What Is Sous-Vide Cooking?
When you value great steak, you value tradition. From time-honored cuts and aging techniques to recipes and grilling tips passed down through generations, it sometimes seems like flame meets grill is the be-all and end-all of steaks.
Which might be part of why it’s taken so long for the world to catch on to sous-vide cooking. While 5-star restaurants have used sous-vide (pronounced “soo-veed”) for decades, only in the past few years has it managed to reach the home market. But with celebrity chefs like Heston Blumenthal, online gourmets like J. Kenji-López, and high-tech gastro-whizzes like Nathan Myhrvold trumpeting sous-vide’s benefits, the secret is out of the (vacuum-sealed) bag.
So what is sous-vide cooking? In short, it’s a way to cook meats and other dishes at so exact a temperature that your dishes come out as flavorful, juicy, and tender as possible. While terms like “water-oven” might not get your taste buds tingling, sous-vide’s flavor-packed results and its beginner-friendly method are impossible to argue with.
In this guide, we teach you how sous-vide works, how you can use it to cook a perfect steak, and your options when looking for sous-vide equipment.
How Does Sous-Vide Work?
The sous-vide process is deceptively simple. It involves placing meats (or other dishes) within vacuum-sealed plastic bags, then placing these bags within water. Yes. Seriously. But here’s the key: the water used in a sous-vide oven is circulated at a constant, precise temperature. This means that if you’re cooking chicken, for instance, your cutlets can be cooked to exactly 165 F.
Not 164 F.
Not 166 F.
165 F. On the dot.
And not only is your chicken the exact temperature you want it, it’s that temperature the whole way through. So you don’t need to worry about charring the surface or leaving the center half-cooked. In fact, you don’t need to worry about over- or under-cooking meat at all. Period.
But enough about chicken. After all, this is Steak University…
Perfect Steaks, Guaranteed
So what can sous-vide do for your porterhouse?
Sous-vide guarantees edge-to-edge cooking at precise temperatures. That means when you cook a medium-rare steak, it comes out medium-rare all the way through. With traditional broiling and grilling, the extremely high heat of your broiler or grill will penetrate through the steaks’ surface. This leaves a thin, over-cooked layer just underneath the steak’s browning. With sous-vide, every part of your steak is cooked exactly as you like it.
Not only does the sous-vide guarantee a perfectly cooked steak, the process is so simple that even first-time sous-viders can expect these results.
Below is a helpful guide to the temperatures and cooking times you’ll need to cook your steak. To get the most out of your steak, we recommend cooking all but the leanest cuts to medium-rare or medium doneness.
(Note: If cooking at temperatures below 130 F, do not cook for more than 2 and ½ hours.)
|Temperature (F)||Time (Most Cuts)||Time (Tenderloin)|
|Rare||120||1-2 ½ hours||45 min-2 ½ hours|
|Medium-Rare||129||1-4 hours||45 min-4 hours|
|Medium||134||1-4 hours||45 min-4 hours|
|Medium-Well||145||1-3 ½ hours||45 min-3 ½ hours|
|Well-Done||156+||1-3 hours||1 hour-3 hours|
But Don’t Forget To Sear!
While sous-vide can give you a more precisely cooked steak than traditional grilling, it can’t give you the delicious and aromatic crust of a well-seared steak. That’s why it’s key to sear your steak after sous-vide cooking. Sear your steak for no more than two minutes each side at a temperature above 500 F. This will give it the flavorful, crisp crust of browning it deserves.
The need for searing isn’t sous-vide’s only downside. Sous-vide cook times are much lengthier than grilling or baking. As seen in the cooking chart above, most steaks take a full hour to cook. Sous-vide ovens can also be somewhat costly, with mid-range models costing $300-400. Meanwhile, amateur chefs and grill-lovers alike might miss the smells and experience of cooking. Sous-vide probably isn’t for everyone, and it all comes down to the trade-offs you’re willing to make for the edge-to-edge perfection and flavor the method guarantees.
How To Get Started
For those dipping their toes in sous-vide’s waters, lower cost and lower tech options are available. While these options don’t provide the highest level of precision, they can be a decent way to get started on sous-vide.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to get the most out of your sous-vide cooking, we recommend a full sous-vide oven. There are many brands to choose from. The biggest sous-vide home oven supplier is Sous-Vide Supreme. If you’re looking at Sous-Vide Supreme as one of your options, they are currently offering a $50 off promotion for all of their ovens, which you can access here.