Sous Vide means "under vacuum" but that's not always the best way to cook ...

When I first heard about slow precision vacuum cooking I thought that it sounded like a really clever idea. I already had a vacuum sealer to keep frozen foods burn free, so I decided to try the Anova Precision cooker. My first cooking ‘experiment’ involved six 6-oz burgers; 3 packages of two, vacuum-sealed together. I cooked them at 131˚ for 2 hours. When I took them out of the bath, the meat in each package was floating in LOTS of meat juices which I discarded. I then seared them on the outside grill for 90-seconds per side and served them. They were almost tasty (mostly because of the garlic-butter that I basted them with afterwards BUT they were also VERY DRY and DRAB as though all of their essences had been sucked out of them by a vampire. The cooking juices that I discarded earlier would have been sealed into the burgers if they had been pan fried or broiled, but without them the meat was almost inedible. The vacuum sealing process literally sucked out all of the juices as the meat slowly cooked. I decided that burgers were best cooked with juice-preserving methods.

Not to be outdone, my next ‘experiment’ involved two 3/4" thick sirloin steaks that I vacuum-sealed separately just before placing them in the bath (again using 131˚ for 2 hours). I figured that denser meat might not surrender the interior juices as readily as 80/20 ground burger meat. WRONG! Again, the packages emerged from the bath with the steaks surrounded by a lot of juices, that I again discarded. After searing on the grill for 1-minute per side, the steaks were FLAVORLESS, DRY AND BORING. Again, the critical juices were sucked out by my vampire vacuum sealer. WTF!

So I decided that for my third ‘experiment’ I’d use the vacuum sealer to JUST SEAL without first vacuuming out the air. For this attempt I used two 1.5" thick filet mignon steaks ($18/lb) and two 1" thick New York Strip steaks ($13/lb) … almost $50 worth of meat. But as the air in the bags heated (131˚ for 2.5 hours), the bags expanded and became balloons that wanted to float on the surface of the bath. The electric heat seal kept them from popping open. I had to use an iron skillet to weigh the balloons down to keep them below the surface of the hot water. After the cooking process was completed, there were some juices in the bags but only a small fraction of what had emerged when full vacuum sealing was used. The meat had been sealed without additional flavor enhancements. So before searing the steaks on the very hot grill, I olive-oil-sprayed and salt & peppered one side while the steaks were still on a plate, then placed that side down on the grill for precisely 1 minute (using a kitchen timer). During that minute I oil-sprayed and salt & peppered the other sides, then flipped the steaks to the second sides for precisely 2 minutes. I then flipped them back to the first side for precisely 1 minute, but turned them so that the grill lines would cause a cross-hatch pattern. I placed the steaks on a platter with the cross-hatch pattern side up for serving. THESE STEAKS TURNED OUT UNBELIEVABLY TENDER, JUICY AND DELICIOUS and seemed to be medium-medium-rare. Fortunately, SUCCESS AT LAST! The air pressure inside the inflated bags probably contributed to keeping the juices inside the meat instead of being sucked out.

LESSON LEARNED: All of my future precision cooking attempts, regardless of kinds of meat, will NEVER involve vacuuming first … it just ruins the meat: SANS SOUS VIDE POUR MOI!. I’m going to try thicker meat cuts (2" filet mignon and 2" porterhouse, thick boneless chicken breasts cooked along with boneless chicken thighs, and 3" thick pork chops). I’ll probably use the oven broiler, instead of the grill, to sear pork chops after precision cooking.

BTW, the best way to cook good Italian sausage for maximum flavor is to sauté it in a stainless steel frying pan using a little water at first. I would NEVER slow cook any kind of sausage in a water bath.

Hope this helps …

I know the most common interpretation for sous vide (directly in void) is under vacuum, but it can be more accurately interpreted as without air.

Yes, sous vide is not always the best way to do things. In our excitement for a new technique it is easily forgotten. Sous vide processing is just another weapon in the kitchen arsenal.

However, I’m inclined to think there is something wrong if you’ve cooked a pair of quality sirloin steaks as you have described and they produced a lot of fluid. ‘A lot’ is a relative term, what one person considers ‘a lot’ another might consider to be ‘a little.’ It would be helpful if you could indicate a quantity. I have cooked similar pieces of meat for the same duration (although admittedly a couple of degrees lower at 129F) and produced almost nothing by way of purge in the cooking bag.

I’d suggest there is something else at play in your methodology that is causing your results rather than your ‘vampire vacuum sealer.’

There may also be a flaw in your searing method. Searing should be done as quickly as possible and as hot as possible. A minute per side would be detrimental to the finish quality of your steak, particularly if it is only 3/4" thick. When searing it is vitally important that the meat surface is dried and free of juice. A wet meat will require the moisture to evaporate before the the surface can sear. While this is happening the heat is continuing to travel through the meat. In the instance of a thin steak (3/4’ is considered on the thin side for sous vide) this can be enough to increase the interior temperature of the steak pushing it from the desired temperature into the overcooked zone.

Air acts as an insulator, which is one of the reasons why the sous vide process works well. The steaks that you cooked in the bag without extracting air probably never got up to the indicated temperature of 131F. The extended searing process would’ve helped to bring them up to the desired temperature.

Have you checked that your Anova is accurately reading the bath temperature?

I’d suggest that you check the accuracy of your water bath. It is possible that your Anova PC requires calibration. The descriptions you have given of the outcomes sound to me like the water bath is achieving temperatures beyond those indicated by the device. There may be other things at play here too, but this would be the best place to start for troubleshooting your results.

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Well, there’s really nothing to “help”, as you’re the only person I’ve ever heard of having these problems using sous vide for the meat products you listed. In fact the reported experiences are pretty uniformly the exact opposite of yours. As Ember says, you’re doing something wrong. Vacuum packing does not dry out steaks, and there’s most certainly no pressure sealing of juices within the meat by the tiny bit of pressure inside a bag full of air.

And…you submerged a cast iron skillet in 131˚ water for >2 hours?


I’m leaning on the sides of the previous commentators, it sounds like something went awry. The weights of your burgers is irrelevant. How thick were they? I’m not sure why you seated then for so long, 3 minutes at searing temperatures will definitely lead to an overcooked burger.
Just an fyi: has you broiled them, the juices would not have been sealed in, this is a myth that has been disprove again and again, yet it still persists.
As for your 3/4 inch sirloin, did you abuse them by searing for 3 minutes as well?
You really give only vague information, so it’s difficult to tell really what exactly went wrong. I’ve been cooking this way (vacuum sealing more often than not) for about 6 years now, and never have I experienced what your describing.
It’s good that you found something that does work, but it really sounds like there was some operator error with your first two go round than there was an issue vacuum dealing the meat.


And…you submerged a cast iron skillet in 131˚ water for >2 hours?

Hehehehe… Medium rare and tender cast iron. :wink: But, I do hope it was carefully dried and treated when it was pulled from the bath. And seared to perfection.


Zoke, i’m just going to address your burger challenge and i will explain how to rid your kitchen of its resident vampire under another posting. I agree with you that burgers are best cooked quickly to preserve moistness and flavour.

It’s been my experience that freezing minced meat without some form of starch binder in the mixture results in the exactly the outcome you describe. Remember all those juices in the SV packages? They are not caused by the vacuum sealing process as you allege or meat packers wouldn’t use it to package their burgers.

Let’s consider the facts and evidence for the burgers you cooked to medium rare.

First, some meat processors add ice to the grinding process to keep the meat cold because the grinding produces heat and discolours the meat. That water does not bind well to the meat and is lost in cooking no matter how it’s done.
Also, the action of mincing meat results in the destruction of meat cells causing some moisture loss.
Then the swelling and shrinking of the meat’s water molecules during the freezing process results in more moisture loss.
The thawing process often adds still more moisture loss if it’s not done very slowly.
Were the burgers thawed in the coldest area of your refrigerator?
Your two-hour SV cook may have contributed more moisture loss as meat cells breakdown in cooking. Try an hour next time.
Then the post-cook sear of 3 minutes further contributed to moisture loss from your cooked burgers. How long do you usually cook a raw 6-oz burger to achieve medium rare doneness?

Pan frying or broiling only evaporates the meat juices destroying visible evidence.

Z, you may want to make your own burgers and discover the substantial difference when you make them for yourself, mostly because you control what goes in them. Start with a 3/4-inch cubed chuck steak, or two, and add a little bacon fat for flavour and mouth-feel along with a few grinds of black pepper and a sprinkle of pink salt, or whatever you have. Then give your mixture 5-10 pulses in a well chilled food processor bowl. The first time you do this you might want to take a three-finger pinch of the meat and fry it in a little skillet for a taste test. That’s what we sausage makers do. You never can tell until you taste it cooked. Adjust seasoning, or ingredients, until you have made it yours. Record everything you do in your kitchen journal. You have one, don’t you? And please don’t freeze them.
Make, cook, and enjoy.

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I honestly don’t understand why you would employ sous vide to cook burgers - three minutes per side on a very hot cast iron skillet or grill, and the burgers are usually perfect. I would never consider burgers to be good candidates for sous vide cooking - you seared them on each side for a minute and a half after they were already cooked, so of course they were dry.

I wouldn’t leave 3/4" steaks in the water bath for more than an hour, but the extra time really shouldn’t have mattered.
I’ve used my vacuum sealer for many different meat cuts in the sous vide bath and have never experienced the problems you have encountered. Scratching my head. Keep trying - it’s worth working for.

Tracy, i agree completely.

No vampire in your kitchen.

I’ve cooked rib eye steaks, strip loin steaks, filet mignon among other things - all sous vide. Steaks were 1 1/2 inches thick and seasoned with salt and pepper then cooked at 135 F for 2 hrs followed by a quick (1- 1.5 min) sear on each side and seared edges. Perfect medium rare, juicy and delicious. I wonder if the burgers were too thin for a 2 hr cook? Also, even fried steaks will have moisture loss but we don’t see it because of evaporation - you might want to check Serious Eats for a discussion of this Kenji Lopez-Alt’s book.

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Reg, I wouldn’t pay any attention to the original poster as he doesn’t understand that air insulates meat from the water’s heat. He also demonstrates that he has no understanding of the basics of thermodynamics involved in SV cooking. Nor can he be bothered to check internal meat temperature to verify the resulting degree of doneness achieved. For him dumb luck creates success. Really?

The steaks were likely near 110F to 115F after the 2 1/2 hour “cook”, that’s why there was little moisture in the bags. The 4-minute grilling was just enough to bring the steaks up to whatever the terminal temperature achieved was.

There’s an easier way. I accomplish similar very satisfying results by putting steaks on a cooling rack set over a sheet pan in an oven set at its lowest temperature (170F in my oven) and pulling them at 90F internal or thereabouts before grilling/searing.

Certainly there’s no need to SV “cook” for 2 1/2 hours to achieve the same outcome. That would have saved him the cost of the bags, but then he would miss all the fun and excitement of the struggle with his cast iron pan. It’s the slow rise in temperature that allows the natural meat enzymes to tenderize before they reach their thermal death point. It’s the equivalent to adding extra aging to your steaks, but much quicker. Try it sometime.

Happy cooking.

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My goal is to eventually precision water bath [PWB] cook six 3" - 4" thick filets mignon with internals half way between medium and medium-rare, and externals with a nice sear on all surfaces. I have a few more experiments to try before I get to that level of commitment and also plan to purchase a remote thermometer with probe and some sous vide sealing tape [carried by the Thermapen folks] to enable continuous remote readings while the meat is in the bath. This will enable immediate removal from the bath just as the desired temperature is reached at the deepest meat position.

I’ve come to the conclusion based on my few initial experiments that it is a total waste of time and effort to use PWB cooking for burgers, salmon, scallops, fillets-o-fish, sausages, and thin steaks and chops. There are faster, easier, and much tastier methods for all of these. This is also consistent with comments made by others ["Why on earth would you … " etc.].

My next experiment will be to determine how much “juicy essence” is removed from the meat by vacuum sealing. So I’ll PWB cook four 1.5" thick NY strip steaks: two vacuum sealed, and two just sealed (using the Foodsaver machine). For the latter two most of the air will be manually pressed out before sealing. I’ve found that even in bags containing insulating air at least one surface of the meat is in contact with the bag at the bottom and thus with the water bath. This one side contact is enough to transfer the water bath heat throughout the piece o meat. It may or may not take longer to do so. Target temperature will be 131˚.

For the snarkier among you I’ve found a heavy stainless steel rack that nicely fits the bottom of my cooking tub from which I can upward ‘hang’ the sealed bags to stay below the water’s surface during the PWB cooking. [Thanks for the suggestion] After cooking I’ll determine the volume and weight of the resultant juices in each bag. My hypothesis is that the vacuum-sealed bags will have substantially more juices in them after PWB cooking, and after searing, these steaks will be less juicy.

FWIW, I had been using my fast Thermapen thermometer and found that the water bath temperatures matched the Anova temperature to within +/- .1˚ …

I make burgers in the sous vide @ 130f for about an hour…Of course it shouldn’t matter about the time if the temperature is correct. Maybe there was a hole in the bag. You could cook piece of horse meat in there and it would come out tender and delicious


Look, experimenting is great, and is a big part of the fun of using new (to you) techniques. But you seem to be under the impression that you’re one of the first people to ever cook meat sous vide. If virtually nobody else is experiencing dried out cuts of meat due to vacuum sealing then that’s what most people would say is a pretty good clue that vacuum sealing doesn’t dry out meat, and that if you’re getting that result then you’re doing something wrong.

[quote=“Zokellib, post:11, topic:9718”]
've come to the conclusion based on my few initial experiments that it is a total waste of time and effort to use PWB cooking for burgers, salmon, scallops, fillets-o-fish, sausages, and thin steaks and chops[/quote]

This is a clear indication that you don’t understand the fundamental principles of SV at all. The fact is that the thinner the steak/chop, the more value SV brings to the table. High heat cooking methods make it nigh impossible to get a correct internal temperature on thin cuts while also getting a good external sear. SV, on the other hand, makes doing so trivially easy…almost fool-proof, even.

Let us, for the sake of clarity here, go back to some very, very basics.

The point of sous vide, whether you wish to take it as under vacuum or without air, is to remove the insulating layer of air from around the product being cooked. This then allows for direct heat transfer from the surrounding water which is kept at a constant temperature by whatever cooking device you desire.

Now. If you think that the vacuum packing of your product is causing moisture loss, @Zokellib, then you can always put your product to be cooked into a Ziploc bag and remove the majority of the air via the submersion method prior to sealing the bag. This will still allow you too cook the meat without the insulating air layer. Sealing with your Foodsaver without pulling a vacuum will not do this and will give you extremely inaccurate, and probably patchy, results.

Another thing that has not been asked… Were the steaks fresh or frozen? A formerly frozen steak will always give up more of its moisture because the freezing process expands moisture within the cells causing the cell walls to rupture. No matter how gentle the cooking process this will mean more moisture will evacuate the cells than with a fresh piece of meat that has never been frozen. The same cell rupturing will actually make it slightly more tender. This is particularly evident in the case of squid.

It is very obvious that Zokellib has never read a word about the Souse-Vide process before ruining all that meat. I have not read all of the comments but I’ll bet that many of them told him that he put the meat in the APC for much too long. I am a relative newby to this process so I follow the directions on the recipes exactly as I feel that the people posting them know what they are talking about. If the temperature selected is correct the only way he/she can come up with the results mentioned is by leaving them in for too long a period of time.
Regarding the juices left in the bags and the not getting all the air removed I will not even comment on those issues!

Sorry, @berge, but the time in the APC isn’t the problem here. The length of cook in sous vide impacts the texture of the meat by giving the fibres time to break down. The longer you cook the more of the collagen turns into gelatin. If you cook long enough you’ll eventually get something that’s so tender as to be mushy although due to the precision of temperature controls it can still be perfectly medium rare.

Thanks Ember.
You are of course right tegarding the time affecting the texture and not the degree of donenes

It is also than probably correct to assume that the person who started this thread has not read any part of the Anova website. Your site gives very clear information regarding both the time and temperature to use when cooking.