How do I know when food is done?

Hey all, starting to really get going with my Anova 900w. The biggest question I have is, how do I know when food is done? Take steak for example. I’m used to cooking it via grill or broiler, and knowing it’s done either with the “touch test”, or taking it’s temp with an instant read thermometer.

With SV cooking, there seems to be such a huge range of cooking times, and I don’t understand how to know how long to cook something and when it’s actually done.

Cooked Prime Filets last night at 129 for 60 mins and they came out perfectly medium rare - but they were slightly different thicknesses - so how would I know when to cook for 60 mins, when to cook for 120 mins, or anywhere in between? Recipes and guides typically say “1 to 4 hours”, which is completely unhelpful. Is there a guide that would tell me, say for steak again - if 1.5 inches thick, cook for 60 mins, if 2.5 inches thick, cook for xx time?

Help! I’m loving it so far - cooked a fabulous pot de creme for a NYE party and got huge raves…


Larry, successful SV cooking requires you to stop thinking about cooking in the conventional manner with which you have become familiar. Breaking with what you know so well is going to be your greatest challenge in adapting to the SV technique. Your thinking that what the recipes and guides say is completely unhelpful is the perfect example of holding onto your past.

i don’t want to disappoint you but with SV cooking, except maybe with fish and seafood, there no precise moment when done is achieved. At the generally lower temperatures employed in SV cooking heat penetrates meat more slowly than you are familiar with. That provides you with a significant latitude in cooking times beyond the minimum length of time to achieve thermal equilibrium in the product.

Last night’s steaks are a good example. They were of different thickness but both perfectly done. Cooked for 60 minutes, they were likely about an inch thick. As a broad rule you can use, heat penetrates meat at a rate of about an inch per hour. With tender meat like your filets they only needed to be brought up to 129F in that hour. You could have held them at that temperature for longer without them being overcooked, growing only slightly more tender over time. They would still be done. That’s why saying “1 to 4 hours” can be helpful. It’s a usually acceptable range of doneness at a certain temperature. After 4 hours the filets could be considered overdone, or too tender.

Here’s just the guide you are seeking:

Baldwin’s Table 2.2 provides you with the precise tender meat heating times based on thickness. An inch is about 25 mm.

You might find it useful to read Baldwin’s Part I and Part II to gain a more thorough understanding of the SV technique.

Do well.

right - thanks - I get most of that. So to follow this steak example, I’m still confused - if one filet was thicker than the next, how are they both cooked perfectly in 60 mins? and how do I determine different cooking times based on different types of the same protein? If I had a ribeye vs a porterhouse vs. a strip steak for example, would they all be cooked at 60 mins at 129 F if I wanted medium rare? or should I cook a porterhouse longer than a ribeye…?

Also - that guide you linked from Douglas Baldwin - if I’m understanding correctly 25 mm = 1 inch, then I should have cooked the steaks for 1.75 hours? But they were done in 1 hour when I cooked them last night?

Larry, first let’s deal with your Baldwin issue. It appears you referred to Table 2.3, Heating Time from Frozen. Table 2.2 is for fresh cold meat and indicates 1 1/4 hour for 1-inch thick. Close enough for Jazz and your enjoyment.

Still confused.
Well OK, two different thickness yet cooked perfectly in 60 minutes. Remember that temperature latitude factor. Plus, the filets were probably of approximately the same thickness, thus done in approximately the same length of time.

Filet is not a particularly good example to use in helping you understand the SV technique because it’s so tender that it can be eaten raw and often is. You just took them a bit beyond Rare yesterday.

I’m going to redirect you to another useful site that addresses your questions complete with pictures of steak cooked at different times. If you don’t get all the answers you need from Kenji Lopez-Alt come on back.

My bad, I misread that chart (I was looking at the chart but misread 1.25 as 1.75)… Anywho, thanks, I love KL-A’s stuff - read it a while back before I got into it but will re-read…

Appreciate the help!

My pleasure, Larry. Did you get an answer to your question about the Porterhouse Steak? It’s a difficult one to grasp, and cook well, because of it’s structure, a strip steak and a filet held together by bone. You may not really want to know, but i’ll tell you anyway because it demonstrates the the thinking process you need to use before you cook it Medium-Rare.

Please consider that in SV cooking the Porterhouse its integral filet is just coming along for the swim. We know from experience the strip steak while being tender isn’t the most tender steak so it should be cooked longer than the minimum time. How much longer? Well that’s up to you using your best judgement or experience. If the meat is the usual grocery store product that’s about the midpoint or 2 1/2 hours.

But that’s not the exact midpoint, you say. Right, that’s because it has that T-shaped bone that is more dense than the meat and the bone is going to restrict heat from diffusing evenly through the steak. Thus some more time will overcome the presence of the bone. Got it?

Remember using your experience to select an appropriate cooking time? Learning from your SV cooking experience becomes much easier if you keep a log or SV cooking journal recording all you cooks. Here’s the SV cooking details i record.

Specific type or cut of meat.
Desired degree of doneness / cook temperature.
Product thickness.
Thawed or frozen?
Planned / actual cook time.
Finishing method.
Cook-serve / cook-chill / cook freeze?
Comments on outcome.

As you begin to gain experience your comments will be most useful because they will lead you to repeating a cook for that specific product or making a length of cooking time adjustment according to your results.

Do well.