Thursday, June 20, 2013

Reverse Sear

When I purchased my smoker, I had visions of smoking large racks of ribs, briskets, pulled pork, and other big pieces of meat. The meat would cook low and slow for many hours until tender and smoky. Then my friends at the Smoking Meat Forums introduced me to the reverse sear and I had a whole new culinary experience with my smoker.

If you ever watch cooking shows on TV you have probably seen a chef cook a piece of meat or fish on the stove at high heat, searing the outside, then placing the pan in the oven to finish cooking. The reverse sear switches this method around. Instead you cook the meat low and slow to your desired temperature, then quickly sear the outside to finish. With this method you can enjoy a nice medium rare steak AND get the rich, smoky flavor you get from cooking low and slow.

To reverse sear you will need:
  1. A smoker or grill capable of indirect cooking.
  2. A meat thermometer. 
  3. Wood chunks or chips for the smoke flavor.
  4. A thick cut of beef. Hamburgers work well for this method but if you want to cook a steak, get a good quality cut like a rib eye, porterhouse, t-bone, etc. 
It is important to get a good cut of beef because we won't be cooking the meat for long periods of time, which would allow a leaner cut of meat such as a brisket, to break down and be tender. You also want the meat to be at least 1 inch thick or it will cook too quickly and you won't be able to infuse much smoke flavor. This 2 1/2 pound bone-in rib eye is an excellent example:

A smoker is ideal for a reverse sear but you can also use a regular charcoal grill. The grill just needs to be large enough so you can pile all the charcoal on one side of the grill, and cook indirectly by placing the meat on the opposite side. The smaller your grill/smoker, the more you'll also want to flip and rotate your meat during the cooking process so it will cook evenly.

If you're using wood chips, be sure to soak them in water for at least a 1/2 hour before using. If you're using wood chunks, soaking is not necessary.

To begin, season the meat. You can use an elaborate spice rub, or just simple salt and pepper. Some people like to coat the meat with oil first to help the rub stick but I find this usually isn't necessary. Leave the meat sitting out at room temperature while you prepare the grill/smoker.

Prepare your grill or smoker for indirect cooking. You want to smoke the meat at a low temperature, a range of 210-225 degrees is ideal but dropping as low as 200 will also be fine.

This picture shows a kettle grill set up for indirect cooking. The pan isn't really necessary, but you can include it if you like.

Once your fire is ready, add the smoke chips or chunks to the coals. Don't overdo it. Just a small handful of chips should be all that's needed. If using wood chunks, one or two small pieces.

Some good choices for smoke flavor include:
  • Cherry - A mild, fruity flavor that pairs really well with beef.
  • Oak - Also mild.
  • Hickory - A standard smoke flavor that works well with all kinds of meat. Hickory has much stronger smoke flavor than cherry or oak, so go easy on it.
  • Mesquite - I personally never use mesquite for smoking but others swear by it. This is also a strong flavor, so go easy.
For a rib eye, I like a combination of oak and cherry. I still want to be able to taste the flavor of the beef so prefer to keep it mild. For hamburgers, I use hickory and cherry. Cherry also gives a pinkish hue to the meat, which shows up nicely on this burger:

This is the rib eye, placed on the smoker at about 225 degrees. The probe thermometer is in the center of the meat so I can monitor the internal temperature. Be sure the probe is not touching fat or bone.

Smoke the meat to about 5 degrees shy of your desired finishing temperature. I was shooting for medium rare, so I cooked the meat to 125 degrees. When done, remove to a plate and let rest briefly while you prepare the fire for searing. On my smoker that involved opening up the lid and air vents on the fire box until the fire and grill grates were red hot.

Sear the meat over the hot coals. About a minute a side should be all that's needed.
Rest the meat. This is one of the most important and difficult parts of the process. Allow the meat to rest so that the juices can reabsorb into the meat. For a large cut like this rib eye, 20 minutes is ideal. For a hamburger or small steak, you can probably get away with as little as 10 minutes.

Timing will vary according to your smoker temperature and thickness of the meat, but this rib eye took 2 hours to get to 125 and the hamburger took a little less than an hour. Enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment