To reverse sear or sous vide?

Let's be real; thick cut steaks on the bone are just better. Forget messing around with wimpy little thin slices, give us that flavour from the bone and the ability to build a tasty outer crust without overcooking the thing.

Now, I'm a massive fan of simply turning a thick steak repeatedly over a medium heat to slowly cook through. I absolutely love the deep mahogany colour layer that forms with constantly caramelising the juices that rise to the surface for that stunning umami hit, but it can be tricky with the bone in. The cold bone, particularly when cut thick can over protect the meat close to it. It can get in the way of direct meat to heat contact and it can keep the meat close to it cool which prevents an even cook. Plus, the bone usually doesn't even get hot enough to impart its full flavour into the steak.

So what's the best way to cook these beautiful beasts? For me, it's a reverse sear but it's worth considering sous vide too.

Sous vide - cooking inside a vacuum sealed pouch submerged in temperature controlled circulating water is a fine way to get an even and precise internal temperature. Followed by a quick sear on high heat (or even a blow torch!) gets an evenly cooked steak with a nicely caramelised outer layer. But the result's just not quite right. Theres something about slowly cooking a steak in a bag that fills with its own juices thats slightly off. It is tender and pink but for some reason always strangely bland and somehow internally damp. It must be the juices that end up in the bag. The ones that 'poach' the steak and just get thrown away. Without a radiating heat source they can't caramelise onto the steak and all that flavour is simply lost.

Similarly to sous vide, with a reverse sear, the steak is first cooked slowly to a desired internal temperature and then caramelised quickly with high heat. However, the initial cook is done in a bbq smoker or an oven with a radiating dry heat. This ensures that the juices that come from within the meat evaporate, leaving the flavour producing proteins, sugars and amino acids on the surface. With this method the flavours are not lost, they are concentrated exactly where they need to be and produce an incomparable umami crust with a heartier, familiar steak texture.

For the best steak I swear by a reverse sear with four key steps:

  1. Choose your steak well. A thick cut with the bone in such as ribeye, T-bone or even a tomahawk is perfect. Make sure it's graded, high quality beef with at least some marbling. No cooking technique will rescue garbage meat.
  2. Season and warm the steak slowly to about 5°C below desired internal temperature (I aim for about 52°C) in an oven or bbq set to a stable temperature of approximately 120°C. Adding a dry rub or even some smoke to this step is great.
  3. Rest the steak. Minimum 10 minutes.
  4. Cook quickly on very high heat, turning every 30 seconds or so until a rich crust with deep colour forms.

The steak will only need a further minute to rest with this method before it can be carved off the bone and served. Perfect.

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