Good barbecue requires meat, fire, and smoke, which can be combined to create food that is both delicious and addictive. It takes practice and a lot of knowledge to get consistently great results.
Fortunately, there is one product that can make this process easier: the Traeger Timberline 850 backyard cooker. The Timberline is an electric grill that heats wood. It adds incredible flavor to all the food it cooks.
Unfortunately, many who own a pellet cooker like the Traeger can’t seem to get that much-desired sear most steak lovers expect. The good news is that you can get the sear you want with a Traeger. More on that later.
A study titled Effects of Searing Cooking on Sensory and Physicochemical Properties of Beef Steak claims:
“Searing cooking did not affect juiciness, water content, and cooking loss of beef steaks, although it resulted in a distinct change in surface color and improved overall flavor and a roasted meat aroma.”NIH National Library of Medicine
But the high-sounding title doesn’t change what the majority of average steak lovers who put down $1700.00 for a Traeger know to be a fact-a steak with just the right sear looks better, has a better aroma, and is just all-around better.
Some Quick FAQs about the Traeger
What is a pellet grill?
Traeger grills use 100% pure hardwood pellets that are made from scratch. This means that each of the six wood-fired flavors is made only from 100% virgin hardwood. The combination of Hickory, Signature and Cherry hardwood pellets creates a versatile blend that can be used for almost any type of food. You can cook everything from classic BBQ meats to fish and vegetables.
How does a Traeger Pellet Grill Work?
An auger moves hardwood pellets from the hopper to the firepot, where they are ignited with the Hotrod to add wood-fired flavor and heat. A fan circulates heat, smoke, and keeps food from burning.
Why choose a pellet grill?
Wood Pellet grills produce consistent heat and smoke that can be easily adjusted. Because the flame is kept away from food, there are no flare-ups. A pellet grill does not require monitoring — it will stay at the right temperature for as long or as you like.
How long do the pellets last?
A Traeger grill’s smoker can burn between 1 and 3 pounds of pellets an hour. That means that each 20-pound bag of pellets can cook for between 6 and 20 hours (at high heat or low heat).
How to Sear Steak on a Traeger
A ribeye steak needs to be properly grilled at a high temperature. I recommend a grill that is at least 450F (230C).
But is that possible with a Traeger Grill? Yes and no. Older Traeger models might not achieve even 400F. And many found that attempting a higher heat was more likely to burn their pit.
Here are some steps to take with the new generation of Traegers that will accomplish the sear you want without fear of ruining your prized investment. Prep
Do some minor trimming to remove excess fat and the silver skin at the edges of your steaks. Use your favorite secret seasoning if desired. Many pit masters say their secret is to buy the right cut of beef, apply salt liberally, and leave the flavor to the meat itself and the smoke.
The Wrong Way
Here’s what you SHOULDN’T do. We know this because we did it wrong the first time.
Our first test was slow cooking the ribeye in our Traeger Timberline 855 using indirect heat. We took the steak out of the pit at the halfway point, turned up the temperature to 500oF (260oC), and threw it back on the bottom rack.
That would seem to work, but it doesn’t! We got nothing after putting the steak back in the Traeger. There was no sizzling sound or grill marks, and the steak tasted almost like it had been cooked in a microwave.
The Right Way
Here’s how it should be done:
Before you fire your Traeger up, remove the heat shield from the bottom. We also placed grill grates in the places where the top rack was.
Then fire it up and let it reach 500F (260C). This time, we did it directly on the fire.
With our steak placed directly on the grill grates, we could hear it singing right away! Each side was cooked for 3 minutes 30 seconds, flipping it once every 45 seconds (ensuring that the grill marks were aligned).
This gave us a cooking time of 7 minutes. Then we took it off the heat and let it cool for about 10-15 minutes before going right to work.
What is Reverse-Searing?
Reverse-searing involves the finishing of a piece with a high heat sear. While the low-and slow portion can be done in an oven, smoker, or cast iron pan, searing is usually done using a grill or cast-iron pan.
A Traeger pellet grill’s versatility allows you to do the entire process with just one piece of equipment. Your steak will be tender and flavorful.
You might think, “Why not sear first? Won’t that lock in the juices?” That seems logical, but those who have tested this theory have found that it doesn’t hold up.
Steps for a Reverse Sear
You’ll need a thermometer, along with your cooking pellets. A thermometer that can be kept in the meat during cooking is best, such as a ThermoPro. A thermometer that can be read instantly will also work, but you’ll need to open the grill frequently to verify the temperature.
Step 1: Low and Slow
Once you have everything you need, you can start cooking. You can set the temperature to 225°F or low heat “smoke”, depending on your grill’s model. Put on your steak and wait. You can check your steak’s temperature with an instant-read thermometer after 20 minutes. However, this step can be more time-consuming if you have a thick steak.
What is your internal temperature? It is recommended that you cook your steak between 10 and 15 degrees below the final temperature. You should aim for medium rare.
Step 2: Finish with a Sear
Once your steak has reached the desired internal temperature, remove it from the grill and cover it with foil. Then, turn up your pellet grill’s heat as high as you can.
This is where patience is key. Wait 10 minutes for the grill to reach its maximum temperature. You can rest assured that your steak will cook perfectly while the temperature rises. Your grill should reach temperatures between 450-500 degrees.
After your grill has reached your desired temp, place your steak on the grill for another 90 seconds. To keep the grill warm, close the lid. To get crisscrossed marks on your steak, you can turn it halfway through each side.
Instead, focus on the Maillard reaction‘s overall browning.
So what is the Maillard reaction? The Maillard reaction makes food more appealing to humans. It encourages us to eat a steak, drink coffee, or sip a beer. This is because we can recognize two signals when we encounter food.
- The first signal is called “nutrition”. It tells us that the food will provide a large amount of easily digestible calories, vitamins, and minerals.
- The second signal is called a “generally harmlessness”. It tells us that the food won’t cause us harm. Evolution’s Maillard reaction is a combination of these two signals to create a super-signal that is specific to cooked foods with brown or roasty flavors.
After searing, both sides, you’re done! You don’t need to rest the meat as it was heated slowly. However, it’s worth taking a few minutes to let it cool down.
Important Reminder – Choose the Right Steak
The single most important step with any grilling method is the cut of steak you choose.
Thickness is the most important aspect of choosing a steak to be reverse-seared. While grade is important, the thickness of the steak is the most crucial factor in reverse-searing. The final sear will not allow the steak to cook through.
You should aim for a steak at least 1.5 inches thick. There is no upper limit. In fact, reverse-searing works well for a whole prime rib.
You will find three USDA grades at your grocery or butcher shop: Select, Choice, Prime. While we all know that Prime is the best, I believe Choice offers a great compromise in quality and price. This can result in outstanding results.
Ribeye is the best cut. No matter what cut you choose, make sure to select the steak with the highest intramuscular marbling. This fat will give every bite a wonderful flavor and texture.
The Bottom Line
Can you grill a ribeye steak on Traeger’s grill? Yes, you can. Mine was perfectly cooked and had a delicious crust. These steps will ensure that your Traeger can reach a good sear by achieving high temperatures.
CNET’s Brian Bennett said it best about the Traeger:
Even after listing all the Traeger Timberline 850’s issues, I still struggle with one thing. The barbecue I cooked in it was absolutely fabulous.
Can you learn how to sear on a Traeger? Yes, you can … and should.