FANFOOD RULES: #14. Master the Reverse Sear Technique

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The goal in most outdoor cooking is to get a nice dark exterior enriched with the countless complex flavors (caramelization), and an interior that is cooked from edge to edge as close to the temperature that is optimum juicy and tender. This is true on both meats and vegetables.

To accomplish this it is important to understand that heat from outside the food cooks the exterior, but it is the exterior of the food that cooks the interior. The hot air molecules inside the cooker transfer energy to the molecules in the exterior of the food and they pass that energy along to the interior.

There is a time to cook Hot & Fast, and there is a time to cook Low and Slow, and there is a time to do BOTH. Different cuts and different foods dictate how we cook.

 

This article will teach you how to do the what is sometimes called the
Reverse Sear Technique.

 

Call it 2-two cooking, sear in the rear, reverse sear, redneck soo veed (like the John Dawson over at Patio Daddy BBQ calls it). Call it what you like, but it’s basically just employing a two-zone technique and searing your food at the back end of the cook.

If you have experience cooking indoors, you know a lot of recipes call for you to brown meat in a pan before finishing in the oven or in a pot. Two steps. Two temps. Sear over high heat, finish at low heat. This is the recipe for pot roast (brown in a hot pan, braise slowly in a covered pot), even for pan roasted chicken (brown in a hot pan, slow roast in the oven). So it is deeply embedded in chefs and cookbooks that the order of things is brown, then finish.

But that approach is backwards as demonstrated by the sous vide cooks! When you start with high heat, you load up the exterior, and by the time you are done you have a thick band of overcooked meat. If you reverse the order, start the food in the indirect zone at a lower temp, warm everything until it is close to uniform on the inside, and then hit it with SUPER HIGH HEAT, you get both a better interior and exterior. That’s reverse sear, and this is another technique you should master. It is the best approach for many foods.

Here’s How you Do It

Start by setting up your grill for 2-zone cooking. Try to get the indirect zone down to as close to 225°F as you can with the lid on. Put the meat on the indirect side, toss a little hardwood on the flames, close the lid so the meat will roast slowly with smoky convection air. Your food is cooking slowly. Roast it slowly until the center temp is about 10 to 15°F below your target temp. You absolutely positively need a good instant read digital thermometer like the Thermapen for this. Flip it once or twice while it is slow roasting. So when your steak hits 115°F in the center, take it off and put it on a plate for a moment. You are done working on the center. Now go to work on the exterior.
NOTE: If you are cooking chicken or turkey, take it up to 150°F because your finished target is 165°F. Pork chops or roasts, 130°F for a finished temp of 145°F.

Take the lid off, and crank up the heat on the other side as hot as you can get it. If you have a charcoal grill where you can adjust the height of the coal bed, get the coals right below the cooking surface. If you want, dump more pre-lit coals on the direct side of the grill. Or set up a hibachi with a thick bed of hot coals. If you have a gas grill, turn the burners to high or turn on your sear burner. Whatever you do, get to SUPER HIGH HEAT.

Put the meat on the hot side and leave the lid off. Just like hot and fast cooking, we want all the heat focused on one surface at a time. We don’t want any heat reflecting off the lid down onto the top of the steak further cooking the interior. You want to cook the surface until the moisture steams off and it turns deep and dark bourbon brown, but not black. You do not want carbonized protein or fat, but take it right to the edge.

Flip often and move it around a bit so the grates, which are going to be searing hot, don’t make black grill marks. Grill marks may look pretty, but we want the entire surface as dark as the grill marks. If you started with high quality meat, when you are done, you will have finally produced a restaurant quality steak at home. Reverse sear is the best way to get edge to edge medium rare on a thick steak without that thick band of battleship gray meat under the crust

Using Reverse Sear on Other Foods

Chicken breasts have fatty skin on one side, lean meat on the other. If you start over high heat, there’s a good chance you’ll blacken the skin before the inside is cooked. You could cook it skin side up, but then the meat on the bottom gets overcooked and dry, and the skin stays rubbery.

Cook the meat in the indirect zone, flipping it occasionally, with warm convection air and smoke, bring it close to the desired temp, and then move it over direct radiant heat, skin side down, to crisp it. Then you can serve tender, juicy meat, and crispy skin!

It even works for prime rib and other roasts. Start low and slow, and never have that 1″ band of overcooked meat again.

In fact, many things reach perfection outdoors with 2-zone cooking, and reverse sear, but the it’s best with the double-cut Ribeye…

 

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Grilled Cowboy Chop (Double Cut Ribeye, Reverse Seared)

 

This recipe was invented for probe thermometers. I wouldn’t cook without one, though you could get away with an instant read thermometer, and a check every time you flip the steak. It may take a really long time for this thick hunk of beef to come up to temperature. It may seem to be stuck at 53°F for the first twenty minutes of cooking time, but it will ramp up, and move quickly after that. You can use a gas grill, this is easier to cook, but you don’t get as good of a sear at the end. If you do want to use all gas, set your grill up for indirect medium-low heat by setting one burner to high, and leaving the others off. Cook with the lid closed as much as possible, and adjust that one burner to keep the temperature at 225-250°F. When the steak is ready, crank up all the burners to high, and put the steak over the burner that’s been lit the whole time. Replace the wood chunks with a cup of wood chips, soaked for 1 hour, then wrapped in a foil envelope and placed on the burner cover over the lit burner.

 

 

INGREDIENTS

1 “Cowboy Chop” – a double cut bone-in ribeye steak, 2 1/2 inches thick, about 2 pounds
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 fist sized chunks smoking wood

Butter baste:

4 tablespoons butter
1 small shallot, minced
leaves from 1 sprig of thyme

Board Dressing:

6 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Sea or kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

PREPARATION

 

1. Season the steak

Two hours before grilling, remove the steak from the refrigerator. Season it liberally with the salt and pepper. Let it rest at room temperature until it is time to grill.

 

 

2. Set up the grill

Set the grill up for indirect medium-low heat, 300°F. On a charcoal grill, light half a chimney of charcoal (50 coals), wait for the coals to be mostly covered with gray ash, then pour them on one side of the grill. Add the smoking wood to the pile of coals.

 


 

3. Start the steak on indirect medium-low

Put the steak on the grill over indirect heat, away from the lit coals. Close the lid, and position the air holes directly over the steak to pull the smoke towards it. Cook the steak, flipping every five minutes, keeping the lid closed as much as possible.

Start another half a chimney of charcoal (another 50 coals) for the searing step after the steak has been cooking for 15 minutes, or when it reaches an internal temperature of 80°F. (Do this on a heat safe surface. I used my other charcoal grill – doesn’t everyone have two kettles?)

 

 

4. Melt the butter baste

While the steak is cooking slow and low: Put the butter, shallot, and thyme in a small, grill safe pot. (I use an enameled steel drinking cup.) Put the pot over the coals when you start the steak in step 3. Check the butter every time you flip the steak – once the butter is melted and the shallots are sizzling, slide the pot to the indirect side of the grill to keep warm. If you don’t have a grill safe pot, heat the butter baste on the stove over medium heat, or put everything in a Pyrex measuring cup and microwave. Heat the baste until the butter melts and the shallots sizzle. Continue monitoring the steak, it is ready for searing when it reaches 115°F internal in the thickest part, somewhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour. (115°F is medium rare. Cook to 105°F to 110°F for rare, 125°F for medium)

 

 

dump the new coals over the old coals

 

5. Sear the steak

By now, the second chimney of charcoal should be covered with gray ash. Add it to the coals already in the grill, pouring carefully so the steak doesn’t get covered with ashes. Brush the steak with a thin coat of butter, then slide it directly over the lit coals. Sear the steak with the lid open, flipping and basting with the butter every minute or two, until there is a gorgeous brown crust on the steak. This should take about five minutes, at which point the steak should measure 125°F internal for medium rare, 115°F for rare, or 135°F for medium.

 


 

6. Rest and serve

Remove the steak to a platter and baste it one last time with the butter. Let the steak rest for fifteen minutes, mix all the board ingredients, pour the board dressing onto a cutting board and slice the steaks against the grain, turning to coat the slices.

 

 

SERVE.

 

 

 

 

 

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