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July 25, 2011
"The Reverse Sear" --
Grilling A Top Round Roast

Normally the grilling game plan with large chunks of meat, whether you're talking about steaks or roasts, is to sear the meat over direct heat until the exterior is nicely colored and then finish the cooking over indirect heat. However, there has been some buzz on the internet and television about reversing this process. There is some belief that this method, referred to as "the reverse sear," leads to a more tender roast. Well I gave it a try. I made roast beef sandwiches from a top round roast using the reverse sear method. Check this out:

the reverse sear method


1 Top Round Beef Roast:
1 T Black Pepper
1 T Salt
1 T Garlic Powder

1 aluminum pan (big enough to hold the roast)

First mix together the spices into a small bowl. I think these three ingredients make an outstanding yet simple little dry rub. Once the rub is mixed, rub it all over the top round and let it sit while you prepare your grill.

Some of the online discussion regarding the reverse sear method involves low and slow indirect cooking followed by a high heat sear. I wasn't buying into that concept so my plan was to use a medium high indirect heat until the roast registered about 110 degrees F (internal) and then put the roast directly over the coals to get that exterior sear. My interest in this method was sparked by "America's Test Kitchen" in which they show that this method results in a seared edge with a more homogenous pink juicy inside. This method would thus remove that "grey band" of overcooked grey meat that lies directly next to the seared edge and the juicy pink interior.

americas test kitchen reverse sear method

I'm no Photoshop artist; pardon me. But I tried to put together a diagram showing what I mean by removing the "grey band." We've all see long cylindrical beef tenderloins in the grocery store or big warehouse stores. They are long cylindrical cuts of meat about 4 inches wide and at least a foot or two long. The above photo shows what the inside of a beef tenderloin would look like. The above drawing would be representative of a slice of the cylinder, which would actually be a filet mignon medallion. The tenderloin on the left is what you would get with the conventional grilling method: searing the roast first and then bringing the meat up to temperature with indirect grilling. The tenderloin on the right is what you allegedly get with the reverse sear method: a nice char (shown by the small black line) and then a pink juicy center. Notice how the grey band disappears with the new method. Interesting. You also can get a better sear this way because supposedly the best sear you can get will come from a dry (not wet) cut of meat. Indirect cooking first will remove some of the moisture from the exterior of the roast giving you a more dry exterior to sear. Ok - enough of the scientific grilling lesson; let's get back to the photos and recipe!

reverse searing a top round

I prepared the grill for a medium/medium high heat. I was aiming for a dome temperature of 400-450 degrees. Once I was sure the temperature was not too hot I put the top round into an aluminum pan and placed it over indirect heat. Below is a table of my temperature and time readings for this cook:

Time Dome Temperature Internal Temperature
Time 0 450 52
30 min 440 69
60 min 410 102
75 min 410 111

I wanted to remove the roast from indirect heat when it hit 110 degrees F. Since I know that I want to eat the roast beef when the temperature is about 130 degrees I figured that the direct sear and the resting time would bring it up about 20 degrees. Take at look at these roast beef internal cooking temperatures to decide what temperature to cook your roast beef. You'll need to adjust your indirect cooking time accordingly.

the reverse sear for charcoal grilling

During the end of the indirect cook I tossed a handful of unlit charcoal into my fire. I did this so that when it was time for direct cooking the heat would be more intense. The picture above shows the roast sitting over direct heat. As with any meat I didn't want it sitting over a hot direct heat for more than 3 minutes per side so I set a timer and gave each side 3 minutes. After all of my direct heat searing the internal temperature was 127 degrees. I then wrapped it tightly with foil and after 10 minutes it was at 135 degrees. Not bad!

top round grilled via the reverse sear

A shot from after the resting period.

grilling a top round roast over charcoal

The meat slicer came out for this meal. I enjoy using the meat slicer when there is a large amount of meat to slice. Cleaning it can be rather cumbersome so for smaller roasts I'll just use a knife. Look how juicy this roast is!!!

Now a reader with a good eye will be saying, "Hey wait a minute! The grey band is still there!" Good point. So much for the whole diagram above. Well, that was the theory behind this method. But to defend it, I could have seared that portion of the roast for a bit too long or with too high of a heat. Or, that gray band could have been much bigger if I used the more traditional method and seared first. Regardless, this was a really good juicy roast.

roast beef sandwich made via the reverse sear of a top round roast

Above is my roast beef sandwich. It was fantastic! So the results are that the reverse sear works well. This was a really juicy roast. Will I use the reverse sear on a smaller NY strip steak? Probably not. But this is a very handy tool for cooking a larger roast such as a top round or a beef tenderloin.

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By John Thomas
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