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Another steak grilling faceoff: Searing versus "Reverse-Searing"

Conventional wisdom (generally speaking) on grilling steaks is to sear quickly then finish off either in a warm oven, or in a cooler part of the grill. That's what I am going to call the "Searing" technique.

Then there's the technique trumpeted by Cook's Illusttrated (and probably others), which essentially turns the process on its head, hence the name "Reverse Searing". This technique esseentially calls for first warming up the steak in the oven until internal temp reaches ~90F, then searing quickly on a hot grill or cast iron pan.

The supposed "advantage" of Reverse Searing (at least according to Cook's Illustrated) is that by heating the steaks first in an oven the surface of the steak dries out which allows the surface of the steak to brown more quickly and immediately when it hits the hot grill (or pan).

The other advantage to Reverse Searing (again, according to Cook's Illustrated) is that when the steak enzymes -- the cathespins -- are heated up to 120F they help break down the steak creating a "quickie" dry aging process for the meat. Past 120F, the cathespins stop working, so by first warming up the steaks to an internal temp of ~90F, the enzymes are allowed a longer time to do their work, and thus to tenderize the steak.

Is there a consensus here on the board as to which technique is preferrable?

I'm going to try and do a side-by-side comparison, hopefully in the near future, but was wondering if anyone has already come to any conclusions as to whether Reverse Searing is better (or worse) than the more traditional Searing method.

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  1. Sounds like an interesting experiment. Do share your results.

    My first reaction to reading this is, we already know it really is a good idea to let the meat reach room temperature before cooking it. So if bringing it to 60-70F is a good idea, why not 90F?

    1. I used the reverse trick the other nite when I did my salted vs salted in advance experiment. Had never tried it before, but it worked like a charm; the meat was pink thru-out w/ no grey band around the edges. Used a really hot stainless skillet (my cast iron ain't big enough...) w/ just a little oil in the bottom. Even the leftovers were perfect! adam

      3 Replies
      1. re: adamshoe

        I'm interested to know the results of your salted vs. salted in advance experiment. (I didn't see a post for it on the board, but maybe I wasn't looking closely enough.)

        1. re: Foodie in Friedberg

          Look under "prime steak guinea pig" adam

          1. re: adamshoe

            Thx. Ina Garten's new cookbook recomends salting meat when you bring it home from the store, but since that went against everything I've heard until now I was scared to give it a try. Thanks for taking the risk for us!

      2. It took me a long time to understand the point of what you're calling the 'reverse searing' method, because in MY family, once the steak is seared, it's ready to eat!

        1. I've become a convert to the "reverse searing" method, mostly because I feel that it gives me a little more room for error. The first step is done at a low temp, and think there's probably a 2-3 minute window where the steak is 90-95. Then I can get a good sear on all sides in 2 x 2 minutes guaranteed once the steak has been slow cooked and the surface is dry. If I try to get a good sear on a cold steak, the amount of time it takes is pretty variable depending on the moisture content of the steak, and I can't estimate the carryover + roasting so I can never be entirely sure how long to leave it in the oven. And I think the "window of perfection" is very small because I usually miss it!

          2 Replies
          1. re: chococat

            Perhaps a thermometer would be helpful for you.....

            1. re: Uncle Bob

              I have a thermometer- but I use an instant read (thermapen) so I have to take it's temperature at the right time. With the "Reverse Sear" I've got a few minutes to do it. With the "traditional" method, I have to make sure I take the temp at the right time and I don't want to keep opening my oven every 30 seconds.

          2. This is an interesting method, I think I'll give it a try soon. However, I do have a question. If you place a therometer to check the temp of 90F, when you take it out and then sear it on a hot pan, wouldn't the juices come out?

            5 Replies
            1. re: gourmet wife

              That's been my question with taking the temp on any steak I'm cooking. It seems that when I pull out the themometer, the juices run like a river.

              I've been teaching myself the poke method.... seems to work better once you become familiar with it.

              1. re: mollygirl

                gourmet wife and mollygirl,

                To be honest with you I never use a meat thermometer for steaks, I usually just use to palm and touch test.

                I think with the Reverse-Searing method I'm just going to wing it (warm up the oven and stick the steaks in there for a couple of minutes) without poking and prodding -- because, like both of you, I don't want to run the risk of losing any juices.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  The problem with the "poke test" and the reverse searing method is that a steak at 90-95 feels exactly like a raw steak (medium is ~130). Another thing that is a little odd is that the surface of the meat doesn't get very hot-- I think I've been able to pick it up with bare hands to throw it in the skillet.

                  The juices don't "run like a river" when the steak is at 90 F-- the muscle fibers haven't gotten hot enough to contract and squeeze out the juices. I usually need to puncture my steak twice to hit the right temperature and haven't had any problems. And I think putting the absolutely dry steak into the hot skillet pretty much cauterizes any potential leaking-- I end up with a really good crust with this method, and very minimal juice pooling following a ~10 minute rest.

                  1. re: chococat

                    Thanks for the info.

                    Maybe I can just put the cold steaks on my forehead for a couple of minutes before searing ... :-)

                2. re: mollygirl

                  A piece of meat is not a balloon...If one pokes a hole in it all of the juices will not/can not run out on the floor...Only a very small amount is lost due to cell damage at the entrance point.....The "Poke Method, as you call it, is a valuable skill to acquire. The use of tongs is also recommended over forks... however a small hole, or two made by a thermometer will not affect the juiciness of your meat to a noticeable degree.

                  Enjoy.....

              2. Basically, I use the method which I feel like experimenting with at the time cooking....no rhyme or reason to it. With roasts, I like the reverse method better.....with steak, I generally sear first.

                I will note, I was recently informed on one of my posts where I referenced the reverse sear for prime rib.....but was told the beef council stated this was not a recommend practice and CI changed their recommendation to searing first.....this new information is in contradiction to that which I was told in the prime rib post(by poster Fritter).

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/466614

                1. When grilling steaks I sear on one side, sear on the other side, sear with opposite grill markings on orig, side and then the same on the other side. Done. No moving unless I am waiting for a thicker piece to catch up. It helps to know where the cool spots are on the grill.

                  Roasts - my husband is a newly converted hot roaster (500) at the end. I am still doing the hot roast and then slow cook method. I am stubborn.