If there were a President of Steaks, it’d be the rib eye. There’s something special about the cut, with tender, well-marbled meat that smells somehow better than any other steak. It’s a great way to celebrate anything: Father’s Day, Independence Day…Dinner. In today’s post, we’ll be showing you how you can get the best results when grilling this amazing cut, and we’ll also talk about one of the best way’s to top it: homemade compound butter.
This rather expensive steak is one you really don’t want to mess up by overcooking. To eliminate any chance of that cardinal food sin, you should cook your steak by the reverse sear method.
What is the reverse sear method?
A traditional sear isan old trick for cooking steaks, whereby you’d sear the steak in a hot pan or on a hot grill and finish it in the oven at a lower temperature. This helped prevent overcooking—in part—but also created a delicious crust. The reverse sear is the opposite of that: you cook the steak in a low-temp environment first until it is about 15°F (8°C) below your target pull temperature. Then you sear the steak to give it that tasty crust and to finish the cooking.
Why reverse sear?
By cooking the steak evenly throughout, you can be assured that you are getting just the doneness that you want. The gentle early cook gives you greater control over meat temp because the temperature gradients from exterior to interior remain relatively mild throughout. If you sear first, you’re setting up a steep temperature curve through the thickness of the meat that can push you into doneness range with unexpected rapidity. Getting your meat close to done and then pushing the surface to a crust just gives you more control over the finish, the perfect pink that you are looking for.
Put another way, by grill-roasting a rib eye—or other—steak in a 220°F (104°C) environment, the thermal gradients within the meat are kept broader, meaning the center temp is much closer to the surface temp. When the steak reaches 110°F (43°C) internal temperature, the outside region is still much cooler than it would have been if you had seared it first. If you then sear the steak quickly over high heat, you get a great Maillard-browned crust but little to no grey-ring in the steak.
Reverse sear is the best way to get edge-to-edge even doneness on a thick steak without a thick band of battleship gray meat just under the crust. —The Science of Great BBQ and Grilling, by Meathead Goldwyn
(Incidentally, when the pink pigment myoglobin heats beyond 140°F (60°C) degrees, it denatures and turns brown. And while this change from pink to brown is not what makes a piece of beef well done, it is indicative of the kind of heat that does cook meat to well.)
How to set up your grill for reverse searing steak
To grill a steak by the reverse-sear method, you need two zones: a direct and an indirect cooking zone. For gas grills, that means turning one side of your grill to high while leaving the other side off. For charcoal or wood grills, that means banking your coals to one side while either leaving the other side empty or even putting a pan of water in the space.
Using the air probe on the indirect side—where it’s safe from high heat and from flare-ups—monitor the temperature and adjust your lid or vents to keep it in the neighborhood of 220°F (104°C). Setting up your grill in this way will give you the two zones you need to gently grill-roast your steak and then sear it.
For grilling, we usually do not recommend a leave-in probe thermometer. Though our probes are rated for high heat, the flare-ups that accompany standard grilling can reach temperatures as high as 1200°F (649°C), enough to fry the sensor or the cable on your probe. However, with indirect grilling things are different. By keeping the meat—and the air and meat probes—from directly above any flame or heat source, the probe is also protected from the jets of fire that will unavoidably happen. We recommend a SmokeTM dual-channel thermometer, which can monitor the air temp as well as the meat temperature at the same time.
Once your steak has reached a temperature that is about 15°F (8°C)lower than your preferred doneness (130-135°F [54-57°C] for medium-rare or 135–140°F [57–60°C] for medium), remove the probe and move the steak to the hot side of the grill for searing. A few minutes per side should give it the Maillard browning and crust that you want. For the searing, use a Thermapen® Mk4 to check the temperature throughout the sear. As soon as the lowest temperature you see is 5–7°F (3-4°C) below your target temp, pull the steak. Carryover will bring it the rest of the way up.
Note: feel free to let the steak rest between the grill-roasting and the searing for as long as an hour. The equilibration and cooling of the gradients in the meat will give you a little extra room to really sear both sides well before you reach your internal target temp.
Rest your grilled steak
As the steak has been cooking, especially during the sear, its protein fibers have been constricting, squeezing out stored water. Allowing the steak a resting period will help those fibers relax some, pulling the water back in like a sponge. Without this resting period, all that water will drain out as soon as you cut into it. So tent the steak with foil for 5-10 minutes before cutting in and enjoying yourself.
Once that meat has cooled slightly, its structure relaxes—the muscle fibers widen up slightly again, and it’s this small change in shape that makes all the difference. —The Importance of Resting Meat, by Kenji Lopez-Alt of SeriousEats.com
In addition to giving your steak the chance to stay juicy, the resting period also gives you a chance to take get that delicious compound butter melting on the top!
Compound butter is a term for butter that has flavorful ingredients mixed in with it. Compound butters are easy to prepare and delicious, plus, their ability to be frozen for a long time makes them a great make-ahead item that you can bring out at a moment’s notice to add a gourmet touch to any meal.
To make a compound butter, simply choose your flavorings and place them with your butter into a stand mixer. Use the paddle attachment to mix them together until softened and well combined. Form the butter into a loose cylinder and wrap it in parchment or wax paper. You can store it in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or in the freezer for months.
Flavoring the butter is up to you. The most famous compound butter is Maître d’Hôtel butter, which is flavored with lemon juice, parsley, salt, and pepper. For this cook, we made two butters, one with herbs and lemon zest, the other with Stilton blue cheese. But let your imagination run wild! Add herbs or spices, your favorite BBQ rub, or even sweet ingredients like brown sugar and cinnamon—though maybe not for steak!
Grilled rib eye steak recipe
- 2 quality rib eye steaks, about 1 ½” thick
- Ground black pepper
For compound butter:
- 2 sticks butter
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1½ tsp minced fresh thyme
- 1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 2 sticks butter
- 2 oz good quality blue cheese (Stilton preferred)
- ½ tsp minced fresh thyme
- ½ tsp lemon zest
For the steaks
- When the grill is hot, place steaks on the cool side of the grill.
- Probe a steak, making sure that no part of the probe, transition, or wire crosses the high-heat zone.
- Set up the air probe, near the steak but far from the hot zone.
- Set the alarms on your Smoke: 110°F (43°C) high alarm for the meat—or 15° less than your desired doneness (see chart below)—and 250°F (121°C) high alarm for the air.
Beef Temperature Chart
Beef Doneness Final Doneness Temperature Rare 120–130°F (49–54°C) Medium Rare 130–135°F (54–57°C) Medium 135–140°F (57–60°C) Medium Well 145–155°F (63–68°C) Well Done 155°F (68°C) and up
- Let the steaks cook.
- When the alarm sounds on your steak, verify the temp with your Thermapen.
- Move the steaks to the hot zone and continue cooking.
- Flip the steaks after 2-3 minutes, checking regularly with your Thermapen.
- When your steaks are 5° below your target temp, pull them from the grill.
- Tent the steaks and let them rest 5 minutes.
For the butter
- Prepare flavorings.
- Mix the butter and flavorings well in a mixer.
- Press out into a rough cylinder.
- Roll in parchment paper, forming into a better cylinder.
- Twist ends of the paper to finish the form.
- Store in refrigerator or, if for later use, the freezer.
Bring it all together
If your butter is cold and firm, place a slice of it on each steak as soon as they come off the grill. If the butter is still quite soft from beating, you can add it right before serving. Either way, it will melt and spread its flavors over the surface of the steak, pooling at its base to create a sauce as fine as any chef could ever hope to make.
You can accompany this dish with golden, crispy french fries for an authentic bistro presentation, but no matter how you serve it, temperature and thermal principles really are necessary to cook a steak properly. By using thermometers to actually watch the temperature and a two-stage process that ends with searing, you can get edge-to-edge perfect doneness. If you’re going to get good quality steaks for Father’s Day or any other occasion, they deserve nothing less.