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How to Reverse Sear on a Smoker: Easy Way to Better Steak

Reverse searing is a game-changer when it comes to perfecting tender and juicy steak that’s got the best, crispy bark. It’s simple to do, you really can’t mess it up, and way easier than hoping that the inside is cooked to your liking. These steps guide you through how to reverse sear on a smoker and can be used on any type of barbecue. Once you try it, you’ll do this every single time!

MAKES

As many steaks as you'd like

SERVES

As many people as you'd like

PREP

1 minute

COOK

60 minutes

Tomahawk Steaks on the Kamado Joe Classic I

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Whether you like it rare, medium, or well-done, there really is one secret to cooking a perfect steak and it’s this, reverse searing.

There’s no more throwing your steak on the barbecue, leaving it for a set number of minutes and cutting it open to find that it’s either not cooked to your liking, or the outside is either over or under-done.

Reverse searing gives you control over both of these important aspects of cooking a steak (or any other type of meat for that matter). Essentially you’re cooking the inside and the outside of it separately so that you can have a tender, juicy inside with a perfectly seared crust.

Here you’ll find our step by step guide on how to reverse sear on a smoker. We’ve also given you the answers to our most asked questions so that you’ve got everything you could possibly need to nail your next steak.

And, nail it you will because this method really is easy.

It might take a little longer than simply searing a steak. But, there’s nothing complicated about reverse searing, and once you try it, you’ll never go back!

You can use any type of smoker to reverse sear AS LONG AS it gets hot enough to grill as well. And, if you’ve got a dedicated smoker that doesn’t get over the 400 or 450°F mark, you could finish it off on your kitchen stovetop instead.

Table of Contents

What is Reverse Searing?

You know how the ‘normal’ way of cooking a steak is to throw it raw onto a really hot grill (sear it) and then continue cooking it until it’s done to your liking?

Well, reverse searing is just the opposite. You cook the meat at a low temperature until it’s not quite done, then finish it by quickly searing the outside at a very high temperature.

The basic idea of the reverse sear method is that you’re cooking the inside and the outside separately so that you have greater control over how well done it is, and the maillard reaction to create an evenly cooked piece of meat with a perfectly crisp exterior.

Kamado Joe Classic II with 2 Tomahawk Steaks

What Do You Need to Reverse Sear?

How to Reverse Sear on a Smoker

  1. Preheat your smoker to 225°F 
  2. Season your meat with salt and pepper, or seasoning of your choice. And, if you’re using a smoking thermometer, insert your meat probe.
  3. Place meat on the smoker and cook until meat is 15°F less than your target (see temperature guide below).
  4. Remove meat from the heat and set aside.
  5. Crank your barbecue up to 450°F+
  6. Sear meat over high heat for 1-2 minutes per side until the crust looks perfect to you.
  7. Remove and serve.
Tomahawk Steak on the Pit Boss K22

Which Meats Can Be Reverse Seared?

Although the reverse sear technique is most often used on steak, it’s an age-old method of cooking any cut of meat where you want to make sure the inside is properly cooked while giving the outside a crispy skin.

Reverse searing can be used on any cut of meat that’s thicker than 1.5 inches (4cm) including:

  • Thick cuts of steak like Tomahawk steaks and filet mignon
  • Tri tip
  • Pork chops
  • Lamb steaks
  • Chicken breast
  • Chicken thighs
  • Roasts

Reverse searing isn’t an effective way to cook thinner meats or vegetables because they dry out too quickly. A simple sear will work best on those.

Target Temperatures for Reverse Searing

There’s two temperatures you want to be aware of when you’re reverse searing; one, your target temperature when you’re smoking, and two, your final ready to eat temperature.

The smoking target temperature is 10-15°F lower than your final temperature. This is to allow the meat to rise a few degrees higher when it’s resting, and when it’s searing over high heat.

Below you’ll find a table of the target temperatures for the types of meat that are most commonly reversed smoked.

Sticking to these temperatures makes it almost impossible to over or under-do your meat. They are also based on the USDA safe internal temperature recommendations.

Meat Type

Smoking Target Temperature

Final Target Temperature

Beef, rare

105°F

120°F

Beef, medium-rare

115°F

130°F

Beef, medium

125°F

140°F

Beef, medium-well done

135°F

150°F

Beef, well-done

145°F

160°F

Chicken, all

155°F

165°F

Pork

135°F

145°F

Lamb, medium-rare

130°F

145°F

Lamb, medium

145°F

160°F

Lamb, well-done

155°F

170°F

Tips for Reverse Searing on Any Type of Smoker

You can reverse sear on any type of smoker with a temperature range of at least 225°F/250°F – 450°F.

This ensures that it can get low enough to smoke properly, and high enough to finish searing your meat over high heat. An even higher searing temperature than 450°F is preferrable. But, many pellet smokers only go this hot and can still reverse sear successfully.

But, also check out the following tips to reverse sear on these particular types of barbecues.

To reverse sear on a kamado, start by setting it up for indirect heat. You could do this by using a heat deflector plate, or placing your meat on the opposite side to your coals.

Then, simply remove the heat deflector plate with high-heat resistant bbq gloves, or move the meat directly over the coals once it’s time to sear it.

To reverse sear successfully on a charcoal smoker, you can set your charcoal up with a direct and indirect heat zones so you can simply move your meat from one side of the smoker to the other when it’s time to sear it.

Or, you can use the vents to choke the temperature down low for the initial smoke. Then, open them up to get the flames going for the final sear.

Almost all electric smokers don’t get hot enough to sear on because they’re dedicated smokers only. But, not all is lost!

To reverse sear on an electric smoker, do your low and slow part in the smoker itself. Then, grab your steaks out, heat up a cast iron pan on your regular, indoor stove top and finish them for the last few minutes inside.

Reverse searing on a pellet smoker is as simple as setting the temperature low first. Then, removing your meat, turning up the heat and waiting until it’s reached a grilling temperature.

Most pellet smokers don’t get that hot. So, I’d generally recommend dialing one up to maximum heat before grilling.

If you’re reverse searing on a pellet smoker all the time, check out these pellet smokers that are really great for searing too.

To reverse sear on an offset smoker, smoke the meat as you normally would in the cooking chamber.

Then, transfer it to the cooking chamber to sear it directly over the coals with the grilling plate inserted.

What are the Benefits of a Reverse Sear?

If you’ve always seared your steak and are on the fence about whether reverse searing is worth it, here’s why reverse searing is the best way to cook a steak.

It’s virtually impossible to cook a well-done steak without over-cooked the outside. But, by cooking the inside at a lower temperature first, you can get that internal meat temperature exactly where you’d like it before the final sear.

Any connective tissue, fat, and grizzle is broken down over the longer and slower smoking time resulting in a more tender piece of meat.

The outside of a steak or any other piece of meat doesn’t need a long time to cook. The 1 or 2 minute sear time is enough to perfectly brown and caramalize the surface without overdoing it.

With a longer, low and slow cook time, your steak, roast, or other piece of meat will have more flavor because it’s had longer to absorb the wood smoke than if it was grilled regularly.

What are the Cons of a Reverse Sear?

The only con of reverse searing your steak, chicken, pork, or any other type of meat is that it takes longer than just throwing it on a hot barbecue.

But, try it once and see if you think the extra cook time is worth it.

We absolutely do!

FAQs about Reverse Searing on a Barbecue

Reverse searing a steak generally takes about one hour. But, the exact time it takes will depend on how well-done you’d like it.

Instead of cooking for time, use a smoking thermometer or a cheap instant read thermometer to cook to temperature. This is the best way to make sure your meat is done to your liking. You’ll never under or over-do it again.

You can sear a steak before or after smoking it.

We prefer to smoke it first because doing the low and slow work first reduces the moisture levels and creates a better Maillard reaction for an even better crust.

To reverse sear a steak on a pellet grill, set the smoker to 225°F for the low and slow part. Then, take it all the way up to it’s maximum temperature to sear the outside. As long as your pellet smoker goes up to at least 450°F you’ll get good results.

To start reverse searing, smoke your meat at 225°F.

For the best results, do the sear over an open flame for really high heat. You can do that on a kamado, charcoal, or offset smoker. But, you’ll still get really good results with the indirect high heat you get on most pellet grills.

No. Because smoking a steak isn’t really browning it, you don’t need to flip a steak when smoking it. But, do give your steak 1-2 minutes on each side when it comes to the high heat grilling part of your reverse sear.

Reverse searing will give you way better results than regularly grilling your steak.

Reverse searing lets you cook the inside and outside separately so that you can get both just how you like it without risking burning or under-doing it.

If you like an evenly cooked to perfection steak that’s just as good as you’d get in a top-end steakhouse, reverse searing really is better.

Plus, if you’re using a meat thermometer to cook to temperature, it’s practically impossible to screw up. Just perfectly cooked, tender, and juicy steak with a good crust every single time.

Two things will stop you from overcooking your meat when you’re reverse searing.

First, grab yourself an instant read thermometer. Even a cheapie that measures accurately will do the trick. Then, cook to the target temperatures recommended above.

Second, take your meat off the barbecue 10-15°F BEFORE it reaches your target temperature. Your meat will keep cooking a little while it’s resting. And, when you throw it over the high heat, it should bring it’s temperature up those final few degrees.

Yes. As long as your pellet grill gets up to at least 450°F, it can sear.

It’s not as hot as you’d cook over an open flame. But yes, you can reverse sear on a Traeger, Z Grills, Camp Chef, or any other brand of pellet grill.

For even better grilling, check out our round-up of the best pellet grills for searing. Some have open flame options making them even more versatile, all-round barbecues.

Jared Brown, an avid lover of all things meat has a fearless enthusiasm for experimenting with anything that's grilling, smoking or outdoor cooking. With a wealth of experience across a range different barbecue types, Jared's got a real knack for helping others make a decision they're happy with, ensuring they find the perfect fit regardless of conventional notions of the 'right' choice. This unique approach has made Jared a trusted guide in the world of barbecue.

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Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

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