I have written a few times about reverse searing in the past (Sear vs. Reverse Sear, Reverse Searing on a Gas Grill, 5 Reasons I Love the Reverse Sear Method) but I have never talked about how to reverse sear a steak on a charcoal grill. Most of my reverse searing has been done in the oven and finished on the stove with a cast iron pan but over the past few months I have been cooking more and more of my steaks on the grill. I am not leaving my cast iron pan for good, it was just time to play around with some other cooking methods.
This post isn’t meant to be a “charcoal is better than gas” argument although I firmly believe that. And this method is very similar to how you would reverse sear on a gas grill but for my money the extra flavor you get from charcoal is worth the few extra minutes of time it takes to prep the coals.
Now let’s get on to the steak!!!
I picked up a few prime NY Strips from Costco. These two (especially the one on the left) had some excellent marbling and a nice layer of fat on outside. The side without the fat cap is what goes up against the bone in a t-bone or porterhouse BTW.
Step 1: Salt generously, give a quick sprinkle of pepper and let them come to room temperature on a rack for about 30 minutes or so. When I say salt generously I mean generously. These steaks were 1 1/2 inches thick and although I didn’t measure the salt I would guess a tablespoon on each might be conservative. Salt both sides and the edges and don’t worry, your steak won’t be too salty.
While the steaks are resting now is a great time to get your coals ready. I use a chimney starter and used a full chimney’s worth for these in my Weber kettle grill. The coals should be almost completely white when they are ready and they will be nice and hot.
Step 2: Dump your coals on one side of the grill. Get them as far to one side as you can and this will give you a nice dual zone cooking chamber. Let the grill grate get hot for a minute or two and brush the steaks lightly with oil (I usually use canola but other high smoke point oils like grapeseed or avocado work well too) and put them on the grill away from the coals.
This allows the steaks to cook through without getting burnt on the outside. If I just put the steaks over the hot coals the outside would be charred before the inside would cook. I cooked these to 110 degrees (you do have a probe thermometer don’t you?). This took me about 15 minutes but trust your thermometer, not a clock since every grill will heat a bit differently.
Step 3: Time to get some heat on these steaks! Nobody likes a grey steak. Somehow you need to get a nice crust on the outside of the steak and that is where the heat blasting up from the coals comes in. It will only take maybe a minute per side to get some nice mahogany color and some good grill marks on the steak. If you get any black you have overdone it and will be left with a bitter steak which nobody likes. You want the internal temperature to be 120-125 degrees or so and they will get to that temp very quickly.
Step 4: Rest the steaks for about 5-10 minutes. I know it is hard to resist cutting into them but please refrain for a few minutes. The muscle fibers have just gone through some wicked heat torture and have squeezed out a lot of their juices and a few minutes of rest will let the fibers relax and take back in some of the juice. If you cut in right now you will end up with a plate full of juice that should be in your steak. I love the color on these steaks BTW!
Step 5: EAT!!! These steaks were very good. Not perfect though (more on that later) but I really like how you have a lot of pink/red and not much grey around the outside of the steak. That is from the reverse sear. When you get the meat mostly to temperature over lower heat and then blast it with as much heat as you can give it you are left with a steak that is cooked perfectly from side to side.
Now on to where I can improve… Very good steak is easy to nail which I did here but excellent steak? That is what I always strive for and there were a couple things I will do differently next time:
- Flip the steaks once or twice during the low heat cooking portion. One side of the steak (the top of the steak in the final picture) has a bit too much grey. This is the side that was facing down during the low heat cook and it probably got a bit too much heat. A flip half way through would have helped prevent this.
- 105 degrees instead of 110 – Next time I will stop the slow cooking portion at 105 degrees rather than 110. These ended up a couple degrees too hot and I would have liked a few more seconds of sear on them. They were close but once again, not perfection.
- One of the steaks (on the right in the top pic) was slightly thinner than the other one and I should have had my thermometer in that one. It ended up at about 130 degrees. Definitely edible but a bit too cooked for my tastes. It will, however, make a great breakfast tomorrow morning cut up with some fried potatoes and eggs.
- I want to try searing directly over the chimney. That is like a jet engine throwing out heat when it is full of coals and would give a quicker, hotter sear than just in the grill. I would either need to cook the steak in the oven first or use a second chimney of charcoal but I definitely want to give it a go some time.
- Over the past few weeks I have become intrigued with fancy, expensive charcoal made from super hard wood. Most of the time I just use Kingsford briquettes but I have seen some charcoals like Jealous Devil charcoal that burns a lot hotter and cleaner than even regular lump charcoal. My guess is I could get a better sear and more consistent temperature on the slow cook with less charcoal.
The reverse sear, whether with a cast iron pan in the oven and on the stove or outside on the grill is a great way to cook a great steak. The NY Strip reverse seared on a charcoal grill is excellent but you can also do a very similar cook with a rib eye, sirloin, or filet mignon and have good results.