Here are the basics of how to sear steak by getting the right temperatures.
Want to impress your dinner guests with your grilling expertise? We can make the learning curve less steep with these suggestions for how to sear steak perfectly on your outdoor grill.
How to Sear Steak
One of the keys for how to sear steak is to get the meat’s surface up to (and a little bit past) 285° F. This will initiate the Maillard reaction. At this temperature, certain amino acids and sugars react with each other to create hundreds of delicious flavor compounds and pleasing aromas.
The meat also begins to turn brown as a result of this reaction. Searing kills any surface bacteria that may exist on the meat. But you don’t want the inside of the steak as tough as the surface. Beneath that crust, you want a tender, warm blast of beefy flavor. So you need the sear to happen fast.
Moisture is the enemy. Your grill can’t cook your steak until it first evaporates the water. That takes a lot of energy. Your steak can’t get past the 212-degree marker and toward Maillard levels until all that water is gone. Meanwhile, the internal temperature of the steak is rising because of the ambient heat around it. You can end up with the worst of both worlds—no browning on the surface of the steak, and overcooked meat within it.
How to Sear Steak by Banishing Moisture
The refrigerator method. Take your steak out of any wrapping it came it, set it on a plate, and let it sit, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The low humidity of the fridge will start evaporating the moisture, and the coolness will keep it safe. You’ll want to make sure your fridge doesn’t have any funky smells like last month’s leftover sushi—that aroma could transfer to the meat.
The salt method. For this method on how to sear steak, salt the steak at least one hour before cooking or immediately before putting it on the grill. Never salt the meat and let it sit for less than an hour, because during this time the salt is drawing out moisture. It needs the extra time to absorb the moisture.
The blot method. Pat the steak dry with a paper towel. You’ll definitely want to do this if you used a steak marinade.
How to Cook the Inside
Based on USDA recommendation, 145° F is the safe internal temperature for cooked steak, but most steak lovers prefer a temperature lower than that.
Of course, no one wants to bite into a cold steak. That’s why the lowest recommended internal temperature for how to sear steak is 120° F. The inside of the steak hasn’t really “cooked,” but it’s warm enough to be delicious.
As for food safety: “Almost invariably, muscle interiors are sterile and pathogen-free,” according to Scientific American. In part, that’s because the meat inside hasn’t been exposed to any surface bacteria.
As the Maillard reaction happens on the outside of your steak, some exciting chemical reactions are also happening inside of it. In well-marbled cuts of beef like ribeye, the fat inside the beef will begin melting at around 100°, adding more juicy flavor in every bite.
But know this for how to sear steak: As your steak’s internal temperature continues to increase, the meat near the surface of the steak is in danger of getting overcooked.
The whole point of paying $15 a pound (and sometimes more) for ribeye, strip loins and other expensive cuts of beef, is they are tender and flavorful enough that they can be eaten without cooking them too much. If you’re going to cook the steak until it’s well done, you might as well save yourself the money and buy a pot roast.
Grill Temperatures for How to Sear Steak
Searing. Set your grill between 400-500° F (we prefer 450°).
Reverse Searing. Set your grill to 225° F, then finish the steak at 450°.
How can You Tell if Your Steak is Done?
Rare steak. 120-130° F internally, with a red center. At 400°, cook for 2:30 minutes per side.
Medium steak. 135-145° F internally, with some pink in the center. At 400°, cook for 4:30 minutes per side.
Medium-well steak. 145-155° F internally, light pink center. At 400°, cook for 5:30 minutes per side.
Well-done steak. 155-165° F internally, primarily brown center. At 400°, cook for 6:30 minutes per side.
“What Have You Done?” steak. 165° F internally, a brown center. At 400°, cook for 8-10 minutes per side.
How to sear steak perfectly every time? Invest in a digital thermometer with a thin probe and know for sure when that pricey cut is at the peak of perfection.
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Note: This information was condensed from a longer article. For the full article, go to Traeger.com/learn/steak-doneness.