cooking at high altitudes

When I sous vide in Denver which is 5280 feet above sea level the meat, when cut, looks exactly as the should based on the temperature that was selected. For example, 129 degrees is medium rare and the meat is fairly pink. In the mountains, 8369 feet above sea level, a completely different result is produced. The meat when cut appears to be well done no matter what temperature was selected and eventually changes to the desired appearance, but this could take 15 to 30 minutes. Obviously, it is related to the altitude but is there anything that can be done other than waiting an extended period of time for the desired result?

Hi @swaters

This sounds weird to me and I’ve no experience with the issue - but if you don’t mind I’d like to take a shot in the dark - and if I’m off maybe someone else in the community will correct me!

As far as the cook temp and the “doneness” of the items being cooked I don’t think the altitude makes any difference. While altitudes impact on air pressure will affect the temperature at which water boils this doesn’t change the actual temperature your APC is working with to cook your food. So the “doneness” should be the same at either elevation.
Now when it comes to the “look” of the cooked meat the redness is associated with the reaction of the myoglobin in the meat being exposed to air/oxygen. At sea level where I live the cut meat gets noticeably redder after is has been allowed to sit exposed to the air for a bit. The combination of lower air pressure and thus reduced partial pressure of oxygen could be the culprit!

Anyone have any other thoughts or corrections? :slight_smile:

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@Mirozen, I think you’re on to something about the lack of oxygen. Take a hike at 8369 ft altitude and you will notice way less O2 compared to 5280 or sea level.
Also, with traditional cooking methods it’s common to “let meat rest” so the juices redistribute and are reabsorbed. Maybe this comes into play for SV at altitude?

The only time altitude is going to impact sous vide use is when it is high enough to reduce the boiling point of water to below the cooking temperature. This might prove to be a problem if you were a vegetarian living in La Rinconada, but in that case you’d have a whole lot of other problems to deal with.

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@kcwalker So as far as “taste” and “mouth texture” did it still seem to be medium rare despite the difference in color as compared to the “lower altitude cook”?

I think the best thing to do now is just try some things out and see if things still seem to be cooked “as expected” despite the different “look” you are seeing.

And don’t forget to post what you find out! Good luck! :slight_smile:

I think your analysis is spot on.

Boiling point is variable according to barometric pressure, but temperature is constant. I think your problem lies elsewhere.

sous vide means without air (oxygen). So the altitude oxygen levels are irrelevant. The product is in a vacuum bag, after all.

Hi @JWH

As for the temp being the same regardless of the air pressure, I agree completely, thus my statement above that “While altitudes impact on air pressure will affect the temperature at which water boils this doesn’t change the actual temperature your APC is working with to cook your food.”
As for your “oxygen irrelevant/in a vacuum bag” comment, actually I think your wrong here, but I can understand why you’d say that. The thing is we are talking about a change in color that normally occurs “after” the item being cooked is removed from the bag. It’s at that time that the item is exposed to the air and the reaction with the myoglobin occurs. Your comment definitely applies in regards to the oxygen exposure while in the bag.

Basically I think it’s probably cooking to just the expected doneness, but the color after it is removed from the bag is not quite as expected due to partial pressure of oxygen in the air. But experimenting with some cooks at different temps while at altitude it really the way to go to be sure.

Actually, it means “under vacuum” but I take your point. I think the effect of oxygen is that as the meat rests, outside the bag, it turns brighter red, which was my experience even at 900 ft alt. To me, Mirozen’s answer makes the most sense on this.