Recipe Review

I’ve Been Cooking Steaks for Decades, and This Is My New Go-To Method

published Jun 12, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt — the mastermind behind The Food Lab column at Serious Eats — is always up a for a culinary science project. His chocolate chip cookies, although labor intensive, were so thoroughly crafted and tested that they won our high-effort chocolate chip cookie battle. I had to find out: Would his test kitchen expertise and meticulous attention to detail translate to the best-ever method for cooking steak, too?

Lopez-Alt’s preferred method is called the “reverse-sear,” which means the steak is slow-roasted to the desired doneness and then seared (for flavor and appearance) right before it’s served, which reverses the usual sear-then-roast order of things. You’ll slowly bring the steaks up to temperature in a low oven or on the cool side of a charcoal grill, and then sear the steaks on the stovetop or hot side of the grill. Here’s what I thought of his reverse-sear technique.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

How to Make J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Reverse-Seared Steak

The recipe tells you to select steak(s) by thickness, not weight, and offers five different choices of cuts, meaning you can use your favorite (I used porterhouse). Lopez-Alt then asks you to “generously season steak(s) all over with salt and pepper.” I really wish the recipe gave some more specific guidance here, but I used my usual 1 teaspoon kosher salt per pound, which turned out just right. You’re then given the option of letting the steaks sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight — a technique called dry-brining — or proceeding with the cooking. I opted for the overnight rest.

You’re instructed to cook the steak in a low oven, but given a range of 200°F to 275°F, or even lower. I could have used a little guidance here, too. Is one end of the range better than the other, or is it simply a matter of time? I chose 250°F (the midpoint). Lopez-Alt recommends using an instant-read thermometer (always excellent advice) and gives target temperatures for doneness preference ranging from rare to medium-well. These temperatures allow for the slight increase in temperature that comes with the final sear. I aimed for medium-rare, which took 50 minutes in my 250°F oven. I appreciated the candor that “cooking time can vary dramatically depending on many factors, so check often.” I did, and it worked out fine.

I also appreciated the advice to sear in a cast iron, carbon steel, or heavy stainless steel pan and to heat it over high heat until smoking. I used cast iron and let it preheat for several minutes. You’ll add a big pat of butter into the screaming-hot pan along with the steak, but it doesn’t burn. The recipe said my steak would sear in 45 seconds per side, but mine took 90 seconds. That’s still plenty quick — especially compared to the old guideline that it takes at least three minutes for meat to sear. My sear was deep, dark, and even, with no mottled patches.

The steaks are ready to serve as soon as they are seared. The slow roast means that the beef doesn’t tighten up, so there’s no need for it to rest and relax.

My Honest Review of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Reverse-Seared Steak

This steak was incredible. The overnight dry-brine made for well-seasoned steak. The slow roast ensured the meat stayed tender and cooked evenly throughout. My steak was notably warm when I ate it because it didn’t need to rest after the finishing sear.  I can assure you, however, that the chilled leftovers were excellent the next day, even straight from the fridge.

This recipe supersedes every other steak recipe I’ve ever used. In my opinion, this is the new conventional wisdom.

Credit: Sheri Castle

If You’re Making J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Steak, a Few Tips

1. Follow the directions carefully and learn from them: This recipe is an education in cooking steak, so you’ll not only know what to do, but understand why. Lengthy, detailed recipes aren’t difficult — they’re instructive.

2. Don’t skip the overnight dry brining! The additional time is worth every minute because it lets the surface dry a bit and gives the salt time to penetrate into the meat, which yields a well-seasoned steak.

3. Don’t underestimate this recipe’s flexibility: Remember that you can use this method to cook multiple steaks that suit a variety of doneness preferences. Just remove each steak from the oven when it hits its target. Additionally, appreciate that this recipe gives you precise step-by-step instructions for preparing steaks indoors with a stove and outdoors with a charcoal grill.

4. You might have to sear in batches on the stovetop: My one large porterhouse filled my 12-inch cast iron skillet.

5. Use the right equipment: You’ll want to rely on an instant-read thermometer, and be sure your tongs can safely grasp and maneuver a thick steak.

Overall Rating: 9/10

This recipe yielded one of the best steaks of my life — certainly the best I’ve made at home with my stove, and I’m no newbie. I’ve been searing and roasting steaks for decades and some of my recipes have been published. This is my new go-to method, and I’ve been telling everyone about it.

I took away one point because of minor things, such as the recipe not giving any guidance on how much salt to use. I also would have appreciated a little guidance or insight on the preferred oven temperature.

I cannot wait to try the outdoor grill version with lump charcoal and using bone-on strip steaks (my personal preference over porterhouse), which I expect to be an 11 out of 10.

Have you ever made J Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Reverse-Seared Steak? Tell us what you thought!

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

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