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If You Must Make Steak In An Air Fryer, Do It This Way

Yes, you can cook a great air fryer steak. But not all methods are created equal.

Tyler Durden was right: You wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs. I just wish he had clarified that the same holds true for making steak in the air fryer.

Lately I've been noticing air fryer recipes pop up on my Instagram feed promising perfectly seared steaks. It makes a certain kind of sense, given that an air fryer is really just a small, high-powered convection oven that circulates heat faster and more evenly because the food is suspended in a basket while cooking. I know firsthand that the air fryer does wonders with Brussels sprouts and frozen tater tots—but a $25 New York strip? Although the idea of potentially ruining a quality cut of beef was daunting, I had to test whether this really is the magical new method for cooking great steaks at home.

The reverse sear method for cooking steak

I posted a query about air fryer steaks on my socials and received a mixed bag of responses. One person shared an intriguing method: using the reverse sear with in air fryer. I've taken this type of two-pronged approach before, using both an oven and a pellet grill, with sterling results: standing rib roasts, tri-tips, and even large bone-in ribeye steaks that run about two pounds or more all came out impeccably.


But most air fryer models simply can't accommodate anything that large. So in order to test the method, I had to shell out some coin for a thick steak—1.5" thick, to be exact. I settled on a New York strip and ran with the method shared on Facebook.

Round One: Air fryer failure

The so-called reverse sear takes the traditional method for searing steak and flips it on its head. The classic approach is to slap the raw meat on an already hot pan and form a caramelized outer crust right away, then rest the meat so that the inside can get up to temp. The reverse sear starts with the low-and-slow cook on the meat, then kicks up the heat right at the end to get the desired crust. So in this case, the air fryer would be doing the low-and-slow part.


I started by setting my air fryer to 280; my Facebook friend suggested 275, but my model only includes increments of 10 degrees. I cooked the steak for 12 minutes, then seared it off in a hot pan over the stove. For added precision, I used a wireless smart meat thermometer (the Meater 2 Plus) to monitor the cook, including the internal temp of the steak and the ambient temp of the air fryer. This was the smartest thing I could have done, because it gave me an inside look into exactly what went totally wrong.

My first air fryer steak was quite likely the worst steak I've ever cooked. I've had a few duds here and there, but that's usually because I went the cheap route and bought a tough top sirloin or a sorry-looking steak that happened to be on sale. On this occasion, I transformed a beautiful NY strip into a flavorless slab of vaguely beef-flavored protein because by time the steak had rested, it was cooked well past medium—a stain I'll carry with me for a long time.


This disaster taught me about a few of the air fryer's notable flaws, or at least the flaw present in my model. It turns out that my air fryer runs hot, and the reverse sear method only works when you're sub-275 degrees (thanks, J. Kenji López-Alt!). And not only does my air fryer run hot, it just keeps getting hotter the longer it's on. This became very problematic while I cooked my steak for the full 12-minute duration that was suggested. Halfway through the cook, my thermometer informed me that the air fryer was running at over 300 degrees.

After that I seared the steak off in a pan heated to 430 degrees, per my infrared thermometer. I tried my best to get a respectable looking sear, but I knew my steak would be woefully overcooked if I went too long in the pan. The result was an under-seared, medium well steak. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I jotted down my notes, dusted myself off, and stepped back into the ring.

Round Two: Steak supremacy

I coughed up another $25 and tempted the fates once more in my quest for the perfect air fryer steak. This time I decided to lower the cooking temp in the air fryer all the way down to 250, and I would break up the 12-minute cooking time by flipping the steak halfway through. I also decided to pull the steak at a lower temp—95 degrees instead of the original 115—to buy myself more time to put a really good sear on.


Like before, the air fryer ran hot: I had set it to 250, yet it was running at 282 degrees after four minutes. However, because I split the 12-minute cook time in half, I opened the basket at six minutes and the air fryer's temp was lowered by the rush of cool air, minimizing the temperature rise over the following six minutes. After all 12 minutes were up, I let the air fryer shut down, but I left my steak in there for two minutes while the internal temp rose to the desired 95 degrees. I even let it ride to 100 while I got my pan properly smoking.

This time, I cranked my pan up north of 500 degrees before dropping in the steak. I also brought in a bacon press (a useful kitchen tool) to ensure a more even sear. I knew the steak's temp would rise about 10 degrees after I pulled it from the pan, so I seared it on each side until it hit 123 degrees (about 2 minutes a side). After five minutes of rest, my steak's internal temp hit 133 degrees, and I started carving that sucker up.


I'm still glowing thinking about how perfect it came out. I conquered steak in an air fryer.

But does this mean I'll do it again? The bottom line is that while this method can be incredibly effective, reverse searing a steak with an air fryer only works on very thick, expensive steaks. Usually if I'm splurging on a steak, I'm taking the time to build a live fire and utilizing the tried-and-true "just keep flipping" method, my go-to tactic when I want a perfect steak. If you have a steady supply of super-thick steaks and zero time to fire up the grill, the reverse sear air fryer steak is for you. I just don't know whether that applies to a huge group of people or not.

While I can endorse this method, I can't say it's one I'll adopt going forward. Unless, of course, it's a rainy night and Tyler Durden is over, reminding me that I'm not the car I drive or the money in my wallet. Then I might decide to cook him a steak in my trendy air fryer to illustrate that capitalism won't fill our lives with meaning but can, occasionally, result in a darn good steak.