Grillin’ in Reverse

29 Jan

For years, and years, and years, I was the typically American male-griller. I got my fire as hot as I could, tossed whatever meat I was cooking onto the hot fire, cooked it for however many minutes I thought it would take to get half way to where I wanted it to go, then flipped it over and cooked it that many minutes again. It is remarkable that I managed to get some quantity of edible food to the family’s table, and everybody was too kind to complain, but I am guessing that, by my current standards, I served up a lot of mediocre meat and some that probably was downright bad. Still, we didn’t starve and nobody got food poisoning.

When I got interested in cooking BBQ, I discovered “indirect” cooking – the way most BBQ is cooked. Either the heat source is separated from the cooking chamber by some kind of baffle, or the meat is so far above the coals and the temperature is low enough that the meat isn’t seared in the same manner as it is when cooked directly over high heat.

I figured out over time that the indirect cooking method could be used in grilling, too. When that happened, and I started experimenting with starting my meats directly over my charcoal, then moving it to a cooler part of the grill to finish, the quality of meat that I served my family took a great quantum leap forward! No more crispy chicken barely done in the middle; no more thick steak cooked well done on the edges with just a strip of medium rare meat in the center. Pork tenderloins now come in cooked evenly throughout. It was a epiphany I wish had come many years before.

There are times, however, when I find that this direct/indirect approach works best IN REVERSE! That is, the indirect cooking is done first and then, right at the end of the cook, just before the meat gets to the right finished (on the grill) temperature, the steak, chop, chicken or whatever, gets a quick trip over to the hot side of the grill and a flip to sear off and caramelize all sides of the meat, then off of the grill to rest up before its big entrance to the dinner table.

This method has come to be called the “Reverse Sear” and there probably are as many variations as there are cooks who claim to have invented it.

Some people keep the temperature of the cooker quite low during the indirect phase (say , 275 to 300 degrees) then remove the meat and jack the temperature of the cooker up to 450 – 500 degrees by the introduction of oxygen or additional coals) before searing off the meat.

Others, like me, dampen the temperature slightly in the indirect phase (say to 325 – 350), then open the vents to turn up the heat and finish the meat at around 400 – 425 degrees.

In yet another variation, used for things like whole or half chickens, the direct phase may be only a few minutes or not at all, but after the meat has cooked a low or moderate temperatures until almost the desired degree of doneness, the temperature is increased so that the skin of the chicken can either crisp or the remaining fat lying just under the skin will render out, making the skin tender enough to “bite through.”

All of this to report that tonight, cooking a 2″ thick Certified Angus Brand New York Strip steak on my 1992 Model RED Weber Performer, I was lucky enough to absolutely, positively NAIL the reverse sear. After cooking indirect on one side of the Weber where there were no coals at about 325 degrees for about 25 minutes, the big ole slab of beef was seared off directly over the coals at about 425 degrees for about 4 minutes per side.

The result was a perfectly flavorful crust, aided by a nice dusting of Weber Burgundy Beef Rub before and during the indirect cooking but a perfect medium rare degree all the way from one edge to another, with no sign of gray “banding” indicating that the edges of the steak are overcooked.

I don’t cook chunks of beef this large very often, and about half of this one will make up the main course of tomorrow night’s dinner, but I couldn’t pass this one up a while back while strolling through the Homewood, Alabama Piggly Wiggly. It may be a while before I treat myself to that kind of steak again, but the memory of this one will be enough to last me for a while!

Cook’s Note: Really thick steaks like the one I cooked tonight have to come off the grill earlier than you think, otherwise, the carry over cooking will take you past the temperature at which you want the meat to finish. I like my steaks medium rare, which for me is somewhere around 130 – 135 degrees internal temperature. Tonight’s steak came off the grill at about 122 degrees internal temperature and while I didn’t temp it after it had sat for 5 minutes or so, the color of the meat told me that it had finished right around the target of 130 degrees. I figure that where the finished temperature of the average 1.25 inch think steak will continue to rise about 5 degrees after its removed from the grill, a really thick steak will rise as much as 10 degrees and maybe more. I overcooked a lot of really nice steaks before I figured that one out!


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