I’ve always given the sous vide method of cooking a bit of the side-eye. It seems both highly scientific—something only done in fancy, high-end fine dining restaurants—AND also slightly unsafe. I mean, you’re leaving a piece of food out in a warm water bath, and you don’t expect weird food borne illnesses to result?
But then I went to my friend Steve’s house, and he served me steak—sous vide steak. Steve is not a man who normally cooks; he once showed up at a potluck with a large paper bag of fast food fries. But he is a chemical engineer and sold me on sous vide in general, along with making steak this way. It is just that safe and that easy!
WHY COOK STEAK SOUS VIDE?
Sous vide steak, it turns out, is the gateway to using the sous vide cooking method.
- Sous vide is precise, so your steak will reach exactly the doneness that you want, without you having to poke, prod, or cut into it to check.
- The entire steak reaches the same level of doneness. When you cook a steak the traditional method, whether it’s with pan frying or grilling, you often end up with a range of doneness throughout the meat. With sous vide, this isn’t an issue. The entire steak is medium rare (or whatever doneness you prefer) from the edge, all the way to the center.
- It’s a hands-off process. You don’t have to flip, turn, or even really watch the steak as it cooks. The machine does the work, and because it is timed, it lets you know when it’s ready.
- Flexibility with serving. Because you are bringing the steak to exactly the temperature you want (and above the temperature where bacteria can grow), you have a fairly wide window of time to serve the food. Got distracted? Don’t worry; the steak will still be ready and just as good half an hour later!
How to Make Sous Vide Steak
Don’t be fooled by the fancy name: Sous vide is simpler than you think. Here are the basic steps:
- Season the steak (with salt and pepper or additional rub).
- Seal the steak in a resealable plastic bag. (Here’s how.)
- Submerge the steak in the warm water bath, which is heated to the exact temperature by the immersion circulator.
- Once cooked, remove from the bag and do a “reverse sear”—a quick sear of the steak in a pan or on a grill after it’s cooked, to give it a tasty crust.
Step three is where the magic happens. You get complete control on your steak becoming medium rare, for example, without any guesswork or risk of overcooking or undercooking.
And you have a window of two to three hours after the steak is cooked in which it can sit in the water bath until you’re ready to reverse sear and serve. After that point, the meat protein breaks down and goes mushy.
What is the best cut for sous vide steak?
Any steak works with sous vide, so pick a cut of meat that you enjoy the most. My personal favorite steak is the ribeye, which has a nice marbling of fat and a robust meatiness.
Since we’re doing a reverse sear, I recommend a thicker steak, one that is at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. This allows you to do a proper reverse sear and not have to worry about cooking the inside of the steak any more.
You can sous vide thinner cuts of meat as well, like the skirt steak, flap steak, or hanger steak, but those are harder to reverse sear, as they are so thin that the interior of the meat starts to cook as well. Personally, I’d stick with the ribeye, New York strip, or filet.
How many steaks can you make at a time?
You can make as many steaks as you can comfortably fit in your water bath!
- If the steaks are very large, you might want to separate them into different resealable plastic bags, as you don’t want the steaks to overlap in the bag. If they do, you’re creating a super thick steak, which takes longer to cook.
- If the steaks are smaller, you can place them in the same resealable bag; just make sure they aren’t stacked or touching sides, so the water bath can properly circulate and bring the steaks to the right temperature within the proper time frame. If they do touch, it will take longer for the water bath to cook the steak.
How should I season the steak?
My go-to method is to just season the steak with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper before sealing them in the bag. Easy and classic.
Sprinkle the salt and pepper from high above (about two or three feet above the piece of meat). This might sound messy, but it allows the salt and pepper to float through the air and disperse evenly over the surface of the meat. The closer you are to the meat as you season it, the more the sprinkling of the salt and pepper will fall JUST where your fingers are, not all over the steak.
You can also season the steak with fresh herbs, like a couple of sprigs of thyme or a branch of rosemary, or slice up some fresh garlic and use that as well. Common pantry spices and ingredients such as garlic salt, paprika, chili powder, oregano, and a touch of brown sugar are also great.
And, of course, you can use your favorite steak rub. Whether it’s a homemade rub (I have an all-purpose steak rub on my blog that I adore) or a store-bought one, be sure to season your steak liberally, up to an hour ahead, before placing it in the resealable bag.
Also keep in mind the seasoning will be “diluted” a bit by the juices that the steak produces in the sealed bag while cooking. So you might want to re-season the steak with more spices after you’ve cooked it and before you sear it, to create an additional layer of flavor.
What temperature should I sous vide?
The temperature that you cook your steak via sous vide is dependent on how well done you like your steak. A few degrees difference in sous vide can shift the doneness of the steak, so you might want to experiment a bit to figure out exactly the temperature you like your meat cooked to.
Here’s a guide to the temperature ranges for steak that are at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick and brought to room temperature first. If the steak is refrigerator cold, increase the minimum time to 1 hour and 15 minutes.
|Very Rare to Rare:||120°F (49°C) to 128°F (53°C) for 1 to 2 1/2 hours|
|Medium Rare:||129°F (54°C) to 134°F (57°C) for 1 to 4 hours (but 2 1/2 hours max if under 130°F) Note: This is how I like my steak! All the photos in this post are from the steak cooked at 131°F for 3 hours.|
|Medium:||135°F (57°C) to 144°F (62°C) for 1 to 4 hours|
|Medium-Well:||145°F (63°C) to 155°F (68°C) for 1 to 3 1/2 hours|
|Well Done:||156°F (69°F) and up for 1 to 3 hours|
For steaks thinner than 1 1/2 inches thick, you can reduce the cook time to 40 minutes minimum, but keep the temperature listed above the same.
Don’t cook any steak under 130°F for longer than 2 1/2 hours for food safety reasons.
What is the “Reverse Sear” Method?
Right now, you might be saying: But I like those nice big grill marks on my steak! And the flavor!
Never fear! Once the steak has reached it desired temperature and you’re ready to eat it, take it out of the bag and sear it on both sides in a hot skillet or grill.
This method is called a “reverse sear” because you are searing the steak after it is cooked (and not before). This adds caramelized flavor and also creates a contrast in texture: the soft interior versus the crispy seared edges.
Can you sous vide a frozen steak?
Why yes, you can! One of my favorite things to do is buy steak when it is on sale, season it, and then freeze it in a resealable plastic bag. Then I can pull the steak out directly from the freezer and put it directly into the immersion circulator! Just add an hour to the cook time to accommodate for the thawing.