Sous Vide Characteristics
The reason the sous vide device is the perfect compliment to grilling steaks is that it has such precise temperature control. You can set the exact level of doneness that you want for your finished meal. Then comes the fire of the grill. The idea is getting a high temp sear on the outside without further cooking the interior.
Sous vide cooking is a temperature and time equation for steaks. The temperature is the doneness. However, the visual aspect of doneness in beef is also influenced heavily by the cut of the meat, and the age of the animal and other factors during the raising process. Time is the tool to get more tenderness. Being able to hold a medium rare temperature for not just hours, but for days, allows for an effective tenderizing process.
Steak Sous Vide Temperatures
The biggest challenge of this decision is that the end result is entirely subjective based on the visual aspect and the ‘mouth feel’ or ‘chew’ of the steak. Starting with the cut of the meat is one question, and even that can lead to interesting aspects.
Take Sirloin for example. There multiple categories that span from the last rib of the steer to the rear hip. Starting with the aptly named Top Sirloin, you migrate down to the lower section and cuts like Tri-tip. Most importantly when you are shopping is the color difference. In our experience the lighter color pieces are more tender. So, you choose some light pink sirloin steaks to enjoy. These will never get the deep dark red color associated with a classic ‘Rare’ doneness. They will be tender, juicy, tasty…but not dark.
Keeping that in mind, the temperatures associated with specific doneness will necessarily need some flexibility. This is the classic table of internal temperature for steak doneness.
|Medium Rare||130ºF (54ºC)|
|Medium Well||140ºF (65ºC)|
|Well Done||160ºF (70ºC)|
Be aware, since this is subjective as mentioned, there are other tables and charts out there with numbers that will fluctuate by 5 degrees or more. These will serve you well as a guideline until you have experimented to meet your own tastes.
Health Note; under 126 degrees you do not get pasteurization of harmful bacteria. Steak is considered ‘intact muscle meat’ and therefore less prone to bacteria. That being said, you run a risk of unsafe food if you hold beef at 120 degrees more than a couple hours. We recommend a maximum of two hours immediately before serving the meat to remain as safe as possible.
Setting A Time
This is where the sous vide can change your life. You can take a chunk of round steak, a notoriously tough cut of meat, cook it for 48 hours at 135 degrees, sear it at high heat, and slice it for an incredible medium rare meat with a steak like texture and great flavor. Compare this to the traditional method, sear it and braise at 300 degrees for 8 hours, getting a soft pot roast like texture. There is nothing wrong with that meal at all, but it is fun to elevate utility cuts like the top or bottom round and chuck to become a steak dinner to enjoy.
There are two aspects of time. At least for sous vide cooking, we’ll leave the metaphysics to some other guides. The two time aspects are reaching internal temperature and holding at temperature. The first is a fairly easy formula of one hour per inch, starting from refrigerator temperature. Preheat your sous vide to 135 and drop in a two-inch-thick Ribeye it will reach an internal temperature of 135 in about two hours. From there you decide how long to keep it in the bath to benefit from the tenderizing effect of a longer cook time.
Here’s some direction to help determine the right amount of time for your chosen cut of meat. Your basic rule of thumb for timing beef in the sous vide becomes easier when you consider how you would traditionally cook the meat. Here’s how that works:
|Tender steaks for grilling such as Ribeye and Tenderloin.||Hold at temp for 1-2 hours|
|Steaks with more texture such as strip loin (NY) and petite or top sirloin||Hold at temp 4-6 hours|
|Solid steak styles such as tri-tip||Hold at temp 6-8 hours|
|Utility cuts such as chuck or rounds||Hold at temp for 24-48 hours|
Thoughts On Seasoning
Generally, for sous vide, the default seasoning is salt, pepper, and garlic, referred to as SPG. Raw garlic needs higher temperatures to be safe so we encourage granulated garlic or garlic powder. You are certainly not limited to these spices, but they let the natural flavors of the steak shine. Put a light coating of SPG on the steaks before you seal them for the sous vide process.
One of the better additional choices is fresh rosemary. Seal the steaks with a sprig on each side and you will get noticeable flavor added, both to the steak and to the bag juices. Judiciously you can add Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce or red wine. All three have bold flavors, and contain salt levels or acids to be aware of. You can put any flavoring agent you want in the bag, just be certain you understand how it will change the taste, and if there is any additional chemical process going on.
Grilling Sous Vide Steaks
You’ve done the patient side of this process. Your steak has enjoyed a hot bath for an extended period of time. You have unsealed it, patted it dry and are ready to bring on the heat. Getting the moisture off is crucial to a successful searing process. You can add a thin layer of the oil of your choice to the steak to help it take the sear better. Except butter, it scorches too easy. Don’t misunderstand, we do love butter when we cook, and when we eat. It is a great way to finish your steak right at service time. Whether a quick baste with melted butter in a skillet, or a flavorful compound butter allowed to melt on top; as a finishing touch, butter is the best.
Get that grilling fire as hot as you safely can. You can go surface of the sun type heat for this step. The goal is a good crust of flavor and texture created as quickly as possible. Done properly, your sear will only penetrate the meat about 1/8th of an inch. Keep in mind that prior to this step the steak is fully cooked, exactly the same doneness, from edge to edge. The medium rare color, or your preference, is not as enticing on the outside surfaces, so searing is your tool to pretty it up for your meal. Don’t be shy.
But do be quick! If you get a nice flame over 500 degrees your sear will be a one to two minute process per side of the steak. On thick cuts feel free to stand the meat on edge as best you are able to get a good sear on all sides. All you want is color and texture added to the exterior of the steak, so be aware of not over cooking the interior.
Let the steak rest if that is your preference. If it is larger slice it. Regardless, you are ready to serve an excellent, perfectly cooked steak. See more on using your sous vide cooker for chicken.