until I hit my desired internal temp of 125°F for medium rare.
You can take the steak off about 5°F before your target, as it will keep cooking while it rests.
There’s no need to rest your steak, but I do let it sit for a few minutes while I finish preparing any sides.
Read more – 11 Mind Blowing Side Dishes for Steak
I like to keep it simple and serve the steak with some grilled broccolini.
Notice how there’s almost no grey around the outside of the steak. Thanks to the reverse sear you get a beautiful crust and then the steak is cooked evenly on the inside.
I cooked this one a little on the rare side, which is just how I like it.
- Thick cut rib eye steak 1 – 2 inches thick
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Vegetable oil
- If you have time, prep the steaks the night before by applying a generous amount of kosher salt and placing uncovered on a rack in the refrigerator.
- Heat your grill to 225 – 250°F. Use a water pan to help maintain a nice low temperature.
- Place the steak on the cool side of the grill and close the lid. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 80°F.
- Flip the steak to ensure it heats through evenly. At this point you can start your charcoal chimney for the final sear.
- For medium rare remove steak from the grill when it hits an internal temperature of 110 – 115°F. Set steaks aside while you prep the grill for searing.
- Empty a full chimney of hot lump charcoal on top of the briquettes and then return the grill rack.
- Sear the steak over the intense heat flipping regularly and making sure to get a good crust on each side. Two – three minutes total depending on the size of your steak.
- Remove steak from the grill when it hits 130-135°F for medium rare. Leave to rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving.
- While steak is resting is the perfect time to finish any sides. I recommend grilled broccolini.