Steaks: Reverse Sear vs Sous Vide

I was pretty surprised to see this article authored by J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT over on Serious Eats! (seemingly in March of this year)

Other steak lovers here (unlike myself, being apartment-bound) that still have access to a full back yard arsenal, how say you? Is he right?

Obviously, I’m not going to debate how much cooking with charcoal or a number of flavourful woods can impart amazing flavours into your meat (have very fond memories of charcoal grilled steaks) :slight_smile: But can the reverse sear actually produce a BETTER steak than sous vide???

There’s also this article:

(me, I think their sous vide cooking times in the article were off…for 1 1/2", you really should be cooking for 2 hours - produces a much more tender, flavourful result). Too many people are of the opinion that once you achieve your core temperature, your meat is cooked - I disagree - you want to hold it at that temperature for a prescribed period of time to attain the ideal measure of tenderness and juiciness, without going too far and making it mushy.

How say you? :slight_smile:

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Well… One usually reverse sears after sous vide, sooooooo,…


Umm. Reverse sear is something else…give it a read. (basically, it’s what people did before home sous vide became affordable).

I read it and it amounts to the same thing but with different equipment.

Step 1) Slow cooking the protein to the desired doneness (usually performed in a regular oven, but could be done by other methods)

Step 2) Searing protein over high heat to promote Maillard reaction and improve flavour.

We are simply performing step 1 via sous vide processing.

But yes, I have done it in the past before I got an IC. I saw something about it on a tv show with Maggie Beer in about 2007. It just wasn’t called reverse searing. Simply called it slow roasting.

None of these techniques are new. The availability of equipment and understanding has simply made them easier and more reliable, and the current ‘foody’ culture has made them more popular.


Yep, I know the method of reverse sear isn’t new…but people stating that it produces a better steak than sous vide seems new to me (especially as sous vide can make steaks so much more tender).

The thing about opinions and tastes are that they are subjective things.

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Cooked steaks both ways, they both come out good. There are pros and cons to both methods.

I’ve found that the difference can come in on the meat quality, when searing at the end in both cases, SV does a much better job with lower graded / tougher cuts than a slow oven/grill cook does.

There is also something to be said about the crust / bark and that’s while it isn’t bad by any means, the SV has less of it and it’s not as intense. In SV it’s formation is dependent on a few seconds worth of sear at the end to form all of it, and dry it with paper towels as much as you want prior to searing, it’s still a wet piece of meat. The oven / grill slow roast, you have drying and hardening of the outer layer going on the whole time, then you sear.

When you add in smoke woods or even just charcoal, there is an entire extra layer of flavors that are being added to the slow grill w/ reverse sear.

I’ve turned out more impressive steaks by putting them in my pellet grill at 165 w/ heavy smoke for a few hours, then searing them on the Santa Maria grill over mesquite. But it does take more work, attention and a bunch more equipment and it is not something that can not be done with thin steaks or super thick steaks though, it’s optimal around 1-1/4" thick. Too thick and you end up with a roast and not a steak, too thin and it just over cooks.

Granting all the benefits of sous vide, I still prefer more conventional techniques for high quality, inherently tender steaks. Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict timing for reverse searing, particularly for very thick cuts or for something like rib roast. Your serving schedule is captive to the thermometer, so if timing is important (six guests and we want to serve the main course at 6:15 pm.) sous vide will allow that precision.

Well, I just tried an experiment tonight and the results were, unfortunately, what I figured would happen from my prior experiment (but didn’t) - and, obviously, the massive difference in the temperature was the culprit.

Last time it was striploins that were on sale. This time it was bone-in rib steaks. 1 1/2" thick.

2 hours @ 130F to produce a beautiful medium-rare steak. Then into the ice bath for 30 minutes to stop the cook and cool them all the way through. Then I put them into the fridge for about an hour…then into a cooler for transport, then into my Grandfather’s fridge for a couple of hours.

We got his propane grill blistering hot (buried needle, way past 700F - tried cooling it pre-cook so I could get a reading - no dice).

I did 4 minutes total - 1 minute per side, so each had 2 minutes total, alternating.

The steak, while still very tender and delicious, was well done (except close to the bone).

Further experiments required to get a similar sear to BBQ-only on a cooled sous-vide cooked steak.

(first experiment was my electric grill which tops out at about 465F, currently, replacing a part or two to see if we can’t get that up to 550F).

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@fischersd Try cutting your sear times down to about 10-15 seconds, doing two sears per side, rotating 90 between each sear and using a “fresh” spot of grill each time.

Depending on the burner design, you might need to cut the burner under the grate you are searing on at that moment.


I wondered the exact same thing. Just reaching the temperature gets you to the door of the party, but you’ll have a better experience if you go in and hang around with the other guests for a while. I’m with you on the prescribed time at that temp or, by trial and error, figure out your own time.
Thanks for raising that point.

I’m with Ember on “Does reverse sear produce a better steak than sous vide?” being a meaningless question in that it’s like asking, “Does having ice cream for dessert make for a better meal then having calamari for the appetizer?” They’re two different techniques that address different parts of the cooking process, and are complementary (if you choose to use both on the same steak) rather than mutually exclusive.

And that “” piece is nigh unreadable as it appears to have been written in Italian and then fed through Google Translate or something. That said, it appears to be referring to one very specific use of reverse searing and comparing that with sous vide, rather than the general technique of reverse searing itself…which is more often then not what one ends up doing with a steak that is cooked sous vide.

Pretty sure you’re misunderstanding here. Reverse searing is an alternative way to cook a steak, rather than using sous vide. They’re not complementary.

I’m even more sure that I’m not.

You appear to be the one misunderstanding here. As Ember already explained quite well…

[quote=“Ember, post:4, topic:8561”]I read it and it amounts to the same thing but with different equipment.

Step 1) Slow cooking the protein to the desired doneness (usually performed in a regular oven, but could be done by other methods)

Step 2) Searing protein over high heat to promote Maillard reaction and improve flavour.

We are simply performing step 1 via sous vide processing.[/quote]

You seem to have completely ignored that, as well as my own follow-up explanation. “Reverse sear” simply refers to the procedure of searing meat AFTER it’s been cooked internally, rather than before. There’s no one method of cooking the meat before the sear that is inherent in the concept. Searing a steak after you’ve cooked it sous vide is an example of the practice of reverse searing.

Your premise is akin to asking something like, “Is it faster to drive from here to there or to travel from here to there?”

ETA: As just one example, read this from

Skip down to the “History of the reverse sear” section, where you’ll find the following as the first entry:

It sure sounds to me like “reverse sear” and “sous vide” are very much complementary techniques.

Thanks for the clarification. I stand corrected.

A lot of people are including the slow-cooking of the interior (via grill or oven) within the method of “reverse sear” - not just the final searing of the exterior, post cook. Obviously, this is in error (per your article from the amazing ribs site).

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I’ve used the “reverse seer” oven method as developed by J. Kenji López-Alt and described in Cook’s Illustrated for years before I got the Anova it was my preferred method. The biggest disadvantage is that it really required a remote thermometer but until I got a remote Thermopen it was hard to get a consistent reading and my regular Thermopen didn’t agree with my original remote thermometer. The best things about the sous vide over the oven are the temperature accuracy, the time flexibility, and the quick finish at the end.

I saw another way to finish a steak that had been started in he oven at 200 degrees and I think it was at CI as well but not certain. The finish was to light a chimney with charcoal and when it was roaring hot to thread 2 skewers in parallel through a steak, cut in half to necessary to fit over the chimney, and cook on each side for a minute. I did it with a rib-eye and it sure was crusty. I may try that with a fillet using a coffee rub and vanilla sauce I got out of “The New Steak” by Cree LeFavour. I cooked the fillet to 131.5 degrees and finished as recommended in a hot skillet with and without a torch. I’ve served it to 3 different couples and they all said it was one of the best if not the best steak they ever had. It’s hard to describe what that vanilla sauce does for the fillet but it’s magic.

I’ve never been a big fan of fillet because of it’s lack of beef flavor and always thought it needed a sauce to bring out it’s biggest charm for many people, tenderness. I learned that a long time ago when I learned how to make Bearnaise Sauce in Julia Child’s “Mastering the art of French Cooking”. My late wife always preferred filet and I preferred strip so my compromise was always the porterhouse with it’s cut of each but with it’s inherent grilling problem. I’ll have to try it now wth the Anova.

Weather permitting and if I get some charcoal I’ll try the chimney on the fillet. I also just emailed Cree LeFavour for permission to post the recipe IO mentioned.

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I finally learned what reverse sear actually means not so long ago. For a while, I was really confused because there were so many conflicting definitions thrown around to describe reverse sear. Bumped into the Kenji’s article about it and now it’s clear.

I actually reverse seared for the first time a week ago. I liked it, but it seems like there would be quite a lot of variations because ovens aren’t as precise as sous vide cookers. I did like that I didn’t need any additional equipment, but it’s definitely not as “set it and forget it” as sous vide.