When it comes to cooking a steak, especially a big, thick, high quality steak I am firmly of the opinion that the absolute best way to cook it is by the reverse sear method. With the reverse sear you can properly sear the outside of the steak without the interior of the steak getting overcooked. And there is nothing that will ruin a good steak more than overcooking it.
If you want the short version of how to reverse sear: start the steak over low heat, finish over high heat. The low heat cooks the steak and the high heat finishes it with a nice sear. Want the longer version? Read on.
First, let’s start with a few general guidelines for reverse searing a steak:
- The steak needs to be at least an inch thick. 2 inches is great but anything less than 1 inch and you won’t really see the benefits of the reverse sear.
- I am going to talk here about how to reverse sear your steak on a Weber Kettle but you can modify this for any type of grill or even the oven and a cast iron pan.
- Start with a quality piece of meat. The better the starting product the better the final product will be. Sure, you can take a choice steak from the grocery store and get a solid tasting steak out of it but if you start with a prime steak your taste buds will be rewarded.
For this reverse sear walk through I am starting with some nice prime bone in ribeyes. These steaks weighed in right around 24 ozs each and were probably 2 inches thick.
And in case you need another view:
The steak on the left on the first pic is particularly well marbled and it has a great piece of cap or spinalis muscle. That is the pointy part on the top of the steak and it is probably the tastiest muscle on the steer.
Step 1: Prep the steaks – With steaks this thick I like dry brining the steaks overnight. Basically just salt the steaks the night before with a generous amount of kosher salt and let them sit uncovered on a rack in the fridge. I won’t get too deep into the science behind it but this allows the salt to penetrate all the way to the center of the meat which helps retain moisture and adds flavor to the meat.
Step 2: Cook the steaks over low heat – To do this on the Weber Kettle I lit about 1/2 a chimney of charcoal and dumped it on one side of the kettle. I added a few unlit coals just to be sure there was enough heat and the coals didn’t burn out. Since these steaks were pretty thick I didn’t really know how long they would take so I wanted to be sure there was enough fuel to keep things going. I used Kingsford briquettes for this part since they are consistent and hold a temperature well.
I have the coals on one side of the kettle and that leaves the other side for the steaks. The idea here is to keep the temperature by the steaks fairly low while they cook. I know my Weber Kettle well and know that if I close the bottom vent almost all the way and keep the top vent about 1/2 way open I can hold a fairly consistent temp with this amount of charcoal.
On my kettle I know that if the thermometer in the dome is around 300 degrees the temperature at the grate level on the opposite side of the grill will be 225-250 which is where I want it to be.
Notice how the bones are facing the heat. The bones provide some great thermal protection for the steaks and keep the heat off the meat.
I stuck a probe in the steak to track the temperature and I am looking for right around 110-115 internal temperature. My final target will be 125 and I know there will be a bit of carryover heat and then a few more degrees when I sear the steaks so pulling them 10 degrees or so below the target temp will be just about perfect. For these steaks it took just over an hour for them to reach that temp.
I pulled the steaks off and covered them with foil while I prepped the grill for the heat.
Step 3: Sear the steaks over high heat – Now it is time to finish the steaks over some super high heat. For this step I want as much heat as I can get to get the quickest sear I can.
To get this heat I will need some more charcoal. When my steaks hit about 80 degrees I figured I had about 20-25 minutes left until they got to the right temp so I lit another full chimney of lump charcoal. Lump charcoal generally burns hotter than briquettes and I wanted a lot of heat. It takes about 25 minutes for the lump charcoal to get fully lit so the timing would work out perfect.
After I took the steaks off to rest I removed the grate and dumped the lit lump charcoal on top of the remaining briquettes. This would give me the heat I need.
Occasionally I just throw a grate right on top of the chimney and sear on that but with two steaks this size I needed the space of the kettle. Searing steaks with this much heat doesn’t take long. Maybe a minute or two per side is about all you need.
Since ribeyes are a fairly fatty cut you will definitely get some flare ups. Heat is good but flames aren’t. Flames give you soot which isn’t what you want. If you get bad flare ups just flip the steaks or move them off the heat for a few seconds until the flames die down. Some people will tell you to only flip the steaks once but I am a fan of flipping multiple times. I think it gives a more even sear on both sides of the steak. If you want to get fancy you can rotate the steaks to get some nice grill marks but that isn’t too important to me.
To keep it simple, when you sear a steak the Maillard Reaction which is a magical transformation of amino acids and sugars into hundreds of different flavor compounds. This is what makes a good steak great.
I let the steaks rest for about 5 minutes (should have been 10 but I was impatient) before I cut into them. Here is the final product:
These steaks turned out a perfect medium rare. Notice there is very little grey band around the outside of the steaks. The reverse sear helps minimize that grey band which is basically overcooked steak. The less grey you have the better. Since they are cooked at a low temperature and just blasted with heat for a minute or so there is very little risk of the middle of the steak getting overcooked.
If you have never tried reverse searing your steaks I would highly recommend it. The process is very easy and it will deliver one of the best steaks you will ever eat that will rival nearly any restaurant.
And one great thing about using a bone in ribeye? It gives my 7 month old something to use for a teether: