Cooking meats in oil/butter/fats or without

It’s recently come to my attention that there seems to be some debate about if you should put oil or butter or a fat in your bag before you throw it in the bath.

Sous Vide Everything (on youtube) did an experiment back in 2017 and found steak only salted was more beefy and flavorful than the one cooked with butter.

I myself have always put either a pat of butter or a little extra virgin olive oil in the bag before the cook. Before my grocer stopped stocking it, my go-to was a pack of tri-tip steaks, which really lends itself to experimentation (they are always cut into small 2" strip steaks so you can portion them to experiment on).

Recently I had the inclination to buy some duck fat and use that in the bag instead of butter or oil. We did some steaks with and some without, and the duck fat did something

The plain steaks had a “sharper” flavor, for lack of a better term–the duck fat rounded out the flavors in a really nice way and kind of melded everything together. My SO literally said (about the plain steaks) “I can’t believe we thought THAT was good this whole time.”

But in reality, I think the flavor impact might be minimal, just like in SVE’s YT video: “Both steaks were amazing but if I get to pick I’d rather have no butter.”

I’ve seen elsewhere online that butter (and duck fat) in particular absorb a lot of the seasoning and flavors and “suck them out” into the juice, which is usually discarded (I know some people make a sauce from it but I never do unless it’s a roast).

So, in general, what’s your policy? Butter/oil/fat or nothing at all? I don’t think I’ve ever tried “nothing at all.”

I very rarely add anything at all to the bag when cooking proteins. I prefer to season just before searing. The main reason for this is that I don’t find a big difference between the flavour of pre-seasoned and post seasoned meat. I’m also a fan of being able to use the cooking purge, which is pure meat essence, in pan sauces and reductions. No salt means I don’t have to worry about a reduction ever getting too salty.

Experimentation is best to find out what’s right for you.

The SVE guys just did an experiment where they tested different methods of basting the steaks during the seat after SV (using only basic seasoning in the bath. As you stated, they had earlier concluded that you needn’t add butter or fat during SV. One of the bastes was a duck fat and rub mixture. That ended up being the hands down winner. FWIW

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Hi Doc, in this cook’s kitchen for SV cooking no fats need apply.

Consider that standards for conducting valid sensory perception experimentation require “blind” comparisons in taste tests. Knowledge of differences can often predispose preferences towards expected outcomes.

Many cooks believe marinating enhances meat’s flavour and tenderness, but that’s been relegated to culinary folklore through experimentation by America’s Test Kitchen. Adding flavourings to SV cooking pouches prolongs the myth.

What are you trying to accomplish by adding fats to your SV ccoking when virtually all flavourings are only water solubile?

If it makes you think the product tastes beter that could be a valid reason, necessary or not. We humans find pleasure in conducting rituals out of habit instead of need.

If you enjoy the duck fat flavour try a smear of it on the seared meat along with a pinch of finishing salt and a grind of fresh black pepper.

To me, duck fat is best enjoyed on crispy fried julienned potatoes where there’s a high ratio of surface flavouring to total product. It’s similar to lobster, an excellent reason to enjoy eating melted butter.

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With steaks… well, i buy the ribeyes from costco… always a great cut, almost 2" thick… I do put a marinade in the bag, which is not necessary, but more out of habit from the old bbq days. The costco steaks definitely do not need marinade…but i love the flavors that it adds to it. I’ve never added oil, butter or fat to my steaks. They come out great. Everybody loves them. I won’t even order steaks at restaurants as I find mine are far better.
I have added garlic butter to my bags when I do corn on the cob… Once they are cooked, I drizzle the juices from the bags over the corn cobs… messy, but delicious!!