I posted this a while back in response to a question in another thread, so I thought it would be helpful to devote a thread specifically to this topic.
Reverse sear is a grilling/smoking technique whereby the meat is cooked with indirect heat first, then finished direct over high heat.
For years we were taught that searing meat first over high heat "sealed" in the juices. This notion has been recently dis-proven too many times to count by test kitchens and professional cooks/BBQ chefs across the country that demonstrated considerably greater moisture loss than indirect cooking.
Essentially when you use a reverse sear, you are roasting your meat, which helps prevent the kind of moisture loss you get by cooking meat over high heat. Reverse searing is ideal for larger pieces of meats, steaks, and roasts, but I have to say, it works quite well for burgers, too! Reverse searing also produces a much more evenly cooked piece of meat, in addition to better moisture retention. The sear over direct heat merely helps to finish cooking the meat and adds a nice 'crust' to the meat.
Here's some trip tip that was cooked with a traditional direct sear:
See that grey/brown ring? All that high heat basically cooked the beejezus out of the outer layer.
Here's some tri-tip cooked reverse sear style:
And some filet roast:
See how evenly they both are cooked? Which would you rather eat?
Do a google search for Chris Finney/Reverse Sear. He pioneered this method, although met with much scorn initially. But as they say, results don't lie!
Reverse searing for me provides the perfect opportunity to get a lot (or as little) of smoke flavor as I want - I usually add one or more chunks of smoking wood to my hot coals for the indirect part of the cook, thus imparting a smoky flavor that often tastes like the meat was cooked over a wood fire. For me this is the best of both worlds - grilling AND smoking combined.
So how do you do it?
1. Set up your charcoal grill by banking your coals to one side. I usually do about 50% 50% lit & unlit. If you want some smoke, add a small chunk or two of smoking wood of your choice on the lit coals.
2. Put your meat on the "cold" side of the grill, and close the lid. If you want smokier meat, shut your lower vents a bit, which will inhibit 02, thus preventing the wood from catching fire.
3. At this point, your cooker should be heating up to about 350. This is a good temp, give or take 20 degrees. If it gets hotter than 400, shut your lower vents a bit, which will drop the temp.
4. When your meat reaches about 80% of your desired internal target temp, it's time to put it on the hot side of the grill. A one inch steak would only need less than half a minute a side, while something like a Tri-Tip would need a few minutes per side. Take your meat off the grill when it has reached your desired target temp. Let it rest, then serve and enjoy.
And that's it! You just did your first reverse sear.
Here's a few reverse sear cooks from start to finish you might enjoy:
I hope this post is helpful for those looking to explore this cooking technique.