If you’ve struggled with getting your steaks perfect or just want to take your grilling game to the next level, try reverse-searing at your next barbecue. This technique is almost universally agreed upon as the best way to cook steaks. It takes a little extra effort and time, but the results are 100% worth it. Let’s dive in and see how it’s done on a pellet grill!
What Exactly Is Reverse-Searing?
Reverse-searing is simply the process of finishing a piece of meat with a high-heat sear after initially bringing the internal temperature up very slowly. The low-and-slow portion can take place in an oven or smoker, while the searing is typically done with a grill or cast iron pan. The versatility of a pellet grill allows you to handle the whole process with one piece of equipment, and your steak will end up with a deliciously subtle kiss of smoke.
You might be thinking, “Why not sear first? Won’t that lock in the juices?” That seems logical, but those who have tested this theory have found that it doesn’t hold up. Further, if you sear first and continue cooking after, you will get a larger gray band around the outside of your steak, rather than a perfectly pink doneness from edge to edge. Lastly, cooking low-and-slow first will dry out the exterior of your steak. That might not seem like a good thing, but the lack of moisture will allow for a better sear.
Choosing a Steak
The single most important factor when choosing a steak to reverse-sear is the thickness. Yes, grade is definitely important, but the process of reverse-searing just won’t work with a thin piece of meat – the final sear is liable to cook through too much of the steak. Ideally you’re looking for a steak that’s at least 1.5 inches in thickness, and there’s really no upper limit (In fact, reverse-searing even works great for whole prime rib).
Now back to grade. Select, Choice, and Prime are the three USDA grades you will come across at your butcher or grocery store. We all know Prime is king, but I think Choice provides a great middle ground in price and quality that can lead to outstanding results. As for cut, nothing beats a ribeye in my book. Whatever you choose, pick out the steak(s) with the most intramuscular marbling. That fat will render down beautifully and add amazing flavor and mouthfeel to every bite.
Equipment and Preparation
Aside from your grill and some CookinPellets, you’ll also need a thermometer. It’s best if you have a model that allows you to keep the probe in your meat for the duration of the cook, like the ever-popular ThermoPro TP20 pictured above. An instant-read thermometer will work too, but you’ll have to open your grill periodically to check the temperature.
Other than that, you’ll just need some seasoning for your steak. Salt and pepper alone is perfect, but you can add some garlic powder, other spices, or your favorite steak seasoning.
Step 1 – Low and Slow
Now that you’ve got everything you need, it’s time to get cooking! Depending on the model of your pellet grill, you’ll want to set the temperature to exactly 225° F or a low temperature “smoke” setting. Throw on your steak and wait patiently. If you’re using an instant-read thermometer, start checking your steak’s temperature after 20 minutes, but note that this part can take over an hour with a very thick steak.
About that internal temperature – what number are you looking for? Generally, it’s recommended to pull your steak at 10°-15° below your final target temperature. If you’re shooting for medium rare, take your steak off in the 115°-120° range.
Step 2 – Finishing With A Sear
As soon as your steak reaches its target internal temperature, take it off the grill, cover it with foil, and crank your pellet grill’s temperature as high as it goes. Here’s where you need to be patient. Don’t be afraid to wait 10 minutes for your grill to get up to its max temperature. I promise your steak will be fine while you wait for the temperature to rise! Ideally you are looking for your grill to get up into the 450°-500° range.
Once your grill is ripping hot, put your steak back on for 90 seconds per side. Keep the lid closed to keep the grill hot. You can turn your steak halfway through each side and move it to a different (hotter) part of the grill to get criss-crossed marks, but try not to get too obsessed with these marks. Instead focus on overall browning from the Maillard reaction. After searing, both sides, you’re done! Since the internal temperature was brought up slowly, there’s really no need to rest your meat, but a couple of minutes won’t hurt.
TIP: Place your steak near the front edge of the grill (closest to you) when searing. This is an area where a ton of heat escapes around the diffuser plate.
To Sum Up
If you haven’t tried reverse-searing a steak, I hope this has convinced you to give it a go! While it’s a bigger time investment, it all but guarantees perfect results every time. Best of all, you can do the whole cook with your pellet grill. So get down to your local butcher and grab a couple of thick ribeyes. Enjoy!