Since the very first caveman roasted a slab of mammoth meat over a roaring fire, we’ve been grilling our wild-game steaks essentially the same way.
And for thousands of years, that method has worked just fine. But man it a tinkerer by trade and rather than leaving well enough alone, he’s come up with a better way to cook a steak called the reverse sear method.
The problem, if you can call it that, with the standard grilling method is cooking the meat from the outside in over a hot fire.
This results in an overcooked, gray layer on the outer edge by the time the interior of the steak reaches the desired temperature (around 130˚ – 135˚ if you’re a medium-rare kind of guy). While that still makes in a pretty good steak, it can be better.
The reverse sear method radiates heat air, or in this case hot smoke, around the meat cooking the entire cut evenly, before moving it to a super-heated section of the grill to create that rich, savory crust that is the hallmark of a perfectly cooked cut of meat.
When done correctly, a slice of steak will be red or pink from edge to edge, with no gray band of overcooked meat around the outside. It truly is a beautiful thing. If there’s a downside to the reverse sear method is it does take a little more time than a standard sear-flip-sear grilling method, but good things come to those who wait.
Select Your Cut
Before I go any further, a quick word about what cuts work best for the reverse-sear method. Because the steaks cook slowly over time, this technique is best suited to bigger cuts, those more than an inch thick.
If you have bone-in elk or moose chops, the reverse sear is ideal. Same for bigger chunks of backstrap, or a whole loin if you have one on hand. I’d advise against trying it with butterflied backstrap chops or thin steaks cut from the sirloin.
The first step is prepping the uncooked steak by salting both sides liberally then resting it in the refrigerator to dry-brine for an hour or two.
This allows the salt to absorb into the meat, seasoning it from within. It also aids in the creation of the flavorful crust once the steak moves to the searing step.
A good steak really only needs some salt and pepper, however there’s nothing wrong with adding more flavor with a steakhouse-style rub like the one below. Just be sure to add it just before the steak goes into the smoker and not during the dry-brining step.
From Fridge to Smoker
From here the steak goes directly from the fridge to the smoker – no bringing it up to room temperature first. A cold cut of meat will sit longer in the smoker, giving it more time to absorb all that delicious flavor.
Have the smoker preheated to 225˚, then transfer the steak to the grates. You’ll need to monitor the temperature of the meat closely, so a remote thermometer works best here. Or plan on checking the temp several times with a probe-style digital thermometer.
We’re going for a cut of meat that’s perfectly cooked to medium-rare here. If you like your steaks medium, just leave it in the smoker a little longer. If you’re a more well-done kind of guy, stop reading now.
There’s nothing I can do to help you. For medium-rare, you’ll need to pull the steak off the smoker about 10 degrees short of the desired temperature of 130˚ to 135˚ as the searing step will add that last bit of heat to bring it up to temp.
Once the internal temperature of the steak reaches 120˚, transfer it to a searing-hot grill. My Camp Chef SmokePro pellet smoker has a Sear Box attachment, making this step as easy as moving the steak a foot to the right onto the hot grill grates. If you’re using a regular smoker, you’ll need a hot grill ready, or you can finish the steak on a screaming hot cast-iron skillet.
Sear the steak for no more than minute or two per side, just enough to form a tasty outer crust. Depending on how hot your grill is, you may want to move the steak around as it sears, transferring it to hotter spots. A brush or two of clarified butter, bacon fat or rendered beef tallow also helps develop a flavorful exterior.
That’s all there is to the reverse-searing method. Although it does take a bit longer, up to an hour depending on the thickness of the steak, most of that time doesn’t require much work other than monitoring the steak as it smokes.
The results are well worth the additional effort, giving venison steaks a smoky char that’s way more flavorful than anything a caveman could do.
3 tbs. kosher salt
3 tbs. cracked black pepper
2 tbs. garlic powder
2 tbs. Hungarian paprika
1 tbs. ground coriander
1 tbs. Coleman’s dried mustard
¼ tsp. dried rosemary
¼ tsp. dried marjoram
¼ tsp. dried thyme
Whisk ingredients together in a small bowl and season steak liberally.