Dry Steak

So I eagerly tested out my new Anova cooker with some basic 1" thick shoulder steaks. Using conventional methods (quick sear, then finish in the oven at low heat, then rest), I get a very tender, juicy steak. It requires quite a bit of attention to get right. I cook steaks pretty frequently, and I think I’m pretty good at getting them right, although occasionally I get distracted and overcook them by a bit.

I sealed and cooked a few at 136F for about 2 hours, removed from plastic, then seared in a very hot pan. The results were unexpected.

The steaks were cooked perfectly to temperature - they were exactly how I expected them to look - perfectly pink throughout, with a very thin seared crust. However, while the steaks were just as tender (and delicious) as I expected, they were a lot dryer than usual. To be sure, no one being served this cut blind would think “wow, this is a dry steak.” However, as someone who has prepared this exact cut from the same purveyor a great number of times, I could definitely tell that the meat was dryer than usual. I also noticed that there was quite a bit more juice left in the bags than I had expected.

Has anybody else experienced this when cooking steak? Is it a cut issue? A time/temp issue? Again, the steaks were very good, and they were not dry as in “overcooked.” They were just somewhat short of the final product I get when I cook them via conventional means and get them just right. Any thoughts?

Cooking sous vide can be a different experience. It’s tough to understand what you mean by “dry.” Do you mean that they weren’t dripping with juice? The moisture retained in the steak should be significantly greater than what you’re getting via traditional methods. It seems like the difference is in the moisture that is likely remaining “in” the steak vs. what’s coming out and then being drizzled back over the steak. Make sense?

In terms of cuts, this is from a great piece by Kenji at Serious Eats:

"The really expensive cuts of beef—NY strip, rib eye, Porterhouse, T-bone, Filet (tenderloin)—have historically been prized for their extreme tenderness, not particularly for their flavor. On the other hand, more flavorful cuts like hanger, blade, or flatiron steak are much more difficult to cook correctly—even a tad over or undercooked, and you’re left with a tough, stringy, chewy mess. But cooked properly, they can be every bit as tender as the more expensive cuts, and with more flavor to boot!

That’s why those cuts are commonly referred to as “chef” cuts or “restaurant” cuts—chefs love them because they are cheap, and with proper preparation, delicious.

Well, with a sous-vide cooker, anyone can properly cook those tricky chef cuts."

Its hard to say it better than “dry.” I don’t mean “not dripping with juice,” because I want the juice to remain in the steak until I eat it. Cooked sous-vide, the steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare in color and texture, but the moisture level was closer to medium well.

I’ve read Kenji’s piece before, and I agree that it is excellent. It doesn’t, however, compare traditionally cooked steak with sous vide cooked steak. In fact, the overwhelming point of this piece is that “with a sous-vide cooker, anyone can properly cook those tricky chef cuts.” This suggests to me that it is easier (and definitely more convenient if you have multiple things to handle) to cook with SV, although it may not necessarily achieve better results. One thing I do take away from his piece is that 136F may be too hot for optimal results.

My results with fish have been excellent, and chicken is phenomenal. The results weren’t necessarily better than food that was perfectly cooked via traditional means, it was just much easier to obtain perfectly cooked food.

Some poking around the internet has shown a couple of folks reporting a similar issue -
http://www.beyondsalmon.com/2011/06/why-sous-vide-sucks.html and

So, I’ll try again at a lower temp and see how it goes.

Please let us know what you find.

Check this out…


Not sure what cut your “shoulder steak” is but could it be that there’s less fat to trigger saliva with the sous vide method?

@eelhc‌ Good find.

@eelhc Interesting point there. The shoulder steak is from the chuck section - so not typically the most tender of steaks. It is, however, quite lean, so that may play in as a factor. I am comparing my results with SV to the same cut cooked traditionally, so at least we have apples and apples.

The last factor to consider here is that the meat has been kashered - soaked in water and then salted. Whether or not this results in a steak that is dryer than non kosher meat can be debated, but I’m comparing the results from two kosher steaks.

In any case, I’m looking forward to cooking to a lower temperature.

Great explanation @oclemon‌, please share your results with us. @eelhc‌, please let us know how your next version turns out.

Attempt #2. Different cut of steak (bone in rib-eye, 1.75 inches thick). No seasoning prior to cooking. 2 hours in the waterbath at 131F. Propane plumbing torch for browning.

Unscientifically, I do believe that the steak was slightly dryer inside than one made with a traditional preparation… but I’m not convinced that really matters. The results were excellent and the steak was perfectly cooked and delicious. This was a well-marbled steak, and the fat was nicely softened and well integrated.

Some higher level thoughts on steak preparation:
With traditional methods, increasing doneness results in dryer, tougher steak. So we tend to associate a dryer steak with a tougher steak. I’m pretty sure that my sous vide steaks have been relatively dryer (maybe, “less juicy” is a better way to say it, because I don’t want to imply that the steaks are actually dry on an absolute scale) than a traditionally cooked counterpart. But, there is no loss in tenderness, flavor, or other factors that contribute to enjoyment.

When you couple that with how easy it is to make the steak perfectly via sous vide (I prepared this while cooking for and feeding three children six and under), and how quickly you can ruin it via traditional methods (nearly a given with the distractions of three children), the sous vide method really recommends itself.

What about brining the steaks similarly to the way one would brine a turkey? The soak in the brine/spice solution causes the turkey to not lose moisture during cooking, which seems to be your issue cooking the steaks via sous vide. Brining a turkey doesn’t result in any sort of salty flavour to the meat, but I’m not sure what will happen with a steak. This was just one of those light bulb moments I had while thinking about cooking Thanksgiving dinner. :smiley:

Let us know if/how it works if you try it!

once your steak has been cooked and is to dry to your liking there is no way to reverse it. no matter how much liquid you put on the steak including sauces it will still be dry. sorry for your misfortune.

It’s been a year since they posted, I’m sure they’re over it by now.