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Perhaps more than any other food, the preparation of meat is clouded in folklore, misinformation, and myth. “The culture of grilling is like a sport, and like sports there’s a lot of superstition,” says David. “People pick up what they know and don’t question it.” Take my last date night attempt: First, I learned turning steak or burgers often was a no-no. In fact, frequent turning helps ensure an even doneness and has little impact on moisture. Next, I poked my steak to check for doneness, which is not an accurate indicator of anything due to the sheer number of uncontrolled variables (meat density, fat content, and thickness, the difference in hand squishiness, etc). Finally, I scorched my steak on high heat looking for the all-important sear and the result was over-done and gray.
The question is, why learn another method? You may already know how to cook a good steak. I put this question to David and he says, simply, “Consistency.” As you’ll discover, the science of the reverse sear puts the control squarely in your hands. If you want a perfect medium-rare steak time after time, read on.
Dat Sear Tho
A good hard sear is at the heart of grilling lore. Give your steak a hard sear, the thinking goes, and it locks in the juices. The only problem with this approach is – that simply isn’t true. Scientifically, there’s no such thing as sealing in moisture. While grilling imparts smoke and searing makes a delicious crust, the high heat of a grill actually dehydrates meat.
So how do you solve this problem? The simple answer is cook your steak on low heat in an oven, minimize moisture loss, and presto – you’ve got juicy steak every time. The problem is, you lose the crust and textural qualities searing imparts.
Enter: Reverse Searing.
The logic is simple: cook your steak to just about its desired doneness in the oven and then finish it, ideally, in a cast-iron pan. “It’s proven that reverse searing actually retains more of the cut’s juice,” says David, “and you still get the caramelization and crust.”
Follow the Science
The science of the reverse sear is compelling. Consider the fact that glowing coals or electrical heating elements easily reach 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit; a gas flame is about 3,000. The walls of an oven, on the other hand, don’t get much hotter than 500 degrees. As explained by Harold McGee in the Bible of culinary science On Food and Cooking, “The amount of energy radiated by a hot object is proportional to the fourth power of the absolute temperature, so that a coal or metal rod at 2,000 is radiating more than 40 times as much energy as the equivalent area of oven wall at 500 degrees”
In other words, the energy actually cooking your food rises exponentially with temperature. At a high temp, all that energy makes it easy to brown the outside of meat but it means the rate of heating inside your steak is radically different than the rate on the outside. That’s why it’s so easy to end up with a steak that’s charred on the exterior and cold at the center, and mismanaging heat in relation to a specific cut is why my attempt at steak went so poorly.
The genius of the reverse sear is you position the steak in relation to the heat source so the rate of browning and the rate of inner heat conduction are well matched. That enables you to predict, with laser-like accuracy, when to pull the cut and finish it with a strong sear to trigger the Maillard reactions – chemical reactions that release hundreds of individual flavor compounds – that make a good crusty steak irresistible.
“A lot of people have adopted it because it’s a proven better technique,” says David. And the fact that the reverse sear technique has emerged in the last 10 years is truly unique. David continues, “It’s kind of unheard of to debunk something in the kitchen these days because we’ve been cooking for so long, so when something revolutionary in the kitchen comes along that’s pretty cool.”
How to Reverse Sear a Steak: The Steps
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