Cooking steak in the oven is a divisive technique. There are a lot of meat eaters who can’t imagine cooking steak on anything but a scorching hot pan or grill. Steaks are synonymous with summer time and sizzle. But that doesn’t stop us from sometimes wanting to find a simpler way to stay inside and avoid the screeching smoke alarm.
The good news is that the simplicity of the oven is often actually the best option when it comes to creating that perfect blend of pink interior and caramelized exterior. It might sound counterintuitive, but the concept of the "reverse sear" has been gaining traction for years — and it all starts with the oven.
Unless you are among the totally incorrect people who want well-done steak (apologies in advance to my Argentine cousins who will argue this point with me endlessly), the main goal of cooking any steak is to find that balance between enough sear on the outside without overdoing or under-doing the moist inside. For most people, that dance has always been about having the correct temperature on the grill or pan. You want to get tasty caramelization but not with a pan so hot it burns before the inside is cooked, or not with a pan so cool that when you cut into your steak you see more gray than pink.
So … where does the oven come in? With the oven, you can essentially bifurcate the cooking of the interior and the exterior. Since cooking a steak is really all about temperature, what better apparatus than the oven to get you there? Cook your steak low and slow to get it to the ideal interior temperature and then scorch it to get that flavor that only comes from the Maillard reaction altering the exterior of a piece of meat.
The technique of cooking the interior of a piece of meat first has gained popularity in recent years, typically dubbed the "reverse sear." The reverse sear usually involves cooking a steak either sous vide (a sealed bag cooked in water at an exact temperature) or low and slow in an oven.
But the second part of the usual reverse sear is where the lazy among us start to zone out. It typically calls for a separate pan already on high heat on the stove to act as an immediate conduit for getting that sear whenever the steak is ready. But what if we want to stick with the oven? What if I am just a tired mom trying to make dinner and I do not have someone else to clean my dishes, and I really, really don’t want to dirty another pan (especially the frequently touted cast iron that I will then have to carefully scrub of all the bits that stuck to the bottom and then be careful not to ruin and then carefully re-oil when I’m done)? Well, I have good news for you: You truly do not have to use anything but the oven.
Between your low oven temperatures and your broiler, you have the two perfect elements for the reverse sear method. And while a screaming hot pan is great, most large steakhouses today are already also using what is essentially a broiler, so you aren’t blaspheming against the gods of steak by using this methodology.
The crux is to cook the steak slowly enough to get it to your ideal temperature inside and then remove it, heat up your broiler, brush it with oil so it doesn’t burn and stick it under the broiler just long enough so you get that perfect sear. You get all of the browned exterior with the pink interior and none of the gray middle bits in between. It really is that simple.
How to cook steak in the oven
There are a few elements here that will make everything run more smoothly. The first is to start by setting your oven up for success. Before you preheat, move one rack as high as it will go, so the steak would be almost touching the top when you get to the broiler step. Have another rack in the middle for the original cook time.
When it comes to the steak itself, you want to use a thicker cut of meat — ideally a rib-eye — rather than something thinner like a skirt steak. You want it to be as dry as possible on the outside (you can leave it uncovered for a night in the fridge if you’d like, but you certainly don’t have to) and you want to ideally have it sit at room temperature for a bit before starting.
Since this is a recipe all about the evenness of temperature, starting at a neutral place will help keep that even cooking. It is also highly recommended to use a meat thermometer. If you know temperature, then you know pretty much everything about your steak, so why give up such a huge advantage? Most instant-read meat thermometers are less expensive than a pack of steaks, so make the investment.
Give your meat a heavy dose of salt before starting, but beyond that, you’ll be shocked by how easy steak in the oven can be.
Get the recipe here:
If you are looking for that perfect warm day by the grill, not much can beat that, and I certainly won’t talk you out of it. But for pretty much anything else, give your steak over to the oven. Your days of scrubbing cast-iron pans and silencing your smoke detector have ended.