Master the reverse sear and you will master the grill
Most of us learn to grill from our parents. And most of our parents learned from their parents. And for most of that charcoal-stained lineage, they’ve been doing it wrong.
"All the old rules about searing (your meat) first are wrong. And ‘put the meat down and don’t flip it’ is wrong,” says Meathead.
According to the bestselling author, there are three essentials of charcoal grilling. The first is establishing a two-zone system, wherein the coals are divided up at the base of the grill, creating one cooler zone for convection heating (basically turning your charcoal grill into an oven) and an ultra-hot zone for fast cooking and searing. The second is using a digital thermometer, which are cheap and can ensure you’re not overcooking. The third is mastering the reverse sear. That's going to require some explanation.
Essentially, reverse searing bucks convention by embracing convection. Using the two-zone system, you start cooking the meat on the cooler side to ensure it heats up evenly. Then, at the last minute, you finish it on the hot side. It’s the exact opposite of what people have been doing for centuries. And it's what Meathead recommends for pretty much any cut of meat thicker than an inch, be it beef, poultry, goat, lamb, or anything else (see, we didn't lie with that headline).
“It’s what I call redneck sous vide,” says Meathead. “Contrary to everything you’ve been told, you start cooking on the indirect, cool zone, not in the hot zone. You gently warm the meat… on the indirect side, it’s convection, warm air. There’s not a lot of energy in warm air. But when you move it over the coals, you’re exposing it to infrared radiation. It’s like putting it under the broiler."
To further fly in the face of tradition, Meathead says you should be flipping the meat regularly on the high heat in order to brown it evenly.
“If you sear (the meat) first, you’re putting the energy in the surface and it starts to work its way down," he continues. "(When you don't reverse sear), you get a brown layer on the surface, just below the surface you get a tan layer. Just below that you get a pink layer, and finally in the middle you’re medium rare. If you start it indirect it’ll be the same color and temperature throughout. Then if you put it on radiant heat at the end with the lid off and flip flip flip flip flip flip flip, you’ll get that gorgeous dark sear and it won’t overcook the interior.”
It’s not as complicated as it sounds. For a more detailed look at how to master it, check out this guide from Meathead himself.