With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Friday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in September 2017.
While on book tour in Chicago a few months back, I had the honor and pleasure of sitting down to enjoy a leisurely meal, and a few cold beers, with the one and only Meathead Goldwyn. For those not in the know, Meathead is a world-renowned pitmaster, and he distinguishes himself from the pack by focusing on the science of cooking.
Our delicious food ran out after an hour, but the conversation, and the beers continued. And of course a good conversation can always stir up an opinion or two. As I learned, Meathead never shies away from making and defending opinions that go completely against culinary tradition, instruction, and know-how.
Though such controversy is well-documented on his own site, I thought it prudent to put one of his theories to the test. The challenge? Meathead believes that we are cooking our steaks all wrong!
Now, steak carries high favor over here at the Art of Manliness, and as one who has written many a recipe on cooking it, I tried my best not to be offended. But the more I listened, and the more I read up on Meathead’s reverse sear technique, the more I became intrigued.
Throwing Tradition Out the Window
Although there are many ways to cook a steak, most chefs, culinary professionals, and experts agree on which method is best: sear the heck out of it over high heat, followed by a period of indirect heat until the steak reaches the desired temperature, and finish with a 10-15 minute rest (off of heat) until ready to serve.
Meathead says to throw that all out the window, and to do the whole process in reverse.
Certainly, this is not the first I have heard of such a technique. French chefs pioneered a similar method of cooking in the 1970s using their sous-vide style of cooking. Essentially, the sous-vide method entails sealing food in some sort of wrap, and submerging it into a precisely controlled, typically low temperature, water bath. The benefit of this technique is that it slowly brings the entire cut, from edge to edge, to the exact internal temperature desired — say 130 degrees. The problem with this method is that one would likely never eat the grey mass of meat when pulled from the bag, even though its internal temp is a near perfect medium-rare. To solve this issue, a chef will finish a sous-vide cut over high heat on a grill or pan to get the caramelized flavor and color (known as the Maillard reaction) that many of us are accustomed to enjoying. Additionally, because the cut was slowly brought up to temperature, it’s more evenly heated through, which means that resting the cut is not necessary (resting normally allows for some of that searing heat to transfer into the center). All that said, the sous-vide method is time consuming (it can take hours to bring a cut up to temperature), and it can be expensive — a decent in-home machine, though coming down in price and improving in technology, will still run you a few hundred bucks.
Fortunately, you don’t need a special sous-vide cooker to use the reverse sear method on a steak, and you can get a similar effect using an ordinary grill or smoker. Meathead in fact claims to be the first to perfect the reverse sear by way