Should You Reverse Sear Steaks On A Pellet Grill?

Hi, I’m Chris. I started back in 2007.

In my main article on how to cook steaks on a pellet grill/smoker, I discuss the two main methods, purely searing a steak or reverse searing a steak (smoking and then searing). In that article, I discuss the process for each method of cooking a steak, and I generally recommend reverse searing where possible. However, there are pros and cons to reverse searing steaks, so I thought the topic deserved its own article to discuss these pros and cons.

Should You Reverse Sear Steaks On A Pellet Grill
In the center is a reverse-seared steak, and on the right is a purely seared steak. Notice the difference in color and crust: Image –

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To Reverse-Sear Or Not To Reverse-Sear, That Is The Question…

I’ve written quite a few articles now about how to cook steaks on a pellet grill/smoker and the slight differences in the process if you own a Traeger, Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Weber etc.

Within those articles, I generally encourage people, if they have the time (typically around an hour), to reverse-sear their steaks as opposed to purely searing them.

Now, that’s partly down to my personal preference, but also for the specific reason that you only get smoke flavor into a steak if you reverse-sear them.

Don’t be under the impression if you take, say, Apple pellets and purely sear a steak, you will taste Applewood smoke in the steaks. You won’t, and I’ll discuss that more below.

However, there are indeed pros and cons to reverse-searing steaks, and I came across the video below by Jeremy of Mad Scientist BBQ, which is a demonstration of the pros and cons.

This 24-minute video tests out searing vs reverse searing of steaks cut from the same rib roast

Jeremy filmed the video above while at a promotional event for the Camp Chef Apex, which is a pellet/gas combo grill if you are wondering what he’s using.

Anyway, they got two pretty much identical steaks and seared one and reverse-seared the other. The result, even purely from a visual perspective, is very noticeable.

The reverse-seared steak had a red-smoked appearance even after being seared. Whereas the seared steak has a deeper brown color and a noticeably thicker crust.

Searing vs Reverse-Searing Results

In the video above, Jeremy personally preferred the purely seared steak over the reverse-seared steak, as the purely seared steak had a deeper, more developed crust.

Essentially, the purely seared steak has had more time for the Maillard reaction to do its thing. Whereas the reverse-seared steak is only partly cooked at high heat where the Maillard reaction takes place.

No idea what I’m talking about with the Maillard reaction? Don’t worry, its a pretty complicated process when looked at in detail, but it can be simplified.

In general, when food is cooked at high heat, sugars and acids within the food react together to form tasty brown goodness on the outside of foods (toasting, grilling, searing etc).

This brilliant 6-minute video explains the Maillard reaction in detail but in simple terms

Therefore, while in the video above, Jeremy could indeed taste the smoke flavor in the reverse-seared steak, he preferred the purely seared steak due to the more extensive Maillard reaction/crust.

Personally, I like it the other way around, I like the suitable smoke flavor in the steak, and I accept to get it, ; generally, the crust and the flavor from the Maillard reaction will be less developed.

However, there is also the option to stop the smoking part of the cook earlier and then sear it for longer. Hence, a less smokey steak, but the crust/Maillard reaction will be more developed.

Final Thoughts On Searing vs Reverse-Searing…

While this article is discussing cooking steaks, the topic of searing vs reverse searing really applies to other cooked proteins, such as cooking burgers, for instance.

With a purely seared steak, you will get more of the Maillard reaction taking place, and the flavors which come along with a more developed/deeper crust.

With a reverse-seared steak, you will get smoke flavor from your chosen pellets, and there will be some crust/Maillard reaction from the final sear, just not as much as a purely seared steak.

You can also try in between. Maybe spend less time smoking and more time searing the steaks. It’s really something you’re just going to have to play about with to find your personal preference.

Though I would not encourage you to smoke up to 10 to 20 degrees from the final temp and then try to sear the steak to the same degree/crust as a purely seared steak, as that will lead to an overly done steak.

That’s it! I hope this article has cleared up the pros and cons of searing vs reverse searing your steaks etc. Check out my Cooking Guide for more of my articles. 🙂

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Chris -

Hi, I’m Chris. I started back in 2007. This website is intended to be an educational resource on BBQ pellets, pellet grills & smokers. I hope you find the information useful.

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