Sous-Vide Success

Let’s get one thing straight; I have a lot of ideas. Some ideas are talked about enough to become a project, but unfortunately just get added to the long list of in-progress projects. I’m bad at finishing projects sometimes, sure. However, I am always thinking about the projects. It’s a problem, I can’t shut the thoughts out. I’ve been constantly redesigning an arcade cabinet in my head for the past 3 years. I’ve slowly acquired parts, and could build one over the weekend if I ‘had’ to, but I don’t think it’s time yet. I’ll finish these projects someday, and when I eventually get to them I will have designed, prototyped, and simulated as much as I can without ever building a thing. It’s something that I’m really good at. That being said; Sous-Vide.

Sous-Vide is a method of cooking food using a temperature controlled water bath. Super-duper fancy restaurants cook using some sous-vide methods. I’ve been researching and designing a sous-vide system for the better part of a year now. I finished my prototype model in May, and began experimenting with it.

The Temperature Controller with Enclosure and Probe
The Temperature Controller with Enclosure and Probe
The Temperature Controller with Enclosure and Probe
Testing the Heating Elements and Tuning the System

So what’s the big deal?

Thanks to Wikipedia, a steak is Medium-Rare when the internal (middle) temperature is 130F-140F. BBQ Pits are built in such a way that adversely affect preparing the perfect steak because they typically only heat from one direction, and are cavernous. A BBQ pit requires fire and, unless you’re asking for trouble, a nice day to grill. Safety dictates that you should always grill outside… When something is cooked on a stove or BBQ pit, the source of the heat is typically coming from one direction (The Fire! or the heating element). Food must be flipped to prevent overcooking on one side. Even after the food is flipped, the ‘cooling’ side (the side that is now facing away from the fire) is still partially cooking. Residual heat remains in the outer layers of the food, and is transferred inwards and outwards. The inner layers of food are being cooked from both sides, albeit slower from the cooling side.

This continued cooking results in a broader heat gradient in the meat. The outer layers of the steak are charred, while the adjacent layers are well-done, hopefully leaving the center layer medium-rare. For example, resulting in something like this:

This is not a bad looking steak, but, it can be engineered to be better!
This is not a bad looking steak, but, it can be engineered to be better!

Now, sous-vide!

Oh yeah!
Oh yeah!

Now, contrary to what you think you know about cooking steaks, the second image (the one that looks awesome, and is prepared using sous-vide) is not that of a raw steak. It was cooked to a sustained internal temperature of 135 degrees fahrenheit, for one hour, then seared for a minute on each side.

The entire process consists of submerging what is to be cooked in a water bath where the temperature is precisely controlled. The water is circulated by an aquarium pump. The meat (or whatever) is in a bag (supposed to be vacuum sealed, but I didn’t and am still alive!) which allows the water to surround and cook the meat from all sides all at once. The water bath is kept at the desired internal temperature of the meat, 135F in the medium-rare steak case, for at least 45 minutes, but can be left alone for up to 9 hours. After 9 hours there is a possibility of bacteria regrowing…

Once cooked, the meat is removed, pat-dried, seasoned (if applicable), and seared for color and exterior flavor.

Benefits of sous-vide include:

  • Freedom of Time – Guest running late? No problem, just leave the meat cooking!
  • No Fire – Can be cooked inside and left alone without burning down the house!
  • Consistency – Meat will turn out exactly the same every time!
  • Precision – Using science, ensure you are always eating fully cooked meat!
  • Scalability – Replace the heating elements and basin, cook for more people!

For all it’s benefits, sous-vide is not perfect. Here are some down sides:

  • Time – It takes 10+ times longer to cook using sous-vide
  • Flavor – You won’t get the ‘grill’ taste unless you heat up the grill to sear the steaks
  • Singular Purpose – The sous-vide setup can cook one type of thing, one way, at one time. Cooking a steak? Want one Medium-Rare and one Well? You’ll need two separate sous-vide setups.
  • Safety? – There has been concern expressed that water + electricity = bad… However, I engineered this system with fuses that would trip if anything were to short or catch fire…
  • Setup – Some could argue that there is too much setup involved
  • Change – People don’t like to change how they are used to doing things

Conclusion? Well, sous-vide isn’t for everyone. My setup has produced quality steak and chicken every time, with little hassle, and little interaction. I was able to set it, forget it, drink a beer, watch The Walking Dead, and come back over an hour later… Though, I can’t expect everyone to just make a sous-vide cooker… Anova Culinary makes a great all-in-one package. Click the image below to go to their site! Thanks for reading, COOK ON!


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