Learn the secret to the very best steaks – a golden sear on the outside, your preferred level of doneness inside, and maximum flavor. Reverse sear will be your new favorite method!
Steak dinners are not an every-week occurrence for most of us, so when we have them, they should be five-star fare.
I vividly remember the first time I served reverse seared steaks. It was several years ago on Father’s Day, and my parents and in-laws had joined us for dinner.
Our parents raved. Jack and the kids oohed and aahed multiple times as we ate. I heard the words, “This is the best steak I ever had.”
The best part is, the whole process is quite easy. The initial steps are hands-off, and the final sear is lightning quick – you’ll stand over the grill for maybe three minutes.
But first thing’s first! What exactly is a dry brine and what is a reverse sear? And why will they make the best tasting steaks?
What is a reverse sear?
A reverse sear is a two-step cooking process. The steak is first cooked in a low oven to achieve an internal cooking temperature just below where you want it to end. (You could do this step on the grill, and I provide directions for that as well. I prefer the ease of the oven here.)
Then the steak is finished off on a HOT grill or pan. The technique is best suited to steaks that are at least 1½ to 2 inches thick, and the result is a gorgeous (and delicious!) brown crust and a tender, juicy interior.
For those who are familiar with sous-vide cooking, the reverse sear technique accomplishes the same thing, only without the special equipment—or the plastic wrap and water.
What is the benefit of a reverse sear?
The reverse sear process allows you to better control the doneness of the steak and yields a more consistent color throughout the interior. It also delivers a more tender steak inside with a beautiful crust on the outside.
As an added benefit, flareups on the grill, which are common as fat drips off the meat and can create too much charring during the traditional way of grilling steaks, don’t pose a problem because the time on the grill is short.
The process also affords flexibility, as the low-and-slow step may be done in the oven or on the grill and the searing step may be done on the grill or on the stovetop.
It’s truly foolproof. If you’re someone who doesn’t feel comfortable cooking on a grill, you cannot mess this up. By the time you get to the grill, you’ve already nailed the internal temperature, and all you need to do is flip the steaks a few times over the highest heat. This step takes mere minutes.
What is a dry brine?
Dry brining is the process of seasoning meat with salt and sometimes other spices and then letting it rest.
Why dry brine?
I’ve done this with other recipes on the blog, like Crispy Buffalo Wings and Perfect Roast Turkey. While it’s optional, the extra step dries out the exterior, which results in a better sear and browning later. (A wet exterior is the enemy of a good sear.) The process is conveniently hands off too.
But there’s more.
You may still be thinking, why would I want to dry out the meat? And it is counterintuitive at first glance. Initially, the salt draws out moisture – just like when you salt zucchini or eggplant, and the moisture beads up on the surface.
But after some time, the brine formed by the salt and the meat’s natural juices begins to break down the muscle fibers. This makes the fibers more absorbent, and the brine is drawn back into the meat.
In essence, you use the meat’s own juices to make the steak more tender and flavorful.
You may use the dry brine and reverse sear methods in isolation, and both will yield great benefits. When used in tandem, however, the result is likely to be the best steak you’ve ever eaten. And I venture to say that, once you try, you’ll likely be surprised by the ease of the process – and relieved that the guess-work has been eliminated!
What if I don’t dry brine?
If you don’t dry brine, it’s best to salt the steak just before grilling. If you salt 15 to 20 minutes before cooking, the salt will have had time to pull moisture from the meat but there won’t have been sufficient time for it to be reabsorbed.
In a nutshell, plan on salting just before cooking or at least an hour ahead. If you didn’t do the overnight dry brine, your steaks will certainly benefit from any time you can give them the day of, as long as it’s at least an hour.
Should steaks be cooked cold from the fridge or at room temperature?
Before cooking, bring the steaks to room temperature. A rest of 30 to 60 minutes encourages quicker and more even cooking.
Do reverse seared steaks need to rest after cooking?
Generally speaking, a rest of at least five minutes (and 10 or more for thick steaks and roasts) is recommended to allow the juices to redistribute through the meat rather than running out onto the platter. This rest is not critical with a reverse seared steak; the low-heat technique used in the first stage of cooking followed by the flash sear won’t draw the juices to the surface like the traditional method. But perhaps out of habit, I still let the steaks rest for a few minutes.
If the steak is frozen, thaw completely and pat dry before beginning the process.
Don’t have a meat thermometer? It is the best way to ensure your steaks are cooked to your perfect degree of doneness. ThermPro makes a reliable, inexpensive, quick-read thermometer for those who may need one. For a few more dollars, this model will provide an accurate temperature reading in a single second.
Helpful hint: When taking the temperature, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, and go in through the side of thinner foods like hamburgers and chicken breasts. Also, to ensure an accurate reading, the thermometer should not touch any fat, bone, or the pan.