The quest to prepare the perfect steak has been a challenge since slices of meat were roasted over fire. But what is a great steak?
It should guide you through complex layers of textures and flavors: dark crust, rosy flesh, tenderness balanced by chewing. You want a steak you can sink your teeth into. There must be a perfect ratio of meat to fat – and there must be blood. Without those delicious steak juices, a steak would be just deli roast beef.
Tri-tip delivers all that. A cut popular in Santa Maria, California, and the surrounding Central Valley, this crescent-shaped steak from the bottom of the sirloin cuts like brisket and eats like steak, with a rich, meaty flavor. But like all thick cuts, it presents a challenge: grill it directly over high heat as you would a strip or skirt steak and you risk burning the outside while the center is undercooked. Cook it low and slow, like your brisket would, and you’ll lose the caramelized crust†
Enter reverse searing – an ingenious grilling method that combines the low and slow smoking of traditional barbecue with the high heat used in steakhouses. Take the guesswork out of grilling steak and reward yourself with a juicy, perfectly cooked steak every time.
With this simple two-step process, first slowly cook the steak — about 30 minutes — at 250 degrees, the temperature pitmasters use to barbecue brisket. Once you’ve heated the center of the meat to 110 degrees, place the steak on a platter and increase the heat of the grill to a searing temperature of 600 degrees. Then sear the outside of the steak directly over the fire until it’s sizzling, crispy and dark brown, bringing the internal temperature of the meat to 125 degrees (for rare) or 135 degrees (for medium-rare).
Reverse searing offers several advantages over traditional high-heat direct grilling, where steak goes from undercooked to overcooked in a minute or two, requiring precise timing that inexperienced grillers may find daunting. During the initial stage of the reverse searing, the internal temperature of the meat gradually rises, making it easier to control and achieve the desired doneness. Also, the meat cooks more evenly this way, with uniform color and doneness from top to bottom, no gray-brown ring of meat just below the crust, and a red-blue rose in the center.
Because the meat rests between the two stages, allowing it to relax and become juicier, the steak can be served warm from the grill immediately after the final sear. That means no more lukewarm steak and no more hungry people waiting.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of reverse searing is the ability to smoke the steak by adding hardwood chunks or chips to your low heat. That step infuses thick cuts like tri-tip with the haunting taste of barbecue and adds a spectacular flavor dimension.
The resulting tri-tip steak is perfectly cooked and intensely flavorful—and the cut, also known as Newport, Santa Maria, triangle, and bottom sirloin steak, is thankfully inexpensive. Food prices are rising, and reverse searing works great for other inexpensive thick cuts, such as round, sirloin steak, or picanha. (It can also be applied to three-finger porterhouses and tomahawks.)
If you want to splurge on steak, you definitely want to. Searing in reverse is just as foolproof as grilling a steak.
Recipe: Reverse Seared Steak