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How to reverse sear – the best way to cook a big steak

A long time ago Steph and I cooked through the Momofuku cookbook, and in it were a couple of recipes utilizing an odd technique that David Chang probably invented at the behest of his editors called ghetto sous vide. It involved setting your tap water to a specific temperature and then running into a pot or bowl so that your meat comes to temp, just like a sous vide machine but actually way way worse. I wish I had known then what I know now because reverse sear is the real sous vide replacement (at least when it comes to meat) and it’s way better than even real proper sous vide. And, when facing a giant, expensive piece of meat like the tomahawk shown below, it’s a foolproof method that ensures you don’t mess up your high dollar meat-investment. Reverse sear is arguably the best way to cook a large steak (or any steak).

How to reverse sear - the best way to cook a big steak | www.iamafoodblog.com

The concept is simple and brilliant. Set your oven to as low as it can go, throw your seasoned steak inside, and wait a while. Then, when the steak is just about at your desired doneness, take it out and sear it on a blisteringly hot pan, and boom: perfect steak every time.

When we did the original ghetto sous vide technique, the only sous vide machines on the market were the $3000+ sciency ones. Today sous vide isn’t an issue and you can get sous vide machines that link up to your phone for under $100, so why even bother with this reverse sear thing?

How to reverse sear - the best way to cook a big steak | www.iamafoodblog.com

Because reverse sear produces a better tasting steak than sous vide. Unlike sous vide which traps the steak’s moisture in and creates a soggy grey mess that won’t sear, this technique dries out the surface of the steak just enough that you get a great sear while still being juicy in the middle. More importantly, the evaporated moisture leaves behind concentrated beefy goodness so you can taste more of the nuances of the steak: the grassfed, humanely raised, beer massaged (actually an urban myth) sustainable happy cow that you are eating.

How to reverse sear - the best way to cook a big steak | www.iamafoodblog.com

Any steak, no matter the size, can be reverse seared. You do need a good thermometer or oven probe, but you should already own one if you like to cook at all seriously. Even a high end thermocouple one is cheap if you don’t specifically need the name brand. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of dialing in the time based on your fridge and oven.

In our oven, I have a formula that works every time: 40 minutes per pound when taken right out of the fridge. A standard 8oz supermarket sized steak about 3/4″ thick will take about 20 minutes in the oven to get to medium rare. Our 3lb tomahawk took 2 hours to do the same. Note that this only applies to a single steak. You can do 4 steaks in the same 20 minutes, and once you do that, it becomes about even on time vs doing a traditional 3 minute-per-side steak, but with a much better tasting product. Even if we are cooking only one steak to share though, Steph and I will usually choose to spend the extra time on reverse sear – it’s always worth it.

Despite what the internet says, you do have to rest a reverse seared steak. Anytime high heat and not fully cooked meat is involved, resting is essential, and reverse seared steaks are no different – unless you like your steaks on the other side of medium. Rest the steaks a few minutes while you plate the rest of the food and it will be a lot better.

How to reverse sear - the best way to cook a big steak | www.iamafoodblog.com

How to reverse sear - the best way to cook a big steak | www.iamafoodblog.com

To cook this 3lb tomahawk, we set our oven to 200ºF and cooked the steak for 2 hrs, until it reached our target temp of 115ºF. Then we threw it in our new and awesome Roccbox (review coming soon) and blast furnaced it at 700ºF. A cast iron pan probably would have worked too, but it’s summer and I’m in love with the Roccbox. The steak came out perfect, a crisp deep sear and 2″ of rare top grade American wagyu at a perfect medium rare.

How to reverse sear - the best way to cook a big steak | www.iamafoodblog.com

How to reverse sear - the best way to cook a big steak | www.iamafoodblog.com

We ate it Vietnamese style, of course. A blog post on that from Steph coming soon.

How to reverse sear a steak

Serves 2

  • Steak
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Oil

Preheat your oven for 200ºF (or as low as it goes). Season your steaks generously on both sides and place on a rack over a baking sheet. 

Cook until the internal temp reaches your desired doneness (115ºF for rare, 125ºF for medium rare, 135ºF for medium). For medium rare, this will be 40 mins per pound of steak, based on the size of the largest steak. For an average supermarket steak, this will be approximately 20 minutes.

5 minutes before your steak is done, preheat a cast iron skillet with a high temp oil like grapeseed or canola. When the steaks are done, sear the steaks for 15-30 seconds a side on all sides, or until your desired color is reached.

Rest steaks for 3-5 minutes, then serve.

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9 Comments

  1. Thomas Jan says:

    Can you use indirect heat or an off burner setup for the low heat step?

    1. Mike says:

      Yes, any even heat source that’s not going to overcook it will work.

  2. Andrew Cheuka says:

    Lol won’t sear sous vide huh? Just pat it dry dumb ass

    1. Mike says:

      Try it and see, this is a 10x improvement

  3. Anonymous says:

    Did you come up with the reverse sear? If not, care to credit who did?

    1. Mike says:

      No one really knows who was the first to do reverse sear. It’s a bit like asking who invented any other cooking technique – it’s not a new thing.

  4. Houle says:

    As a successful millennial I really really hate all the negative articles about how clueless millennials are ruining everything. That being said this article that referred to cooking a steak in a 200 degree oven as “reverse searing” gave me cancer, aids, and cte.

  5. If you want to really understand this technique go see the original source (which is not attributed but clearly where much of this comes from): https://www.seriouseats.com/2017/03/how-to-reverse-sear-best-way-to-cook-steak.html

    And the claim that sous vide yields a gray wet mass means the author either has no experience or he’s doing it wrong. After sous vide, pat dry and let come to room temp and it’s ready for the reverse sear.