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Perfect Smoked Steak on your Pellet Grill

Sliced medium rare steak in a pile on cutting board

Let me start by clarifying what I believe the perfect steak is. For me, it means that the steak is evenly cooked all the way through and that any marbling has had a chance to render and melt into the meat itself. The steak will be juicy and well seasoned. Sounds simple enough right, but is it? With your pellet smoker, you can do a reverse sear and infuse your steak with smoke at the same time. You have all the makings of pulling off a perfect Traeger steak at your fingertips. Even if this is your first time smoking a steak or using this cooking method, it is a great introduction to smoked steaks. You will fall in love with the meaty and delicious flavors that develop during the slow smoke and final hard sear.

Cheat Sheat

This is for using the reverse sear method on your pellet grill. Does not matter if you use a Pit Boss pellet grill, a Traeger grill, or even a Memphis Pro like I use. These simple steps will help you make a mouthwatering steak on any style of a pellet grill. 

 

  1. Prep and Season your preferred cuts of meat, letting them rest until the grill is ready

  2. Set your pellet grill to 180º and let it preheat.

  3. Place steaks in the center of your pellet grill and close the lid of the wood pellet smoker.

  4. If you have a Traeger with super smoke mode, use it now for about 10 minutes

  5. Monitor the internal temperature, checking after 20 minutes to get a baseline temperature.

  6. Smoke until an internal temperature of 100-120º, depending on your desired doneness.

  7. Heat a Cast Iron Skillet to raging hot and sear your steaks starting with the fat cap first.

  8. Sear 1 minute per side max

  9. Remove the steak to a plate and top with high-quality butter and let it rest for 5 minutes before cutting into it.

What is Reverse Sear

Quite simply it means that you will be searing your steak after it has slow cooked at lower temperatures. There are three ways to accomplish the first part of this cooking method. In your oven which is my least favorite option, I just don’t like to use my oven at home as it heats my whole house. You can sous vide the steak, which is my second choice. Lastly, you can smoke your steak on a pellet grill, electric smoker, or even charcoal smoker. The goal is to cook the steak at low heat for a more even cook before you get a good sear to it. Meaning that your steak will be your desired temperature all the way through rather than having layers of doneness working from the outside in.  

After you slowly cook your steak of choice to an internal temperature that is roughly 20 degrees Fahrenheit below your desired temperature, pull it off the smoker and let it rest briefly. The next step is to sear the steak. You can do this on your pellet grill if you like but I prefer taking it inside and searing the steak on a cast iron skillet that I have been preheating. I want quick intensely high heat to quickly sear and render any of the outer fat while giving the steak a light crust. We are talking about maybe a minute on each side at max. Anything over that and your steak will overcook. 

If you want to sear on your pellet grill go for it. For me, the grill marks from the grill grates are not that important and I can not get my pellet grill hot enough to properly sear without catching the whole thing on fire. I have a Memphis Pro pellet grill that will get to a high temperature of 750 degrees f and will instantly turn fat drippings into fireballs… I know this from experience. 

Note: If you prefer a heavy sear on your steaks then pull them at 100 degrees internally.

 

What Steaks Work Best

For great pellet grill steaks, you want to use thick steaks. The thickness of your steaks is key to getting a slow smoke and then a great sear without overcooking. Anything less than 1” thick cut will not be able to be seared without cooking all the way through at the end. If a well-done steak is your thing that’s great for you but chances are if you are reading this, that is not the case.

All the classic steakhouse options will work well with this and cut be easily purchased from your local butcher at the thickness you desire. 

A ribeye steak is one of the best steak options for a reverse sear as it can result in a nearly perfect version of a miniature prime rib. I also enjoy cooking both strip steaks and filet mignon in this same method when it’s just my wife and me.  

Less common for me to cook but not outside the scope are whole beef picanha, sirloin steak, and the occasional tri-tip. I reserve these cuts for when I have guests coming over and need to feed a group in a more relaxed backyard bbq setting.

Does Prime Rib reverse sear on your smoker? Abso-freaking-lutely! Smoked prime rib is amazing. The only challenge you will have will be with searing it after the smoke. Either skip the sear or invest in a searzal to sear the fat cap.

 

Pro Tip: during “grilling” holidays like labor day, memorial day, or the fourth of July grocery stores like to run sales on the best cuts of steak. This is a great time to load up on steaks at a great price. Repackage them into freezer bags that can be vacuum sealed. For some reason, the market by me loves to have sales on thick porterhouse steaks and I will buy a few at a time. Freezing is not the best way to store a good steak but I’m cooking for myself at home, not guests at my restaurant.

Wood Pellets

When it comes to smoking steaks I do not care for the fruit woods or any wood that impart a sweet smoky flavor. I like stronger woods like mesquite and hickory for my steaks. The strong smoke is important since your steaks will not be cooking long enough for the smoke flavor to become overpowering. If I was using a charcoal smoker I would even use hickory or mesquite charcoal in addition to the wood chips. I also avoid using blended pellets. You know what I’m talking about, the competition wood blend or the texas blend. Buy straight wood pellets and blend as you wish. The blends to me have never produced very distinct results. This means I do not get any real smokey flavor from these pellets. 

Meat Probe

I can not suggest using a meat probe strong enough. This is because your steak will not show you the same signs of doneness during a reverse sear. The probe monitors the internal temperature of your steak and will sound an alarm when you have hit your programmed temp. You can even find Wi-Fi models that will send you a text alert. ThermoWorks Smoke is fantastic, I use it instead of the integrated probes on my pellet grill.

ThermoWorks Smoke

Seasoning your Steaks

The first thing I do before I season my steaks is to remove them from the packaging and then dry them off with a paper towel. I do not apply any oil to my steaks before cooking or seasoning them. It is unnecessary and just creates a barrier that the smoke has to fight through. So save the olive oil for your vegetables.

I will do either a dry rub of just kosher salt and coarse grind black pepper, Montreal steak seasoning, or Spiecology garlic junky. The latter is similar to the Montreal seasoning but with a heavier garlic presence. It works great on steaks and prime ribs. 

After applying the dry rub I will let the steaks sit at room temperature until the pit has finished heating, then it is straight onto the grill grates for their smoke bath. 

 

I strongly suggest you explore other pre-made dry rubs and seasoning blends available at your grocery store or your local grilling store. The seasonings that give you the best results are the ones that you love and work for you and your family. When you get comfortable start creating your dry rub recipe to make your steaks that much more memorable.

How long does it take?

Every steak is different and every cut of meat will cook differently so I can not give you an honest answer to that. Plus the temperature you set it too has a huge impact on time. If you are in a bit of a rush then turn up the pit 25 to 50 degrees but keep it under 275º. Rely on a quality meat thermometer to help you judge time. If you need to cook a steak quickly, the reverse sear method is not your best option. 

Steak Temperatures

This topic can set me off as there is an incredible amount of bad information out there on this subject. Take a look at the ranges of temperatures below as these are the guides I would use to determine doneness. And for the love of all things holy, PLEASE STOP ORDERING STEAKS MEDIUM PLUS! The difference between a medium-rare steak and a medium steak is only a few degrees which are impossible to hit in a commercial kitchen that’s cranking out food for hundreds of people an hour. You also have to take into consideration carryover cooking. Your steak will continue to cook even after you have removed it from the grill and pan. It is not uncommon to see a steak increase from 5-15º internal after it has been removed from the grill. 

125º-128º Rare

130º-137º Medium Rare

140º-145º Medium

147º-150º Medium Well

   155º+   Well Done

Do not follow pictures from Pinterest or random sites off the internet. These are two I found and I see them all the time. They were created by someone that truly has no idea what they are doing. 

 

Steaks sliced to show their internal doneness and labels in white describing the internal temperature. Red X and Green question mark and exclamation points with the heading I have no words...
Cross Cut Steaks showing the various degrees of doneness and their labels in bold from Rare at the top and working down to well done. A large red X overlays the entire page

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Chad Kelley
Hi!! This is Chef Chad. I'm a former restaurant chef and turned stay-at-home dad. My wife Yvette and two amazing kids live in North Dallas and are Huge FC Dallas fans.

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