Photo via David Reber | Flicker
When I’m invited to barbecue for beer and steak I always get a little uneasy. Most of the time, it’s a well-meaning friend who wants nothing more than to enjoy the summer weather with some good company. They’re not pitmasters, they’re not pro chefs and if you mentioned “2 zone cooking” to them they wouldn’t have the faintest as to what you were on about.
After asking everyone how they like their steak cooked, they whack it over the searing hot coals for a couple of minutes each side. The result is bland, tasteless, often undercooked meat, with a charred exterior. It’s a shame because a little bit of knowledge goes a long way when it comes to grilling steak. However, when someone is delighting in taking charge of the grill at their own cookout I tend not to start giving advice. Otherwise, I might not be invited back!
Grilled steak should be perfectly pink, juicy and tender from edge to edge on the inside whilst the outside should have a nice crusty, crunchy browned exterior that’s a few mm thick. So, how do we achieve this whilst avoiding either undercooked or charred to death steak? We use science, eliminate misconceptions and flip the cooking steps on their head. Cook the steak low and slow first, then sear over intense heat. This two-stage approach cooks both the inside and outside of the steak differently. This results in steak that has a perfect crust with a juicy interior whilst keeping overcooking to a minimum.
Watch the below video to see how the reverse sear is done:
The reason why the reverse sear is so much more effective than searing first can be explained by science. Essentially, the tasty crust is the result of the Maillard Reaction. As the surface of your steak starts to heat up, the sugars and amino acids break down and react together, resulting in new tasty compounds. The Maillard reaction happens fastest at 300°F.
This presents you with a balancing act because the amount of juice a steak loses depends on the temperature you cook it to. If you try and sear first, your steak isn’t going to move past 212°F until the outside moisture has evaporated. Whilst you’re waiting for this to take place, the inside has already started cooking and by the time you’re done searing you’ve already blown it and the inside will be overcooked.
By starting slow and low first, you can bring the inside temperature up to 120°F – 130°F whilst giving the outside a head start on the crust. When you come to sear, much of the moisture has already evaporated. You only need to expose it to direct heat for a minute on each side for the crust to form. This results in a great sear whilst eliminating the risk of you overcooking your steak.
Try it next time you’re going to grill steak. You’ll end up with a much juicier final product!