Monday, June 6, 2011

Why sous-vide sucks

As much as I enjoyed the charms of the ghetto sous-vide method, I finally gave in to peer pressure and bought the Sous-Vide Supreme.  This was supposed to be the post where I tell you how sous-vide cooking has revolutionized my life, how it turns every piece of protein into gold, and how you should buy one too.  But it's not that post.  This is a post about the juiciness analysis of sous-vide meats.  After cooking a number of proteins using this method (chicken, duck, beef, and lamb), I've noticed that while the meat comes out very tender, it is not nearly as juicy as I am used to.  It tastes a little -- dare I say it -- dry.  

How come I haven't noticed this dryness in restaurants?  Now that I think about it, the kind of restaurants that cook their meat sous-vide are the kind of restaurants that place their meat in a lovely red wine reduction, demi-glace or some other super meaty sauce.  In that case, the lack of juiciness is generously compensated for.  If you make demi-glace on regular basis, more power to you, but my saucing work horse is a humble pan sauce made by deglazing the pan after searing.  Unfortunately, these pan sauces are not possible for sous-vide cooked meat since searing after a water bath doesn't produce enough brown bits.

Tenderness vs. Juiciness
When I encountered the dryness problem, I tried to google to see what other cooks report.  Everyone was describing the meat as "most tender and juicy."  In traditional cooking methods, those two often go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing.  Tenderness is the amount of work your teeth have to do to break down the meat.  Juiciness is how much juice is released during the breakdown.

Before trying to solve the dryness problem, I wanted to verify that it's not a figment of my imagination and I set up the following experiment.  I decided to compare a steak cooked using sous-vide method with the steak cooked using Kenji Alt's slow roasting method (bring to 95F internal temp on a rack in 275F oven, then sear).

Here are the details of my experiment.

Steak cut and thickness: Sirloin cut 1.25 inches thick (the thickness varied slightly in parts)
Salting: Since I wasn't sure how salt would effect juicinesses, I salted some steaks 24 hours before cooking and left some steaks completely unsalted.
Searing: all steaks were seared for exactly 1 minute per side
Measuring juiciness: Since collecting quantitative data on juiciness by means of chewing a steak is not very practical, I decided to slice the done steaks 1/4 inch thick, pour off the juice that they released into a cup and weigh it.  I have a tea scale that can weight very small amounts accurately.
To rest or not to rest: I followed the best practices for each cooking method -- slice immediately for sous-vide, rest 5 minutes for slow roasting to let the temperature even out.
Doneness: unfortunately, there was no way to get the same exact doneness on all these steaks, but I was close for 2 of them.  Steaks A and C (the salted ones) came out at 130F and 133F.  Steaks B and D (the unsalted ones) came out at 124F and 137F.  This difference is too large to make a good comparison, so I'll base my conclusions on steaks A and C.

Steak A: salted 24 hours in advance, cooked sous-vide at 131F for 3.5 hours, then seared
Weight before cooking (24 hours after salting): 190g = 100%
Weight after water bath and thorough drying: 175g = 92%
Weight after sear: 166g = 87%
Internal temperature after sear = 130F
Weight of juice after slicing: 3.9g = 2.05%

Steak B: no salt added, cooked sous-vide at 131F for 3.5 hours, then seared

Weight before cooking: 169g = 100%
Weight after water bath and thorough drying: 147g = 87%
Weight after sear: 138g = 82%
Internal temperature after sear = 137F
Weight of juice after slicing: 3.27g = 1.93%

Steak C: salted 24 hours in advance, cooked in 275F oven, then seared

Weight before cooking (24 hours after salting): 187g = 100%
Weight after after oven: 178g = 95%
Weight after sear: 169g = 90%
Internal temperature after sear = 133F
Weight of juice after slicing: 7.38g = 3.95%

Steak D: no salt added, cooked in 275F oven, then seared
Weight before cooking: 183g = 100%
Weight after after oven: 175g = 96%
Weight after sear: 164g = 90%
Internal temperature after sear = 124F
Weight of juice after slicing: at least 6 g =  at least 3.3%*

* I am not sure exactly how much juice I got from Steak D because a piece of steak fell into the cup into which I was pouring the juice and knocked it down.  I remember the number got to at least 6g before the spill.  I am guessing the juice percentage was roughly the same as Steak C.
The results
The sous-vide steaks were more tender, but the oven steaks yielded twice as much juice as the steaks cooked using the sous-vide method at the time the measurement was taken (2-6 minutes after sear).  As they continued to sit on a plate, the oven cooked steaks continued to release the juice and sous-vide steaks did not.  Where was the juice from sous-vide steaks?  In the bags.  After the sous-vide steaks were removed from the water bath and dried off on paper towels, they were 92% and 87% of their original weight.  After the oven steaks were removed from the oven, they were 95% and 96% of their original weight.  
Salting didn't seem to effect the juiciness much, but I noticed that the sous-vide steak tasted saltier than the oven steak.  It was the same piece of meat, seasoned evenly and rested 24 hours before being cut in half, so I doubt the salt amount was indeed different, but somehow it is more noticeable with the sous-vide method.
What now
So, does sous-vide method really suck when it comes to meat?  No.  I just wanted to stir up the sous-vide pot a bit.  I believe it might be possible to produce a juicy steak using the sous-vide method that does not rely on the sauce.  Unfortunately, sous-vide best practices described in all the books and websites don't tell you how to do that.  
I want to try cooking steak for a shorter period of time and at a lower temperature to see what happens.  I am guessing the reason the official sous-vide cooking resources don't like to talk about it is safety.  Holding indefinitely at 131 is safe, but at 120 possibly not.  I don't want to hold it indefinitely.  Only an hour or so. 
Stay tuned for more experiments.


Louise said...

Helen, I have a question regarding the food safety of sous vide. Can you point me to something that says anything about food safety of beef cooked at 131F for 3.5 hours? I can only find info like I really appreciate any incite you can provide.

Helen said...

Hi Louise,

My original post on sous-vide covers safety. To make a long story short: you can kill all harmful pathogens at temperatures as low at 130 as long as you bring it to that temp and hold long enough. For temperatures and durations see that link. Once the food is pasteurized (all pathogens die), you can hold as long as you want within reason -- even a couple of days is safe, but the texture will change and not necessarily for the better.

90-120 is the temperature range where bacteria grow very happily, so you don't want to be in that zone longer than 2 hours. 120-130 is a gray zone (I am not sure what exactly happens there). But as long as you are searing the outside any water bath temp is fine for up to 2 hours for solid muscle beef, veal, lamb, and pork. To be completely safe, you might not want to go below 130 with chicken or ground meats even when keeping it in the water bath less than 2 hours.


Louise said...

Thanks Helen. I had read your original post, but missed the reference to I'm a Master Food Preserver and sous-vide safety came up as a fleeting topic at a recent course I attended.

Anonymous said...

How about if you seared the steak first, then vacuum sealed, then sous vide?? I'm considering buying a sous vide and was glad to find your post... one of the only ones out there with anything negative to say about it! Well, the makers of another brand had some negative things to say about the non circulating bath Sous Vide... but not the general concept of low temp pressure cooking. Thanks

Helen said...

The issue is not with sous-vide technique in general, as with somewhat misleading advice that you can't overcook things using this method. Here is my follow up post explaining the issue.

A few minutes don't really matter, but a few hours do. Your meat will still look medium-rare and will get progressively softer, but less juicy as it sits in the water bath.

Searing the meat first doesn't solve the problem. Searing doesn't seal in the juices -- that's an old wives' tale :)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting analysis - I have seen similar results in some circumstances. There are two very big variables that you may want to test in future experiments:
1, Freezing - was the protein stored in the freezer prior to cooking? Conventional wisdom is that meat freezes just fine, but I think it's not as well-suited to sous vide
2, Butchering - cannot be judged just by looking, but I've had spectacularly different results with the same "cut" of meat, depending on the provenance.
Best of luck with your continuing culinary adventure!

Helen said...

Freezing and provenance were not an issue. These steaks were not previously frozen. They were all from the same butcher bought on the same day and cooked on the same day. The reason the results were so bad is 3.5 hours of cooking. There is a myth that you can't overcook using sous-vide. It's true that the temperature won't go above the desired setting, but the meat will become mushier and less juicy. A 1 inch steak only need 30-45 minutes in the water bath. Everything above that is detrimental to the results. 10-15 minutes don't make much difference, but 3 hours do. Here is a post with more info on how duration effects results.


Anonymous said...

Dear Helen
Can you put the meat into a normal oven and cooK it at say 60 degrees Celsius for 45 min to achieve the sous vide tenderness and yet maintain the juiciness of normal oven roasting? Then sear it on a skillet to brown it.

Helen said...

That's exactly what I do for half of the steaks in this post, but I don't go as low at 60C (140F). First of all, most ovens can't go that low. Second of all, it's not really necessary. Air conducts heat way slower than water, so you can get great results with temperatures around 250F.

Here is the description of this technique.

AzHP said...

It's been a while since you posted this article so I won't be offended if you don't respond, but did you use a vacuum sealer or the zip loc method for this? I have noticed this same phenomenon of juiciness leaving the meat when using a zip loc bag for many hours, but I am not sure if this is caused by the cooking method or the lack of a true vacuum seal. It'd be interesting to know the comparison between a vacuum sealed steak and a zip loc sealed one both cooked for the same amount of time in the same water bath.

Helen said...

It was a food saver vacuum sealer. The juices leaving the meat is something that happens over time regardless of the sealing method. Finally people are talking about it at food science conferences. So, don't think you can't overcook with sous-vide :)

AzHP said...

Yes, I'm kind of surprised that more people aren't noting this considering sous vide supreme advocates throwing meat in before going to work and having it ready when you get home. I tried that the other day and I got really tender but pretty dry pork chops. Not bad, but I knew it could be better (which is why I looked it up and found your blog).

Helen said...

I was surprise too that no one was reporting this problem. You have to remember that sous-vide supreme is advertising this product to home cooks, so they want to make it sound very convenient. I find that the time it takes to pasteurize something using sous-vide is often too long for optimal juiciness. So Baldwin's tables that most home cooks rely on, don't produce the tastiest results.

Kennybroh said...

So, bottom line, how can I get the tenderness benefits of sous vide without drying out the meat? Use the minimum time in Baldwin's tables?

Helen said...

Baldwin's tables assume you want to pasteurize everything. In my opinion, it's way too long. Use the timing in Keller's Under Pressure book as a guide. If you are cooking a solid muscle in less than 2 hours and finishing by searing, a short sous-vide time does not pose any risk. For example, I cook 1.25 inch steaks for 45 minutes at 130F, burgers for 30 minutes at 130F, 3/4 inch thick fish for 20 minutes at 128F, chicken breasts for 45 minutes at 140F. All of these times are way shorter than Baldwin recommends.

The idea that you can dehydrate a protein a great deal by cooking sous-vide longer than necessary is common knowledge amount serious chefs, but most books dumb it down for home cooks telling you that "you can't overcook."


Anonymous said...

I Jaccard my meat before sous viding. It always comes out both tender and juicy this way.

Helen said...

If you hold meat in sous-vide bath for the minimum amount of time to let it reach desired temp, it will be just fine (tender and juicy). What this post is discussing is whether you can hold it for much longer time without effecting juiciness. The problem is not tenderness. If anything it gets more tender as it sits in a water bath. Unfortunately, I don't see how tenderizing with jaccard can help you hold onto juices for long water bath times. Would you like to explain?

Unknown said...

I experienced the same frustration when cooking larger pieces of meat for longer periods of time (two-rib prime rib roast). I blow torch the meat first, then season (NO SALT), then I rub it with canola oil. I left it in the 131 degree water bath for 18 hours. After I took it out of the bath, I put it in the regular oven at 550 degrees for 10 minutes. The oil made the difference for me. The bag did retain some juice (great for Yorkshire Pudding!), but not nearly as much. I'd have to conclude that the oil helped keep more of the juice in the meat.
All the best.


Helen said...

Hi Andrew

Very interesting observation about the oil. Fats generally transfer heat a lot slower than water. You can do an easy experiment by poaching an egg in water and in oil both heated to 180F. The egg in oil will poach a lot slower even though the temperature is the same. I wonder if that has something to do with you keeping more juice in the meat. How much oil did you use? Was it just brushed with oil, or completely immersed?


serge said...

This was the first thing I realized when experimenting with SV - the longer you keep the steak in the water, the more liquid ends up in the bag. If I want a tender piece of meat, I buy a tender piece of meat. If I want it cooked to a precise temperature, I use the SV. I don't leave it in there too long before removing, searing, and eating. Thanks for taking the measurements!

Anonymous said...

The reason the Jaccard allows for juicier meat is that it cuts the fibers of the meat that contract and release juices. Nathan Myhrvold of Modernist Cuisine goes into more details about it.

Helen said...

THank you so much for the jaccard info. It makes sense, but I wonder what the side effects are. If there weren't any side effects, why wouldn't everyone do it? I'll try to get one and do some experiments.

Anonymous said...

I think your stuff is a bit flawed on here. When it comes to food safety and so on. Thomas Keller talked quite extensively about this in his book Under Pressure. He is a big advocate of Sous Vide and I have to agree with him.
I think you might need to pick up his book and have a good read with it, before jumping to the recipes he puts in there.
Sous Vide doesnt suck, it only sucks for people who dont know what they are doing or talking about.

The last byte said...

i tried to cook a piece of beef shank at 127 degrees fahrenheit for 48 hours. i was planning to sear it after like a steak and bring up the core temp to 130F. the meat did turn out medium rare as expected, but it was quite dry. that is what led me to this blog. i believe the long cooking time made the meat tender by breaking down the collagen, but extracted almost all the juices from the meat in the process. i might try shorter cooking times. However, when i visited the website of sous vide supreme and watched their video on cooking a strip steak, i noticed that when they cut the meat it was quite dry as well. when they plated it it looked juicy (obviously retouched) but if you take a close look at the moment they slice the steak, you will notice it to be dry. maybe this is the downside of this technique

Helen said...

Be careful with cooking something at 127F for more than 2 hours. I know that 130 and above is fine, but not sure about below 130F. Below 120F, bacteria can grow, but I am not sure what happens between 120 and 130. Sous-vide meat can come out juicy if you bring it up to temp and stop immediately (of course, that's only a good strategy with tender cuts), but anything cooked for days will inevitably loose a lot of moisture. I know people rave about tough cuts of meat that they cook for 3 days. In my opinion they have the same problem as braises: soft, but dry. It's not necessarily offensive if you make a lot of good sauce (like you would in a braise), but I find that the sauce becomes a whole other effort because the bag doesn't allow it to reduce. I am guessing people like it because they eat with their eyes first and seeing a bright pink color inside a piece of meat that was cooked for 3 days is fascinating to them. I am not saying sous-vide technique doesn't have its uses, but the 3 day meat is not one of the ones I enjoy.

harrydr said...

Helen I did once (mistakenly) cooking pork meat at 117 and after 12 hours I got a wonderful piece of meat.
But after cutting it, surprisingly a horrible smell came out from the inside meat cuts.
So I recommend cooking sous vide always at 130 minimum. Some chicken and so on 140.

Helen said...

Below 130 is fine as long as it's for less than 2 hours.

Unknown said...

Thanks for running the handful of tests on the impact of standard sous vide techniques on the juiciness of meat. I'm a fairly experienced griller, though just recently started experimenting with sous vide. One of the first thing that my wife and I noticed was precisely what you wrote about-- the relative dryness of the meat. We've done short-turns with the sous vide (1-2 hours) and long runs (36+ hours). While I think that your point is correct, what gives me hope is that we've done several pieces of meat that were as juicy (or more) as anything we've done on the Big Green Egg. So I'm curious if there's a technique to minimize the loss of juice. Have you been able to find anything since you first wrote this post? Thanks!

Helen said...

Hi Jim,

Absolutely -- short sous-vide times produce lovely juicy meat. I am just against the idea that you can hold meat in a waterbath indefinitely because it "can't overcook".

Many tables you find on-line assume you want to pasteurize your meat, so the cooking times are too long. I mention some time temperature combinations in this post that you can try, but I much prefer to slow roast my meat in the oven at 250F on a rack and then sear. Here is a post on that.

Anonymous said...

Searing after Sous Vide works perfectly, you're likely not getting your pan hot enough. I use well seasoned carbon steel pans exclusively for this, and heating with the hob on high, until the seasoning smokes (one should add oil to the meat, not to the pan), produces plenty of "brown bits." Then again, I know what I'm doing. One should then transfer the "brown bits" to a saucier, and create a nice sauce, like Beurre Rouge.

underbelly said...

How are you packaging the food? I don't believe anyone else has found experimental evidence for dryness in sous-vide food, but in many cases food has been shown to dry out in vacuum sealing process (from boiling). The solutions have been to either pack the food only when it's very cold, or to use as moderate a vacuum setting as possible. Or to do away with the vacuum entirely and just use ziplock bags, which allow to go straight from a pre-sear to the water bath.kl

underbelly said...

I'd also suggest that your objective measurement of lost juices can't be counted on to predict the sensation of juiciness. Consider that dry-aged meat loses as much as 20% of its weight in water. See this paper:*%2Ffile%2F9fcfd505b5008e8b2d.pdf&ei=W5VJU73AJKu_sQSEvIKoAg&usg=AFQjCNFb9SnE9KPPx2wlV4hN6PchORNpoA&sig2=XZzCchLbfkgvl2keb9v6Kg P.193-94 in particular.

Helen said...

I was using zip lock bags. As it turns out my findings are common knowledge in the food science community, but not talked about much in the cooking community. Here is a paper confirming my results. Unfortunately, you might need to pay to read the full paper, but you can see a discussion of it on this food science blog. Scroll down in the above link to where he is talking about their findings.

underbelly said...

That's interesting, but still difficult to evaluate with just that one study (which was done exclusively at temperature ranges higher than most chefs like to cook beef).

I don't understand your methodology, because (if I understand it) it equates juiciness with juice rendered during cutting. By this method, you'd judge unrested meat to be juicier than rested meat, because it liberates more juice ... when in fact the only difference is whether or not free proteins in the juice have been allowed to thicken it and hold it in place.

If there is any analysis from the paper (or speculation on the science behind the results) it would be great if you could share.

Helen said...

There might be a problem with my methodology, but the finding that meat gets dry when it sits in the bag longer than necessary is not anything new. I talked to one of the chef's in the Boston area and he confirmed that letting meat sit in the bag too long makes it lose more moisture. I guess I should have measured how much moisture was in the bag. The science behind this is quite simple. Once the meat hits 120F, the water starts to come out. The longer you hold it at that temp, the more water comes out. You can set up a very simple experiment at home. Cook 1 steak at 130F for 1 hour and another steak at 130F for 10 hours. Then compare how much moisture is in the bag.

underbelly said...

I think the larger issue, brought up someone on eGullet, is that the scientific experiments compare sous-vide to sous-vide, not to conventional methods. Raw=maximum juiciness, low-temperature cook until it disintegrates= maximum tenderness (with a lot of lost juice). But I would argue from experience that an ideal sous-vide cook exists which is juicier and more tender than what you can produce in an oven.

Your own experiments cook the meat over three times as long as necessary to cook a 1-1/4 steak all the way through. According to Nathan Myhrvold's time charts, a 1-3/8 piece of meat will cook through in just 55 minutes if the delta is 95°F ... which it would be if you were going straight from a very cold refrigerator into a 131° water bath.

I personally find that with tender meat, 2 hours is the longest I like to go. I haven't noticed a decline in juiciness past this time, but the tenderness becomes excessive for my tastes. It starts to go from yielding to mushy, at least with the prime, dry aged beef I've experimented with.

With tough cuts it's a different story. A chuck steak may take 48 hours to get tender, and you will lose a lot of juice. But it's still going to be radically juicier than anything you can accomplish with a traditional braise (and it will be tender, and it will be medium-rare), so I'm not sure what the point of comparison might be.

Helen said...

I think we are in violent agreement on many points. "Why sous-vide sucks" is a title of my post to catch attention. The reason for this is frequent abuse of this method.

If you read my findings you'll find that I don't believe sous-vide sucks if used correctly. And if you cook meat for the relatively short time, you get a lovely juicy steak. But very low temp oven produces a slightly tastier steak in my opinion. it's almost as juicy as a short sous-vide time, but the crust is better because the surface doesn't get wet (yes, I know to dry off sous-vide steak before searing, etc). My pet peeve is with sous-vide supreme claiming that you can't overcook meat -- you can keep it in the machine as long as you want. I've seen restaurants do that and compensate with sauce, but I don't like it.

I have tried 3 days shortribs and other very long preparations of tough pieces. I don't enjoy that texture. Maybe I haven't found an optimal time and temp combination yet.

The Opinionated Alchemist said...

I know - it is an old post.
Still - as it was never revised, I feel urged to say something about it.
Sous vide is more "conventional" as it seems. Sure the whole technique looks futuristic with immersion circulators [or SV supreme] - and off course the plastic bags - but basically it is just a way of cooking under very exact temperatures.

The tests here also can't really proof anything! Better tests [serious eats] comparing not the juice loss after cooking but the weight loss from raw to cooked - and all what I could read, sous vide is winning hands down.
And there are few methodical mistakes - e.g. salting the meat liberally beforehand [which definitely alters the texture].
But the biggest question mark comes to the cooking itself. There is little to no information about temperature and time - and I guess there is a quite some misconceptions about the overall time of sous viding. For cuts [like rib eye], which are tender, there is no point of pasteurising the meat! It is just to bring the meat up to its temperature [pathogens are not within meat - and the sear AFTERWARDS will kill any concerning levels of bacteria]. 100 min is already quite long...
Personally I can say, that sous vide doesn't really improve the texture of tender meat. it just has a more consistent temperature [- you should also chill the steaks in ice water after sous viding them and then blast them just brown - this will also improve the results].
I believe, that sous vide is especially helpful for long braises - and results in unbelievable [and not achievable] results if meat with loads of connective tissue is used.
However besides of the time disadvantage [for ribs, briskets etc], there is one further big disadvantage of SV - you really need to know, what you are doing! It is similar to a microwave: if you have no clue, how to use it, it pretty much returns a catastrophic result when used. And the more you know, the better the result [yeah - you can also do pretty amazing stuff in the microwave - but this is a whole different story!].

Anonymous said...

Sous vide sucks? Wow. I'll pass on your tastes in food then. Prepared correctly, its the best method out for red meats.

Helen said...

Sometimes you need to read past the headline ;) no, sous-vide doesn't suck, but it can be misused. this posts measures the effects of cooking duration on juiciness of meat. Here is the summary -- the longer the cooking, the less juicy the meat, so the idea that you can't overcook with sous-vide is a myth.

underbelly said...

I have an advanced topics in sous-vide series in progress on the Underbelly blog. It's intended to address topics like this in depth.

And yes, there are as many ways to abuse sous-vide as anything else :)

Anonymous said...

Sear the steak first, it will help seal in juices.

Helen said...

that's an old wives' tale :) searing the meat doesn't seal in the juices.

Anonymous said...
"The steak loses around 13 percent of its weight just during cooking. Cut it open immediately, and you lose an additional nine percent. But allow it to rest, and you can minimize this weight loss down to around an additional two percent."

According to J. Kenji López-Alt ,Juiciness is the opposite of "how much juice is released during the breakdown(by cutting the steak open)" ,the less juice came out from the steak when you cut it,the more juicy the meat is.
"In the steak on the left, all those delicious succulent juices are all over the plate.In the steak on the right, everything stays inside, right where it belongs." The juice was supposed to stay inside the steak.If you thought those sous vide steak were dry ,then you should also consider a well-rested steak dry.

In your experiment,the sous vide steak had less moisture loss. I think it is simply caused by not enough resting on those steaks which were not sous vide."In a 1.5-inch-thick steak, this translates to around 10 minutes." A 5 minute rest for a 1.25 inches thick steak is too short.

Sorry for my poor grammar

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the results of your experiments. However, I agree with some of the other commenters that your conclusions are arguable. Juice on the plate is a bad indicator for juiciness of the meat. Sous vide meat does not have to rest. So, you will have less juice on the plate. That's the whole idea of sous vide. 3,5 hours is far too long for a 190g steak. For a 1,25 inches steak a 1,5 hours cooking time should be enough.

While it is true that the inside of meat is usually sterile, it should be taken into consideration that bacteria on the outside will grow faster in a warm environment. It is therefore a good idea to sear the meat before cooking sous vide. This might even improve the taste. Additional searing after sous vide will not have any negative effect, since the heat will not penetrate very deep into the meat.

Having said this, pasteurization does only matter if you want to store the meat in the fridge. Usually this is not an issue, if you want to eat the meat the same day.


The title Sous Vide Sucks caught my attention. The discussion in this thread is the best that I've seen so far. I bought A Sous Vide cooker two weeks ago. I am an experienced clock new to sous vide. Lamb shanks cooked at 140° for 48 hours are incredible. I have tried chicken, beef, lamb both rack and shanks. The only thing I would like to add to the discussion is using an ice bath right after everything is done. You can then freeze, Refrigerate, or put meat back in the bath at a lower temperature than you cooked at and serve. I believe shorter cooking times are better and always using the ice bath to retain moisture. Steak is much better seared first. I did read searing lamb first gives it too strong a flavor. Everything coming out of the freezer after cooking sous vide so far is better. I even seared some chicken after putting it in the water bath frozen for a couple minutes then after searing and back into the bath at a little lower temperature can you cooked at originally to serve. Very short time at temperatures in the danger zones seems pretty okay to me. If my post is excepted I will follow up.

Francis said...

You can use the jus, heat it to clump the myoglobin the strain.

You can use that jus to make a pan sauce from searing as usual. This had make for me some of my best sauces.

Make sure to use an smoking hot pan to sear quickly, like I can't see the end of the kitchen smoking hot!

Anonymous said...

Boy I have had amazing results with all proteins I have tried. Oxtail at 160 for 34hrs was so good and juicy. I'm in Alaska so I have a freezer full of salmon. 125 for 35min wonderful and juicy. Tried it at 121 and I liked it but a little ra
re for my wife.

Mike said...

The reason your meat is becoming dry is because you are making some very big mistakes with your sous vide cooking. The first is that you are cooking too long. Try 132 for 1 hour to 1.5 hours max. Any longer and you are no longer cooking the meat, you are breaking it down. This will give you a grainy dry texture. You can also cook leaner cuts below 130 but do not exceed 2.5 hours as you will run the risk of food poisoning, you also MUST thoroughly sear the outside of the meat below 130 to kill any bacteria on the surface. The second mistake is salting 24 hours before, when you do this you are curing the meat the salt pulls moisture out to the surface where it evaporates! Third (not a flaw in your cooking but your testing) you are testing the weight of the steak before and after which is good. but then you are testing the juice released? Personally to consider a piece of meat juicy I go by how much juice is in my mouth, not on my plate. When you cook a steak traditionally (high heat) the juices in the meat begin to flow, if you don't rest the meat back to near room temp it will flow out all over the plate where it only ends up in your mouth if you soak your bread in it. When meat is cooked sous vide the temp is equalized which results in the juices staying put.

Louis A. Cook said...

I know this is an old article but I just thought I'd mention that I agree with this reply. In my short time using sous vide I've learned that many recipes and web suggestions advise cooking times that I have found longer than ideal. Additionally to the salt comment- I have had good results salt-rubbing steaks and while cuts like eye round, then letting them dry on a wire rack in the fridge for a day or two before sous vide. This creates a bit of a skin and seems to help with juice leakage. Also, I often take meats directly from the bath and put them in the fridge still in plastic to sear the following day. This is great for cooking large cuts whole, then slicing into steaks. It maintains a lot of liquid.

Unknown said...

You cooked the steak too long in sous vide. A 1 inch thick steak only takes 45min to an hr. The title is misleading because you say it sucks but then disagree with yourself at the end.

Helen said...

You are absolutely right. Of course, sous-vide doesn't suck. But this post is a few years old when sous-vide was the "best thing since sliced bread" and I was annoyed at all the mis-information about this method. Many sous-vide equipment manufacturers were trying to persuade home cooks that you can't overcook using sous-vide. The goal of the post was to raise awareness that sous-vide is a cooking method like any other with its pros and cons. It is more forgiving than most cooking methods, but it needs to be used correctly.

Katie Wales said...

Is it possible for someone to direct me to a more "realistic" SV timetable for cooking meats?

I have both Baldwin and Cylka's cooking charts and even if I look to the shortest time of the cooking range it still far exceeds what is being suggested most recently here.

Helen said...

Hi Katie,

I don't have a chart for you, but a general guideline for what I do. I agree that Baldwin times are way too long. There is no reason why meat that will be seared needs to be pasteurized. For 1 inch thick tender pieces, I cook for 50 min at 130F for beef, lamb, and pork, and 140F for chicken breasts. generally gives good recommendations on timing.

Here is one of Kenji Alt's (from many sous-vide posts:

He gives a range of time (like 1-4 hours). I would always choose his minimum time. He says that most change occurs 4-24 hours. I guess it depends on how you define "most". I feel that there is a pretty big difference between steaks cooked for 1 hour and 3 hours.

underbelly said...

"There is no reason why meat that will be seared needs to be pasteurized"

I agree generally, although I'd suggest it's useful to know how to do this if you're cooking for someone who's immune compromised (very elderly, pregnant, HIV+, etc.).

While pathogens don't usually lurk in the interior of meat, there are exceptions.

Helen said...

I usually ask myself this question -- "Am I putting this person in more danger than they are already exposed to due to daily activities like driving?" If the answer is "no" and I explained the risk to them and they are ok with it then I don't worry about it. No one warns pregnant women and elderly about the risk of eating a salad or raw fruit, yet many outbreaks of e.coli and salmonella happen from produce due to cross contamination.

Mike Hale said...

Great post! I love seeing comparisons like this especially as I'm generally too lazy to do it myself. :)

On that note...someone else mentioned the ice bath thing. A chef friend of mine also told me something similar. That is, after the sous vide, you put the protein in an ice bath immediately. The contraction causes it to suck up a lot of that lost moisture (or so I think).

Any chance you'll re-run this experiment that way?

Helen said...

Hi Mike,

If I have time, I'll do the ice-water experiment. But it's hard to justify the time investment because I still prefer the low oven method.


NoOne said...

Holding meat indefinitely or for extended periods of time way past thos recommended for the particular cut or preferrence will certainly cause more tender yet drier meat as the juices seep out into the bag. Not only is the meat dryer but whilst being tender it resembles no more than a slightly firm pile of mush. Experiment with timings and temps that are to your preference. I noticed this with a belly slice i tried out and due to an emergency left it in the SV for about 3 hrs longer than intended resulting in a bag of jus a barely firm yet dry piece of belly that was tender but so so dry.

JAMMIN said...

Very interesting. I was defensive at first because my sous vide is near and dear to me, like the daughter I never had. But your presentation was perfectly presented and your analysis is sound. I guess I never noticed this problem primarily because I SAVE all the juices from the sous vide bag and add it to my bordelaise sauce. Problem solved as far as I'm concerned. Great article though.

Ray YYou said...

I have sous vide some nice thick cuts of rump 2 inch thick. They are very tender but as they have been stewing in their own juices they remind me of boiled meat ie corned silverside beef. Nice to eat but I prefer medium rare steak on a hot cast iron or infrared grille.

Paulus said...

I am here because I just came from a fancy dinner at a Darden-chain steak house (initials C.G.), and I was totally disappointed with my NY strip, done rare - it had NO JUICE in it at all. The faint grill marks and the exact evenness of the meat screamed one thing to me: sous vide!! Unfortunately, I realized this later, rather than at the table - that said, it might have caused a scene... so, perhaps, just as well. What's slightly puzzling is that my steak was ready in too short a time for it to have been sous vide. This leads me to think that they had some 'par-sous-vide' items sitting around, or perhaps they only use that method for big tables (we were 8). When I used the bone home for soup, I noticed that it was not very fresh. Any way you cut it (pun intended), it's cheating for a steak house that charges $46 for an 8-oz. unadorned filet to be serving sous vide steaks. But HEY! Thank YOU, Helen, for the troubles you went to to create this post. It's still living!

Helen said...

Hi Paul,

Your steak was almost certainly cooked sous-vide. It could have been kept in the water bath too long -- a common problem in restaurants. They put them in for hours and pull them out when someone orders one. But, sous-vide steak doesn't have to suck :) This blog post is from every long ago. I have since done a sous-vide series on my YouTube channel that solves many common sous-vide problems.