Two poor results with Sous Vide Steak --Help needed

In the General Sous Vide Questions Forum
Hi. New to the forum and in need of some help. I've had a Sous Vide Supreme for a few months now. Prior to getting the unit, I was fairly successful with steaks and hamburger Sous Vide style with a beer cooler.

The main issue has been the textue and relative dryness of the meat.
My last two attemps have not been good. First atemp was thick cut sirloin steaks (5.99/lb @ Cocstco) cooked at 131 deg. Lightly salted and peppered the steaks and vacuum sealed. Cooked at 131 for about 2 1/2 hours. I patted dry and added some additional spices, and seared with some oil on a cast iron skillet. While they were a very nice medium rare, the meat itself was extremely dry. I tried the same thing the next time, but increased the time to around 4 hours. The result was about the same...perhaps even a little drier...

Thinking it may have been the cut of meat, the next attemp was a couple of porterhouse steaks. Same prep..salt/pepper, vacuum seal, then cooked at 131 for 2 hours. This time, the steaks were not quite as dry, but they were drier than I would have expected for a porterhouse. Also, the texture seemed a bit off. I don't eat liver often, but the texture reminded me more of liver than of steak. My wife even commented that the steaks just weren't that good...kind of tasted like they had been boliled.and could I go back to cooking them on the grill.

Not certain what the problem is....the temps have held very steady on the machine. The pouch is always left with a lot of juice (is this why they are so dry?). Am I cooking things too long? Using the cooler cooking times were always around an hour or so, because after that, the temp decreased too much.

Any help appreciated. Thanks! Andrew

16 Replies So Far

I am not sure how much salt you are using in the vacuum bag, but I do recommend cutting back on the salt for the bath portion as it will draw out some of the moisture and leave it in the bag (which you can make amazing sauces with)but salt your meat just prior to browning it.
I'm going to agree.

Salt is pulling out the moisture. You don't need to salt before sealing. Salt before you sear it, after cooking sous vide.
You can also seal a bit of butter into the bag.
I agree with others to at least cut down on the salt during the sous vide cooking phase.

You might want to check the temp of the SVS to ensure it is accurate, although you do say the steaks were a nice medium rare colour so probably not an issue.

How thick are your steaks? For tender cuts you only need to bring the core temp up to serving temp unless you want to cook to pasteurise. The liverish texture suggests too long cooking times but I wouldn't have thought that was an issue at 2 1/2 hrs.

If you still have your beer cooler rig, try cooking 2 'identical' steaks 1 in SVS and 1 in beer cooler, same temps and times and see if there's a difference.

Good luck
I would just keep trying & experimenting until you get it right for your tastes.
I think you do need to cut back on the salt. You're also cooking them probably about twice as long as you need to. I do a lot of steaks in mine and have never had a dry one yet. Maybe you need to dial back the sear a bit, but if they still looked medium rare you're probably okay there.
Have you checked the water temperature in your Supreme with a thermometer? I have read that some of them run hot and the actual water temperature doesn't agree with the digital readout.
Sometimes this stuff can be downright frustrating, especially when it is a confluence of affects. And now, adding to the problem, I’m going to add a few more. Many folks here have noted that doneness, and conversely dryness, is a very personal choice. At that I have found a difference in meats attributable to what I thought was only a degree or two difference in the water bath, others have disagreed. Stubbornly, I don’t use the SV Supreme – or Demi – because I think the variance at the lower temperatures is too great. I find the circulation models much more stable and free of possible hotter areas in the bath.
Another factor to me, and maybe some others here can explain it better; is that I find it very necessary to put almost everything, but especially meats that are to be grilled, in an ice bath between ‘procedures’.
Likely all I have done is complicate the issue, making it much less enjoyable.
I've never known anything but a PolyScience, and the only cuts I've ever salted prior to cooking sous vide were those I've cured.
My wife will only eat a steak cooked sous vide now, and she was the biggest skeptic when I first bought the PolyScience.

Side note;

I just bought four "mismatched Ribeyes" and 4 Lbs. of burger blends from

That's how serious the beef thing has become at home !
You might want to also try shortening your cooking duration instead of going longer. In my mind, meats divide into two groups: Those that are tender enough to eat raw (like tenderloin) and those that are not considered tender (like chuck). Those that are starting tender just need to be sufficiently heated before being ready for serving. The non-tender ones need extended cooking time to break down the tough components.

I'd consider sirloin in the first group (although I've had very tough sirloin at times). The necessary time to heat through is dependent on water temp and the thickness of the steak. My software shows that a one inch sirloin steak would be heated to the core in 1:38 at 131F temperature. Pasturizing to the core would take 2:31 at 131F.

Increasing the water temp to 137 (still medium rare) results in a cooking time of 1:39 to get the core to 137 and pasturize the cut all the way through.

One point you didn't touch on is how you did your sear (if you did do that). I've made the mistake of after cooking the steak in the sous vide bath, I tried to sear them on a cheap grill... It just wasn't hot enough and I ended up overcooking them while trying to get a sear.
You have a lot of variables when cooking, even meat labeled "grass fed" or "organic" (what is inorganic meat...made from stone):-), the breed of the steer, the amount of water available, and the genetics of the animal all vary. One of the big pluses of sous vide is consistency, much more than any other method of cooking SV produces the same results more than other methods. What makes meat tender in the cooking process is the conversion of collagen to gelatin. This is a function of time and temperature, this why we my process less tender cuts like; chuck, round, tri-tip, plate, etc., for up to 72 hrs.
Bottom line, try processing for 4-6 hours for tender cuts at temperatures between 131 - 145.

The fact that you had a lot of juice in the bag indicates the temperature was above 145F. What happens as meat protein cooks, they tighten up and squeeze the juices out of the protein mass, this increase as the temperature increase. This why shrinkage goes up as roasting temperatures go up. A rib roast done at 400F vs 250F will be twice as much.
Hope this helps
Chef John - Master Chef
I generally cook beef with much longer cooking times, and have noted that the very long cooking times (72 hours) have resulted in dryness. My own experience suggests that the problem is not excessive cooking time if it is under three hours. My own cooking sous vide has always had water circulation and I would tend to blame uneven temperatures due to ineffective circulation. But temperature calibration problems might also be plaguing you. Use a digital fever thermometer to check the accuracy of your cooker in the 104 F range. Also, try cooking a tri-tip and see if the results are better. I've gotten over 150 perfectly tender and non-dry tri-tips in a row (24 hours at 131F) while london broils and round steaks are sometimes dry for me, so I would return to tri-tip for trouble-shooting.

Ok, so if the time and temperature of the water bath is right, then I suggest looking at the searing operation. First, allow the meat to cool after the water bath at room temperature for a minimum of 20 minutes before searing. Sear lightly and quickly so you can't bring the temperature up past the target temperature. If you sear without first cooling, then the temperature might continue to climb until you've overcooked the meat.
with properly hung meat (min 28 days) the very extended periods of time that you are cooking these steaks for aren't necessary. A perfectly cooked medium rare steak cooked conventionally will only reach a core temp of 129-131 F for a relatively short period of time and would still be more than acceptably tender, so there really is no need to extend the cooking time out to several hours with a cut such as sirloin. I would suggest no seasoning before cooking other than with pepper, brush with rendered beef fat and vacuum seal, cook for 20 mins, rest in the bag for 5 mins brush again with rendered beef fat and sear in an extremely hot dry cast iron pan for no more than one minute a side and rest again for 2-3 mins. Season post sear.I know this seems counter-intuitive, but in most professional kitchens the second season is the most important one, just before serving. Everyone forgets that resting the meat is still necessary even with comparatively low temps. All of the above is obviously dependant on circulator providing an accurate temp. Good Luck!
James Graham writes of the benefits of properly hung meats, and I certainly cannot disagree. Ah, but here's the rub. The reason that I began cooking with sous vide is that it just isn't realistic to expect properly aged meats for home use for the other 99 percent of us. If we try to get properly aged meats then we'll (a) have a greater travel time involved, driving up the effective cost of the meat and (b) we'll effectively pay so much more for the meat that we could have bought such a fine tenderloin that it can hardly be improved by sous vide. I had a discussion on one of the 'spice' blogs with someone who can buy fresh cuts of meat directly from the rancher who raises it. Her unusual opportunity allows her to buy meats that have never seen food grade plastic wrap, so she naturally eschews sous vide out of fright over plastic. Yet, realistically only a few privileged restaurants get this opportunity for any quantity purchases, and the price paid for it is large.

Sous vide is an opportunity to make a shorted drive to a local urban or suburban supermarket, but mass-marketed meats, and through the miracle of the water bath get food with the texture and flavor of properly aged meats. And, sous vide makes this fit into our daily schedule. The slow cooking methods provide the tenderizing. None of those on this forum deserve to be rebuked for recognizing this opportunity.
I meant a "shorter" drive and "buy mass marketed meats" above
Just a note about black pepper: Pepper scorches at 450 F., most all searing far exceeds that. Scorched pepper has a bitter, unpleasant flavor. Therefor we should apply the pepper after the searing process.
At temperatures lower than scorching levels, pepper and most other spices release volatile oils when toasted that provide desirable flavors.

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