Steak may be the most popular food to cook sous vide, and once you begin cooking with the Sansaire, you may never treat steak the same way again. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about sous vide steak.
In the photo above, both steaks were cooked to the same internal temperature of 52°C / 126°F. The steak on the left was cooked sous vide, then seared using a blowtorch. The steak on the right was cooked on a cast iron skillet.
Basic Sous Vide Steak Recipe
- Attach the Sansaire to the container of your choice, and preheat the sous vide bath to 52°C / 126°F for a rare-medium-rare (see below for doneness preference).
- Optionally, season your steaks on all sides. We recommend seasoning with our Faux Dry Aged Steak Marinade.
- Seal your steaks, either by using the water displacement method, or by using a vacuum sealer.
- Cook sous vide for 60 minutes for 1” thick cuts.
- Remove the steaks from the bags and pat them dry. Sear the outside of the steaks using your preferred method. We find a blowtorch to be a practical and entertaining way to sear.
- Season with flaky salt, and garnish according to your preference.
Left: raw steak. Middle: steak after cooking sous vide to core temperature. Right: steak after searing.
The challenge of medium rare
Cooking a steak to a precise doneness on a skillet or a grill is a daunting task. The difference between rare and medium rare is only a few degrees in temperature, and it’s up to the cook to determine exactly the right moment to remove the steak from the pan so the middle will end up at the correct doneness. Even for experienced home cooks, the traditional process of cooking steak demands constant attention. Turning your back for just a moment can transform an expensive, juicy rib eye into a tough, gray waste.
With sous vide, achieving the desired doneness is as simple as setting the temperature on your Sansaire. If you want your fillet medium rare, turn the dial to 55°C/ 130°F (see below for time and temperature recommendations). There’s no guesswork, no split-second timing, and no stress. Just perfectly cooked steak, every time.
The dreaded “gray bands” of traditionally cooked steak
Notice how the traditionally cooked steak has bands of gray along the top and bottom? This is an inevitable consequence of cooking with a high heat source. Heat moves quickly from the pan to the surface of the steak, but once inside the meat, the heat movement slows to a crawl. By the time the center of the steak has reached the doneness you want, the edges are overcooked. And, the thicker the steak, the more pronounced the effect will be.
Also notice how the traditionally cooked steak is flatter than its sous vide counterpart. These two steaks were identical before cooking. This is because the high heat of the skillet causes the fibers within the meat to contract and wring out the flavorful juices inside the meat. Temperatures in sous vide cooking are much lower, so the meat stays relaxed and tender.
How to choose the cooking temperature for sous vide steak
The temperature at which you should cook your steak sous vide is mostly a matter of taste. The “ideal” doneness, at which the meat is juiciest and most tender, varies across different cuts, but is generally between 50°C / 122°F and 58°C / 136°F. Temperatures toward the lower end of the scale are considered “rare”, and most people would identify temperatures toward the high end of the scale as “medium rare” or “medium”.
Many people prefer their steak cooked to medium rare. But, we encourage you to pick the doneness you prefer, and adjust your cooking temperature accordingly.
How to determine the minimum cooking time for sous vide steak
When cooking steak sous vide, the minimum cooking time is determined by the thickness of the cut. The food just needs to cook long enough for the heat to make its way from the outside of the meat to the center. As a rule of thumb, a 1” / 2.5 cm thick steak takes about an hour to cook.
Sous Vide Cooking Time for Core Temperature
Thickness (inches)Time (h:mm)
Note, however, that doubling the thickness of the steak doesn’t double the cooking time – it nearly squares it! As the thickness of the meat increases, it takes exponentially longer for the heat to work its way towards the center. This principle violates the intuition of most cooks (including professionals), but is just as true for cooking on a grill as it is for sous vide.
The chart above shows the minimum time it takes to cook a steak sous vide. While an hour may seem like a long time to cook a steak (compared to, say, 15 minutes on a stovetop or a grill), there are two important benefits, beyond producing a superior steak:
- The cooking time is unattended. While your steak cooks, you can prepare your side dishes, take your dog for a walk, or practice playing the accordion.
- You can’t overcook your steak*. Because the water bath is set to the same temperature you want the food to reach, it can’t overcook! With sous vide cooking, precise timing is no longer a consideration.
*You can leave a tender steak (strip steak, fillet, flank, etc.) in the bath for up to 4 hours without any noticeable loss of quality. Longer than that, however, and “tenderness” will begin to give way to “mushiness”. While the steak can’t overcook with respect to doneness, it can cook for too long.
Faux-aging: How to turn cheap a cut into a $60 restaurant steak
The world’s best steakhouses improve the flavor of their beef by dry aging it for 2-4 weeks or longer. The dry aging process removes water from the meat, which concentrates its natural flavor. In addition, enzymatic reactions break down the fats and proteins into sugars and amino acids, including glutamic acid, which is responsible for the “umami” flavor that is so prized in a great piece of beef.
If you don’t want to hang a primal cut of beef in your refrigerator for a month, there’s a faster way to simulate the same flavors you find in dry aged beef. By marinating the meat in a glutamate-rich sauce, you’ll dramatically enhance the savory, nutty, umami flavors in the meat.
Recipe: Faux Dry Aged Steak Marinade (inspired by Modernist Cuisine at Home)
Feel free to substitute or remove any of the ingredients below, or alter the quantities to your taste. All of the recommended ingredients are high in glutamic acid, amplifying the umami flavor in the meat.
Yield: enough for 4 steaks
- 3 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. MSG (freaked out? Don’t be)
- 3 tbsp. fish sauce
- 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp. roasted garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp. blue cheese
- ½ tsp. anchovy paste
- Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.
- To season, divide the marinade among the bags, add the steak, and vacuum seal using your preferred method. This can be done just before cooking.
For even stronger flavor, marinate the steaks in the refrigerator up to 24-hours before cooking. This sauce can be made ahead of time and stored, refrigerated, for one month.
How to sear steak after cooking sous vide
The video above demonstrates the technique for searing your steak with a blowtorch after cooking it sous vide.
In sous vide cooking, we separate the goals of cooking to core temperature and searing for an outer crust into their own steps. This way, we can choose a cooking method that optimizes each goal without sacrificing the other.
The best way to sear a steak after it has been cooked sous vide is to use a very high heat source. By using high heat, you’re able to brown the outside of the meat before the heat has time to penetrate very far into the interior. This yields a steak that’s perfectly cooked from edge-to-edge, with a thin but delicious browned crust on the outside.
Our favorite way to sear is with a blowtorch. It’s fairly quick, and it’s wildly entertaining. There are a few important things to note when searing with a blowtorch:
- Use propane or Mapp gas, with a high quality torch head. Mapp gas burns hotter than propane, but either will work. You can find blow torches and fuel canisters in the plumbing aisle of your local hardware store. The small torches sold for browning crème brûlées aren’t powerful enough for this task.
- Protect your countertop (and your dishware) from the high heat of the torch. A wire rack over a heavy baking sheet (not nonstick) works wonderfully.
- Pat the food dry before torching. Otherwise, you’ll spend your time evaporating off water instead of searing your steak.
- Hold the torch 3-4” from the food, and move the flame around continuously. Don’t linger too long in a single spot, or that area may jump past “golden brown” and straight to “blackened.”
Another way to impart a delicious crust is by using a heavy skillet that has been pre-heated on high. Cast iron is a great choice for this purpose because of how well it retains heat. After your skillet is rocket-hot, we recommend adding a little grapeseed or safflower to the pan to help conduct heat to the steak. As with any pan searing, ensure that the surface of your food is thoroughly dry before adding it to the pan. Once your pan is hot enough, you should achieve a gorgeous crust in less than one minute per side.
You may also use any other high heat source available for the searing step, such as a deep fryer, a hot grill, the broiler in your oven, or directly over an open flame at a campfire.
• Modernist Cuisine at Home’s chapter on Steak
• Modernist Cuisine Volume 2, Chapter 9: Sous Vide
• Modernist Cuisine Volume 3, Chapter 11: Meat and Seafood
• Esquire: Further Thoughts on Aged Meat, from Harold McGee