Stovetop Steak Backwards

The traditional way that everyone says to cook a steak when you're inside is to get a pan screaming hot, sear the steak, then finish it in a blazing hot oven.  That's the way I do it anyway.  During one of my Read Magazines Without Paying trips to Borders I picked up the latest Cook's Illustrated.  In it is a different method for cooking the thicker steaks.  So here's what I did, following the method lined out in the article.  It wasn't exact probably since I was going from memory because, like I said, I don't buy the magazines. 


First I set my wire cooling rack on a cookie sheet to elevate the steaks.  I set the oven to 250 degrees.  Low, I know but bear with me.  I prepped the steaks with some salt and pepper.  I set the wife's steak out to come up to temperature and left mine in the fridge.  I eat my steaks mid-rare and I've only recently got her to just past medium so starting them off at two different temperatures will get them to finish at the same time.  I then got out my probe thermometer to stick in the side of my steak.  I know, don't poke a steak but how else will I know when it hits 90-95 degrees like it says in the article?  Anyway, I popped them in the oven and waited.  20 minutes later when the buzzer sounded for 92 degrees I took them out and tossed them in pan I'd had heating with a little vegetable oil.  I seared both sides, then rolled the edges on the pan to sear them too.  Then the usual rest, stab, eat.  The result?  One of the better steaks I've had.  More tender and juicy with more of the steak medium rare.  Here's the reason behind why reversing works according to CI.


There's an enzyme in meat that works to tenderize it that is sensitive to temperature.  In the fridge it doesn't work so well but when you start to heat it up past like 60 it will really get cranking.  But only to about 120 degrees or so.  After that the enzymatic action stops.  The longer a steak sits in that zone between the longer the enzyme has to work.  The result, a more tender steak. 


Second, heating the steak first in the oven dries the surface.  A dry surface is essential for good crust and this method makes it about as dry as you get.  It's only surface moisture that escapes though, little interior moisture is lost. 


Finally there's the fact that when you get to the sear the steak is already pretty hot.  You know the old saying "Never cook a cold steak".  Well this way the steak is really not cold.  The steak seared up faster than otherwise so you weren't overly cooking the surface to get the interior where you want it.  Here's a comparison of what the inside of your medium rare steak looks like (not actual photo).

 You can see that there is more pink mid-rare goodness on the oven/pan steak than the pan/oven.  So from now on if I'm making a steak inside and it's more than an inch thick I'm going to do it this way.  BTW I also tried it on a thick cut pork chop.  The interior of the chop was super juicy and damn good though the seared crust was more a seared armor.  My guessing is that maybe there's not enough marbling in a pork chop to stop the crust from getting too hard.  I actually didn't mind it all that much but it is something to be aware of. 

It works really well for medium-well to well done as well.

I tend to like my beef cooked a little longer than most steak lovers are comfortable with, but I still get a nice juicy, moist steak this way.

I've often wondered about this but never tried it, thanks.

Thanks CW, will try.

I just use the grill pan. I like 'em barely dead though.

Well when all you're doing is making the outside a little more gray and a little less red then method won't really matter.  This is just a way of making those of us who like the cooking process a little further and minimizing that layer of too-cooked meat along the edge while keeping that brown caramel-ey crust.  That's always been a problem with our steaks.  You either had to settle for a meager, soggy crust or get less of the meat medium-rare.


You might try it though even if.  Unless you like your steak actually cold in the center I bet it would work.  Just start with a really thick cut, like 2 inches, and drop the temperature you pull it out to around 85 degrees and sear for the shortest time on the hottest pan.  Not grill pan though, flat pan.  More contact=more caramelization.  The enzymatic action should still get going.  Hell, 85 degrees you could get by putting it in in a sunny window or your armpit. 

I might test this myself (a rarer steak, not the armpit) but I won't be able to give an informed review. I can eat a steak that's still mooing but I don't particularly like it.

Two comments:

  1. I love your use of pre-cooking temperature control. Turkey on icepack = brilliant, as is this.

  2. Don't worry about poking it. You don't worry about trimming fat before cooking (for the same reasons, anyway). You just want to avoid being one of those cats that cuts the steak open to see if it's done yet. Putting a Polder in a steak shouldn't change the outcome.

Yeah I didn't notice a stream of liquid when I pulled out the probe so I figured it wasn't too big an infraction.