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May 2, 2010 / Tony

Sous Vide Steak

My friend Al, who probably has an inkling that I love to cook steak, sent me a couple of links about this sous vide method of cooking in the past few months. (Here’s a blog post with some extended discussion of the method.) Basically, the idea is to cook food in plastic bags in water at the precise temperature you want your finished product to be. So, for a medium-rare steak, you would cook your steaks in 130 degree F water. The advantages of this method of cooking are twofold: First, there is no chance of overcooking your food since the temperature of your cooking medium never is above the final desired temperature. Second, this method allows for very gentle and if, desired, long cooking times. Practically, there are a few other advantages, such as the ability to hold food for long periods of time for service. To go back to steak, one could hold the beef at 130 degrees for hours at a time, waiting for the precise moment to serve. Since it’s already cooked, the service is almost instantaneous.

In terms of hardware, there is a fancy machine that holds water at temperature and gently circulates the water. All the cook needs to do is drop in the food (properly bagged, of course) and let it go. The machine will do the rest but it is costly, about $450. I’m not willing to part with that amount of cash so I tried the cheap method-emulating the method in a beer cooler.

Here’s what you do:

Beer Cooler Greek Style Steak


2 NY strip steaks, about a pound each, preferably 1 inch think

1 T Kosher salt

1 tsp pepper

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme


1 beer cooler

1 probe thermometer

1 gallon sized plastic baggie

Hot water

Heavy bottomed pan or a grill


Mix the salt, pepper, zest, oregano, and thyme in a small bowl. Rub onto the steaks and place the steaks in the plastic baggie. Try to take as much air out of the baggie as possible. Preferably, do this about 4 hours ahead so the salt has time to penetrate deeply into the meat. Stash the steaks in the fridge. About an hour before you plan to cook, take the steaks out and leave out at room temperature.

Fill your beer cooler about ¾ of the way with hot water. Transfer this water to a pot large enough to accommodate all of it and start heating it up. Heat the water to about 150 degrees F. (This temperature is for medium-rare steaks. Adjust the starting water temperature accordingly if you want your steaks done to another temperature.) Refill your beer cooler with hot tap water and set aside until your water is hot.

When the water is hot, drain the tap water from the beer cooler. (The idea is to warm up the beer cooler so your hot water stays as close to your desired temperature as possible.) Put in your hot tap water and then place your baggie in the hot water. Don’t worry, it won’t melt. Stick your probe thermometer in the water and close the lid. Now just let it sit. The cooking will take about an hour, although you could leave in there for up to two. Keep an eye on the water temperature. My water dropped to 129 degree F, which was perfect. If it drops below your desired temp, say to 120 degrees, you’ll need to add some more hot water. (That’s why you didn’t fill the cooler all the way to the top.)

When ready to serve, heat up a heavy bottomed pan or your grill and then sear the meat on both sides. This is to give the meat some color and some extra flavor. Let the meat rest for a few minutes and then serve.

This is roughly what your steaks should look like:

Admittedly, the steaks were really juicy and succulent all the way through. No doubt that there no part of the meat that was overcooked. Yet, I felt something was missing. . . there just wasn’t those deep flavors from a really browned (not caramelized!) crust on the meat. I think I’ll try this again but will add some more aggressive flavors and try grilling the meat at the end, probably right on my charcoal chimney.


One Comment

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  1. AYT / May 3 2010 10:49 am

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that method confers the additional advantage of tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. Maybe a less tender cut than a sirloin next time?

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