Before we got our immersion cooker, we didn’t get what all the fuss was about. We already knew how to cook a filet mignon, and we weren’t crazy about buying another device that would inevitably end up in our appliance graveyard. Frankly, the whole “cooking steak sous vide” thing seemed like a passing fad.
Then one day we broke down and bought one.
And now we can’t stop using it.
We’re not afraid to admit it: We were wrong. So wrong, in fact, that we feel compelled to put together this list so others don’t live with the same misconceptions that we did about immersion cookers and Sous Vide.
So without further ado, here are 9 reasons you should sous vide your next steak.
#9: Sous Vide Steaks are More Succulent
A steak cooked medium-rare is heated to an internal temperature of around 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Using traditional cooking methods, the steak is brought up to that temperature via a source of heat that is much hotter than the target temperature.
When cooking a steak using only a skillet, for example, the temperature of a stovetop skillet on medium-high is somewhere around 350 degrees. The 350 degree skillet directly transfers heat to the steak in order to raise the temperature of the meat to 130 degrees. The same is true of a grill, where direct heat can exceed 500 degrees.
Sous vide cooking uses much lower temperatures than traditional cooking methods. In fact, the temperature to which the immersion cooker is set is exactly the target temperature of the food, and not a degree more. Because sous vide doesn’t “blast” the food with excessive heat, the cell walls of the meat don’t burst as they do using traditional grilling or searing methods.
The result is a steak that is more tender and succulent. We won’t claim that we don’t enjoy a steak reverse-seared on the grill or in the oven. If you cook a perfect medium rare and start with a good cut of meat, it’s hard to end up with a bad steak. But the low cooking temperature is gentler on the structure of the meat, and that gives sous vide an edge when it comes to tenderness and succulence.
#8: Sous Vide Cooking is More Precise
Our Anova 800W immersion cooker is accurate to 1/10th of a degree Fahrenheit and can be controlled to 1/2 of a degree Fahrenheit. That is extremely accurate.
Other methods simply can’t compare with this kind of precision. Using an oven for a reverse sear does a decent job, but oven thermometers can be wildly inaccurate. A charcoal or gas grill invariably has hot and cold spots that most owners can’t find. A heavy cast-iron skillet does a pretty good job of holding a steady temperature, but it is nothing close to 1/2 of a degree Fahrenheit accuracy.
The circulating water in a sous vide cooking arrangement does a much better job of evenly conducting heat to the steaks. The result is a cooking method which allows you to precisely control the final temperature of your food.
Temperature control of your steak is key to achieving your desired degree of doneness. If you want a medium-rare steak, which is what we recommend, set for 130 degrees internal temperature. If you want medium, set for 140 degrees.
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Of course, what this means is that you can have a steak cooked exactly how you want it without needing to conform to the scale we are all familiar with. Want a steak cooked between medium rare and medium? Set the immersion cooker for 135 degrees and you’ll have it. Want a steak cooked between medium and medium well? Set the cooker for 145 and you’ll have it.
That’s one of the beauties of cooking steak sous vide: you can – actually, you will – have your steak precisely the way you want it.
#7: Sous Vide is More Convenient
With other cooking methods, there is typically a very small difference in cooking time between medium rare and medium well. A distraction that lasts only a couple of minutes can literally ruin your dinner. Another problem with traditional cooking methods is that it can be quite difficult and in some cases nearly impossible to coordinate the side dishes to be ready at the same time as the steaks. A side of cold potatoes can make even a great steak less enjoyable.
Not a problem with Sous Vide. Once the steaks have cooked the minimum time needed (generally about 45 minutes to an hour), they are ready – and will remain ready – until you need them.
At that point, you can work on side dishes, go to the store or even take a nap. Your steak will taste just as good regardless of whenever you are ready. It will simply be patiently waiting for you to drop it in the pan for a quick sear.
Another way Sous Vide adds convenience: if your steaks are already vacuum sealed from the butcher (or if you already vacuum sealed them yourself), you can simply drop them in the water when you’re ready.
(We’ve found that seasoning the steaks after the cook but before the sear still results in a great tasting steak. So when we have a pre-sealed steak and we don’t feel like taking it out, seasoning it and then vacuum-bagging it again, we simply drop them in the bath and salt them just before searing.)
#6: Sous Vide Cooks More Evenly
When using cooking methods that employ high, direct heat – such as a grill or a cast iron skillet – you’re likely to miss your target degree of doneness, at least in part of your steak.
Let’s say, for example, you have great taste and want a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak. So you fire up your grill and throw the steaks on, checking the temperature until it reads 130 degrees. You take the steaks off and let them rest.
When you slice in to them, you find that the middle – only the very middle – is a nice pink medium rare. That’s lovely. However, there’s a problem.
In order to get that middle section nice and medium rare, your grill had to overcook the part of the steak between that and the crust. That part of the steak is all cooked medium-well. So what you have isn’t a perfectly cooked medium rare steak.
You have a Frankenstein steak: a Frankensteak. Half medium-rare perfection, half hideously dry, overcooked monster.
Sous Vide is here to save you from that monster. By using an immersion cooker, your steak is cooked exactly the same all the way through. As your steak cooks in the water bath, the low heat is conducted evenly through every part of the steak.
At the end, all that is needed is a quick sear (30-45 seconds per side) to produce a beautiful crust. The results are repeatable and predictable: you’ll have a steak that is cooked edge-to-edge exactly the way you want it (even if you do like it medium-well), every single time.
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#5: Sous Vide is Safer
It’s not uncommon to hear people defend their preference for medium-well or well-done steak based on their fear eating undercooked meat. It is highly unlikely to become sick from eating a medium-rare or rare steak. The inside of a hand-cut steak has never seen the air, and as such has very little bacteria inside of it. The outside gets seared, killing the bacteria there, and the result is a medium-rare steak that is safe to eat.
Now let’s be clear. Nothing is truly 100% safe to eat. We are complex creatures living in a world where everything we consume (or touch) has the potential to cause some harm to our bodies. No matter how you cook your meat, some bacteria will make its way into your mouth during that meal. There’s just no way around that fact, and applies to steak, water and everything else we consume.
But for those who truly have an aversion to medium-rare steak because of the “it might make me sick” belief, Sous Vide provides a better answer than the alternatives.
Once the minimum required cooking time for a steak has elapsed (roughly 45 minutes), the steak can continue to sit in the water bath for several more hours without compromising the taste or texture. What happens during that “extra” time in the water, however, is that additional bacteria are killed, making the food safer to eat.
If you haven’t tried a medium-rare steak because you’re afraid of the bacteria, you are missing out. Give sous vide a try and see what you’re missing. And if for some reason you still want to cook your steak medium well, the immersion cooker does that pretty nicely, too.
#4: Sous Vide Adds No Extra Cleanup
Kitchen appliances outside of the essentials – microwave, oven, stovetop – result in a common headache: They tend to add a small amount of convenience during the preparation of food at the expense of large amounts of cleanup after their use.
Think of the appliances that you have stored away collecting cobwebs: The juicer that was going to help you lose weight and feel great. The pasta maker that was going to turn your house into a veritable tuscan hillside villa. The rotisserie cooker that was going to allow you to effortlessly a meal, as long as you eventually remembered that you set it in the first place.
What went wrong with all of these incredible culinary devices? They all work as advertised. They all do the job they were tasked with. So why are they outcasts in the appliance graveyard instead of in a place of honor on the countertop?
They aren’t worth the work.
They are big, clunky, difficult to operate and a pain to clean. They are often useful only in a very specific culinary niche. In some cases, they have many parts that all need to be cleaned, and if any part goes missing the whole appliance is useless.
They don’t make cooking a joy. They make it a pain.
An immersion cooker doesn’t have any of these problems.
It’s simple to operate. Ours has a “scroll wheel” like a computer mouse that is used to set the temperature, and a single start/stop button. It has no separate parts, so there’s nothing to lose. It’s small enough to fit in a drawer (so it takes up none of your valuable counter space) and yet it’s versatile enough to cook many different kinds of food.
And best of all, there’s nothing to clean. Food is cooked in sealed pouches; the immersion cooker only heats clean tap water. When the cooking is completed, you simply wipe off the water and stick it back in a drawer until you need it again.
#3: Sous Vide Offers More Variety
We have an appreciation for any of the premium cuts of steak: ribeye, filet and strip. They each have such unique qualities that often it can be difficult to decide which to put on the menu for any particular meal.
What we found soon after purchasing our immersion cooker is that when cooking sous vide, there is no need to compromise. We can cook different cuts of steak at the same time, without any additional work.
When cooking a steak on the grill, in the skillet, or in the oven using the reverse sear, there are considerations for the thickness of the steaks and the type of cut. You can’t grill a 2-inch thick tenderloin filet the same way you grill a 1-inch thick New York Strip. They need to be flipped and seared at different times; you’ll end up opening the lid so often that the grill will lose its heat and the steaks won’t cook right.
Using an immersion cooker, any cut of meat that is in there for at least an hour at 130 degrees Fahrenheit will end up perfectly medium rare.
He likes ribeye but she likes filet? No problem. Sous Vide lets you open up the menu to more variety, and handles it all without requiring any extra effort.
#2: Sous Vide Steaks Don’t Need to Rest
Perhaps the most important part of cooking a steak is the rest. The “time-out” your steak spends under its aluminum tent allows the temperature inside the steak to even out, resulting in a juicy, delicious steak. If you skip this step, the juices will not be evenly distributed throughout the steak and it won’t be as good.
However, when cooking sous vide, you don’t need to rest the steak because the “low and slow” method of cooking has already assured that the steak is evenly cooked throughout. There are no parts of the steak that are too hot or too cold. Every part of the steak, from middle to edge, is exactly the temperature of the water bath (130 degrees, ideally).
So even though some people object to the time it takes (about an hour) to cook a steak sous vide, about ten minutes of resting time is saved with each sous vide cook.
And let’s be honest: the ten minutes of resting, while the most important part of the cook, is also the most painful part.
#1: You Can’t Mess Up Sous Vide
So many people love premium cuts of steak, but very few people actually buy it to make at home. We’ve found there’s a very legitimate reason for this: People are afraid to ruin an nice, expensive cut of meat.
And who can blame them? Is the average person who simply wants a great steak really going to drop $40 or more for a couple of USDA prime filets and run the chance of overcooking them? Not a chance. That person is just going to skip the entire experience of cooking steaks at home and head down to the steakhouse, where at least he can get his money back when they mess it up.
Which brings us to the primary reason we recommend sous vide so highly to people who want to make flawless steaks in their own kitchen:
You simply can’t mess it up.
Every single steak we have ever cooked sous vide has turned out perfectly medium-rare, just the way we like it. There has never once been an overcooked or undercooked steak. It truly takes all of the guesswork out of cooking steak, and frankly, it’s so easy we feel like we’re cheating.
You Will Love Sous Vide
One thing should be apparent by now: Sous Vide has a lot of advantages to traditional cooking methods. We love our Anova immersion cooker and use it for almost every steak we cook. The only real exception is when we’re looking for that unique grilled flavor. (But even then, we sometimes just cook the steaks sous vide and then finish with a sear on the grill.)
We want to help you avoid missing out on all the juicy, perfectly-cooked steaks you could be eating but aren’t because you haven’t tried Sous Vide.
If you don’t have an immersion cooker, we’d encourage you to pick one up. They’re reasonably priced, easy-to-use and you’ll love the final product.