Why Sear-First is Better Than Reverse-Sear for Steak

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betarhoalphadelta

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You know, for a long while I've been a "reverse sear" guy when it comes to steak. I learned it from Amazing Ribs, where I've learned a lot of great things about cooking--and it helped me get my steaks from novice to very good. But it's time to graduate to a better method.

I believe the reverse sear is targeted at people who don't know that much about cooking, don't know that much about how to finish a piece of meat, and thus it helps them to avoid overcooking. For a novice, I think too many of them just throw steaks on a hot grill and cook over direct heat, which means the outside is charred black to get to appropriate doneness, or the inside is raw to get to appropriate color outside. For those folks, reverse sear is an improvement. I know I was one of those novices--and hence why reverse sear improved my steaks significantly.

However, by getting the temp up to near-done levels and then blasting it with high heat to sear, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to make sure that you get a perfect sear and perfect doneness. You're always playing a dangerous game that if you sear it as strong as you want, are you going to be above, at, or below your target internal temp? You're so close to finishing temp when you sear that it's balancing on that knife edge of making sure you can get the sear and doneness right.

But there's a reason no serious chefs or steakhouses use the reverse sear, and I think it's because of the problem I mentioned above of having to time it perfectly to get the color and doneness perfectly right. If you get the color perfect first while the middle of the steak is still pretty cold, you can gently bring it up to the finishing temp to perfect doneness. Best of both worlds.

So I'm back to the sear-then-finish method.

Two ways to do it:

  • Grill: This method either requires two grills, a grill that can easily support two-zone cooking with one portion indirect, or searing on the grill and then moving inside to an oven. To do this, you need one grill ripping hot--hotter than many grills support unless they are a kettle with a bunch of coals piled up, a kamado, or a grill with a dedicated searing station. Many gassers aren't good at this, and pellet grills even worse. At this point you want extreme direct heat. Cook on all sides until you get the right color. Feel free to flip as many times as you need to avoid burning the meat--don't be a "I only flip ONCE" guy or you're likely to burn it if the grill is hot enough. Once the color is right, remove to a MUCH lower temp grill or the oven--in this case the pellet grills are great because they're automatically indirect and you can set them to a low temp like 225. Stick a leave-in meat thermometer in the grill and let the steak slowly come up to temp until you get to your desired temp MINUS 5 degrees which will carry over during resting. So for medium rare (130-135 IT) I'll pull at about 127 degrees and wrap in foil on a cutting board / etc to rest.
  • Stove/oven: Preheat the oven to 225 and get a cast iron pan on top of a flame on HIGH heat. Get some oil and butter sizzling in the pan, and set the steak(s) down in the pan. You can optionally add some herbs/garlic to the pan. Depending on the shape and thickness of the steak, you may or may not want to sear the sides; a thinner steak it won't matter. If you sear the sides, do the sides about a minute each before the top or bottom. You don't need to worry about the same level of color as the top or bottom, and if you do, you risk overcooking. But once the sides are lightly seared, put the steak face down in the pan and sear 4-5 minutes, basting the top with the butter/oil mixture as you go. After 4-5 minutes, flip the steak, and sear the other side. Remove to a baking sheet, insert a leave-in remote thermometer in the center, and put it into the oven. I used to recommend searing one side, flipping, and then putting the hot cast iron pan in the oven. I prefer a baking sheet because it makes it impossible to over-sear since you've already done both sides. Leave in the oven until your IT reads your desired temp minus 5 degrees, and then remove to foil and a cutting board / etc to rest. Don't rest it on a hot pan or it can risk overcooking.

Reverse sear is a great method to learn for cooking steak... But this is the next level.
 

GoodTruble

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Reverse sear can help soften and render some tougher tissue. So the cut of meat can matter.

But my approach is even simpler - get steaks cut to 1.25 inches thick. It's the perfect thickness for home cooking/grilling because you can just blast any reasonably high temp and it's vitrually impossible to overcook the middle.
 

Brooothru

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You know, for a long while I've been a "reverse sear" guy when it comes to steak. I learned it from Amazing Ribs, where I've learned a lot of great things about cooking--and it helped me get my steaks from novice to very good. But it's time to graduate to a better method.

I believe the reverse sear is targeted at people who don't know that much about cooking, don't know that much about how to finish a piece of meat, and thus it helps them to avoid overcooking. For a novice, I think too many of them just throw steaks on a hot grill and cook over direct heat, which means the outside is charred black to get to appropriate doneness, or the inside is raw to get to appropriate color outside. For those folks, reverse sear is an improvement. I know I was one of those novices--and hence why reverse sear improved my steaks significantly.

However, by getting the temp up to near-done levels and then blasting it with high heat to sear, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to make sure that you get a perfect sear and perfect doneness. You're always playing a dangerous game that if you sear it as strong as you want, are you going to be above, at, or below your target internal temp? You're so close to finishing temp when you sear that it's balancing on that knife edge of making sure you can get the sear and doneness right.

But there's a reason no serious chefs or steakhouses use the reverse sear, and I think it's because of the problem I mentioned above of having to time it perfectly to get the color and doneness perfectly right. If you get the color perfect first while the middle of the steak is still pretty cold, you can gently bring it up to the finishing temp to perfect doneness. Best of both worlds.

So I'm back to the sear-then-finish method.

Two ways to do it:

  • Grill: This method either requires two grills, a grill that can easily support two-zone cooking with one portion indirect, or searing on the grill and then moving inside to an oven. To do this, you need one grill ripping hot--hotter than many grills support unless they are a kettle with a bunch of coals piled up, a kamado, or a grill with a dedicated searing station. Many gassers aren't good at this, and pellet grills even worse. At this point you want extreme direct heat. Cook on all sides until you get the right color. Feel free to flip as many times as you need to avoid burning the meat--don't be a "I only flip ONCE" guy or you're likely to burn it if the grill is hot enough. Once the color is right, remove to a MUCH lower temp grill or the oven--in this case the pellet grills are great because they're automatically indirect and you can set them to a low temp like 225. Stick a leave-in meat thermometer in the grill and let the steak slowly come up to temp until you get to your desired temp MINUS 5 degrees which will carry over during resting. So for medium rare (130-135 IT) I'll pull at about 127 degrees and wrap in foil on a cutting board / etc to rest.
  • Stove/oven: Preheat the oven to 225 and get a cast iron pan on top of a flame on HIGH heat. Get some oil and butter sizzling in the pan, and set the steak(s) down in the pan. You can optionally add some herbs/garlic to the pan. Depending on the shape and thickness of the steak, you may or may not want to sear the sides; a thinner steak it won't matter. If you sear the sides, do the sides about a minute each before the top or bottom. You don't need to worry about the same level of color as the top or bottom, and if you do, you risk overcooking. But once the sides are lightly seared, put the steak face down in the pan and sear 4-5 minutes, basting the top with the butter/oil mixture as you go. After 4-5 minutes, flip the steak, and sear the other side. Remove to a baking sheet, insert a leave-in remote thermometer in the center, and put it into the oven. I used to recommend searing one side, flipping, and then putting the hot cast iron pan in the oven. I prefer a baking sheet because it makes it impossible to over-sear since you've already done both sides. Leave in the oven until your IT reads your desired temp minus 5 degrees, and then remove to foil and a cutting board / etc to rest. Don't rest it on a hot pan or it can risk overcooking.

Reverse sear is a great method to learn for cooking steak... But this is the next level.
OK, you had me at "steak."

For the past few years I've been a fan boy/true believer in sous vide steak done to 125°F (rare, blood red), followed with a very quick, VERY hot sear at ~750°F for about 30-45 seconds per side.

I've got a 4 burner Weber grill with a dedicated 5th burner element for searing that gets ripping hot in short order. I've also seared in an old, reliable well seasoned family hand-me-down cast iron skillet that also does the job when placed on the external 12,000 BTU side burner.

Both methods, when used with sous vide, produce some of the most tenderful, tastey, perfectly finished steaks imaginable, and I was born and raised in Kansas City. Trust me when I say I know good steak.

Recently I've been hearing about reverse searing in prep for sous vide, but it seemed a little "weird", even more involved (and unnecessary) compared to 'normal' sous vide. Now you've piqued my interest, and I'll have to try it.
 
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DBhomebrew

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You know, for a long while I've been a "reverse sear" guy when it comes to steak. I learned it from Amazing Ribs, where I've learned a lot of great things about cooking--and it helped me get my steaks from novice to very good. But it's time to graduate to a better method.

I believe the reverse sear is targeted at people who don't know that much about cooking, don't know that much about how to finish a piece of meat, and thus it helps them to avoid overcooking. For a novice, I think too many of them just throw steaks on a hot grill and cook over direct heat, which means the outside is charred black to get to appropriate doneness, or the inside is raw to get to appropriate color outside. For those folks, reverse sear is an improvement. I know I was one of those novices--and hence why reverse sear improved my steaks significantly.

However, by getting the temp up to near-done levels and then blasting it with high heat to sear, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to make sure that you get a perfect sear and perfect doneness. You're always playing a dangerous game that if you sear it as strong as you want, are you going to be above, at, or below your target internal temp? You're so close to finishing temp when you sear that it's balancing on that knife edge of making sure you can get the sear and doneness right.

But there's a reason no serious chefs or steakhouses use the reverse sear, and I think it's because of the problem I mentioned above of having to time it perfectly to get the color and doneness perfectly right. If you get the color perfect first while the middle of the steak is still pretty cold, you can gently bring it up to the finishing temp to perfect doneness. Best of both worlds.

So I'm back to the sear-then-finish method.

Two ways to do it:

  • Grill: This method either requires two grills, a grill that can easily support two-zone cooking with one portion indirect, or searing on the grill and then moving inside to an oven. To do this, you need one grill ripping hot--hotter than many grills support unless they are a kettle with a bunch of coals piled up, a kamado, or a grill with a dedicated searing station. Many gassers aren't good at this, and pellet grills even worse. At this point you want extreme direct heat. Cook on all sides until you get the right color. Feel free to flip as many times as you need to avoid burning the meat--don't be a "I only flip ONCE" guy or you're likely to burn it if the grill is hot enough. Once the color is right, remove to a MUCH lower temp grill or the oven--in this case the pellet grills are great because they're automatically indirect and you can set them to a low temp like 225. Stick a leave-in meat thermometer in the grill and let the steak slowly come up to temp until you get to your desired temp MINUS 5 degrees which will carry over during resting. So for medium rare (130-135 IT) I'll pull at about 127 degrees and wrap in foil on a cutting board / etc to rest.
  • Stove/oven: Preheat the oven to 225 and get a cast iron pan on top of a flame on HIGH heat. Get some oil and butter sizzling in the pan, and set the steak(s) down in the pan. You can optionally add some herbs/garlic to the pan. Depending on the shape and thickness of the steak, you may or may not want to sear the sides; a thinner steak it won't matter. If you sear the sides, do the sides about a minute each before the top or bottom. You don't need to worry about the same level of color as the top or bottom, and if you do, you risk overcooking. But once the sides are lightly seared, put the steak face down in the pan and sear 4-5 minutes, basting the top with the butter/oil mixture as you go. After 4-5 minutes, flip the steak, and sear the other side. Remove to a baking sheet, insert a leave-in remote thermometer in the center, and put it into the oven. I used to recommend searing one side, flipping, and then putting the hot cast iron pan in the oven. I prefer a baking sheet because it makes it impossible to over-sear since you've already done both sides. Leave in the oven until your IT reads your desired temp minus 5 degrees, and then remove to foil and a cutting board / etc to rest. Don't rest it on a hot pan or it can risk overcooking.

Reverse sear is a great method to learn for cooking steak... But this is the next level.

I got stressed just by reading that! I'll take my easy-going reverse sear with very reliable results, thank you. Works with thick steaks, chops, roasts, chicken parts, what-have-you. And when it comes to home-cooked or camp-cooked meats, I am no novice.

"Reverse sear is a great method to learn for cooking steak... But this is the next level."

"But there's a reason no serious chefs or steakhouses use the reverse sear,"


For the record, we've covered this elsewhere. BIAB is all-grain and a miniature pro-style system doesn't make inherently better beer.

:mug: to well executed steak, no matter how you get there.
 
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betarhoalphadelta

betarhoalphadelta

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I said what I said 😂

PXL_20220905_030103008.jpg
 
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betarhoalphadelta

betarhoalphadelta

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OK, you had me at "steak."

For the past few years I've been a fan boy/true believer in sous vide steak done to 125°F (rare, blood red), followed with a very quick, VERY hot sear at ~750°F for about 30-45 seconds per side.

I've got a 4 burner Weber grill with a dedicated 5th burner element for searing that gets ripping hot in short order. I've also seared in an old, reliable well seasoned family hand-me-down cast iron skillet that also does the job when placed on the external 12,000 BTU side burner.

Both methods, when used with sous vide, produce some of the most tenderful, tastey, perfectly finished steaks imaginable, and I was born and raised in Kansas City. Trust me when I say I know good steak.

Recently I've been hearing about reverse searing in prep for sous vide, but it seemed a little "weird", even more involved (and unnecessary) compared to 'normal' sous vide. Now you've piqued my interest, and I'll have to try it.

Not the biggest fan of sous vide, except for filet where it's perfect. Would probably be nice on strip as well, but I don't eat a lot of strip. To me it doesn't do quite as good of a job of rendering the fat as a high-heat cooking method. And since I'm a ribeye boy, there's a lot of fat in my steaks.

That said, if you like sous vide, I'm comfortable with the sous vide + sear method. It's IMHO harder to overcook a steak with sous vide + sear than a traditional reverse sear.

I got stressed just by reading that! I'll take my easy-going reverse sear with very reliable results, thank you. Works with thick steaks, chops, roasts, chicken parts, what-have-you. And when it comes to home-cooked or camp-cooked meats, I am no novice.

"Reverse sear is a great method to learn for cooking steak... But this is the next level."

"But there's a reason no serious chefs or steakhouses use the reverse sear,"


For the record, we've covered this elsewhere. BIAB is all-grain and a miniature pro-style system doesn't make inherently better beer.

:mug: to well executed steak, no matter how you get there.

I should point out that this is also a VERY easy-going method. IMHO even easier than reverse sear. Blast the hell out of it until you get the right color/crust, throw in a thermometer, and put it in a much lower temp indirect heat environment. Pull it 5 degrees under your finish temp, let it rest, and you're good to go. I think it's actually easier than reverse sear, although obviously for us novices (not restaurant chefs) it relies on the technology of a good leave-in thermometer probe. If you had to constantly poke it with an instant-read it would be less easy.

I use this for rack of lamb and tri tip as well. Sear for color/crust first, move to indirect, drop in a temp probe, pull at the right temp. Easier IMHO than trying to wait until it's just under temp and then sear it and risk under-/over-cooking it.
 

Deadalus

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If I had to guess I would say I've cooked tens of thousands of steaks back when I was younger, plus thousands of burgers, and tons of chicken and seafood as a broiler cook. I won't say the perfect way to cook a steak, as I was never a chef, but getting the doneness correct on a grill is entirely possible without scorching the outside. It's just a matter of knowing your grill well and understanding the meat you are cooking. A grill is going to have zones which have different temperatures, a gas grill has a fixed flame pattern and it's not uniform. (In a restaurant, you don't fiddle with the knobs on the grill all night, the grill is ON.) I could have five burgers on the same ticket all different doneness and have them come out at the same time, started at the same time as well. I could have over a dozen steaks or burgers on the grill and know how they were supposed to be cooked by where they were at. As far as understanding the meat, lots of different factors but consider steaks in general. One steakhouse I worked cut their meat in-house. The weight of a particular steak for a specific price was pretty standard steak to steak but the thickness could vary. As soon as I heard the ticket, I would grab a steak out of the drawer based on the doneness. Usually this was based on how thick it was cut but also there was a certain texture sometimes that would cause the steak to swell on the grill. I knew on those they would be hard to get to medium. Then there would be chicken, ribs, filet mignon, strip steaks, tuna, salmon, etc. I could check doneness by knowing the grill, visual cues, and a poke of a finger if I wasn't 100% certain.

We didn't pan sear much, steaks were seared on the grill unless blackened or my favorite to cook, black and blue (Pittsburgh) a quick sear on both sides then send it out mooing! Those were done on cast iron.

And always keep your grill scraped, makes for nice diamond marks.
 
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betarhoalphadelta

betarhoalphadelta

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@Deadalus Yeah, when you're paid to cook steaks and you cook dozens or more each night, it's a different thing. I hope to someday get to the point where I can handle these things w/o a thermometer and by sight/touch/experience. I'm not there.

Re: cast iron sear, I think that's more to do with the fact that a lot of people don't have grills that put out enough BTUs to really handle steaks properly. If you can't generate enough heat to get a good sear on a grill, a really hot cast iron can "store" a ton of heat and transmit it to the surface of a steak much more effectively than a weak grill...
 

Deadalus

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@Deadalus Yeah, when you're paid to cook steaks and you cook dozens or more each night, it's a different thing. I hope to someday get to the point where I can handle these things w/o a thermometer and by sight/touch/experience. I'm not there.

Re: cast iron sear, I think that's more to do with the fact that a lot of people don't have grills that put out enough BTUs to really handle steaks properly. If you can't generate enough heat to get a good sear on a grill, a really hot cast iron can "store" a ton of heat and transmit it to the surface of a steak much more effectively than a weak grill...
Of course. I'm pretty confident it was over a hundred a night at the steakhouse I worked at. Full drawers of them, with a restock or two on a busy night. Honestly it is a tricky station to learn in the restaurant. Besides cooking the food correctly, there's volume and speed and many cooks just didn't excel at it. I think back on how many times my mom who only ate her steak well done would send it back when eating out, it was nearly every time. Charred on the outside and pink on the inside or burnt the hell up. Same for me but I don't eat meat anymore. As a kid I absolutely hated grilled steaks and burgers because nobody cooked them correctly at any BBQ I ever went to. Broiler was my favorite station to work, thus my curiosity here, but I couldn't tell you whether your method might produce a better tasting steak. That's why I was wondering about the cast iron. My stepfather used to make a tasty London broil baking it instead of broiling it. The whole sous vide thing is long after my time in the kitchen.

Your diamond marks were good! It would have been fantastic to have an electronic thermometer just for quality control. Some cooks used to cut the bottom to check sometimes when there were disputes between staff. You've got the understanding that you just can't leave the steak in the same spot and flame the hell out of it. The one thing I would say is that when you are putting it in the oven, you won't be watching it nearly as closely and you may not be learning as quickly as might happen on the grill. You can't watch it sweat for instance or hear it sizzle, at least not too easily.
 
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