Still tough after many hours of cooking

I’ve read all the stories - “you can cut it with a butter knife”. Yet I’ve tried about a half dozen times to get a tough cut of meat to turn out tender, and really, I’m pretty sure I could have done better just cooking it normally. The last example was a bottom round roast, about 2.5 pounds. As usual, I always consult recipes and as usual the times and temps are all over the map. For this roast I chose 130 F, and cooked it for 30 hours. It was tough and grizzly, a good jaw exercise. It was tasty, due to the seasonings I had used but I’ll throw it away after the first meal with it. Another chuck roast turned out the same, but I onely cooked it for 12 hours. I’ve also tried rib-eye steak and new York strip, at 129 F for 6 hours on the ribeye and 8 hours on the NY strip. The only thing I’ve managed to get tender was a tenderloin, which frankly, would have been tender regardless. I’ve used the quick sear method using avocado oil and a ceramic pan, and have also used a torch, which I didn’t like due to the smell/taste of propane. I’ve been kind of discourage about using my sous vide ever again.

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Hi @Dru,

I think what might be helpful for you when cooking sous vide is to understand why those cook times and temps are “all over the place”! When cooking tough cuts of meat the goal is to break down the collagen in the meat in order to make it tender. The higher the temperature you cook at the faster the collagen will break down. I see you were cooking are very low temps. If you want to have tough cuts come out tender at such a low temperature you will longer cook times. Honestly, I would not have cooked that tough roast of yours at 130 degrees for anything less than 48 hours, and I’d likely have bumped that time up to 72 hours to be certain of tenderness.

You should take a look at some of the older posts in this forums. I always recommend posts by @chatnoir and @Ember to those wanting good advice on sous vide cooking, though you’ll find plenty of good advice posted by others. In your case I’d pay particularly close attention to older posts by @Ember that go into great detail on collagen breakdown - why you want it and how to get it!

I personally use sous vide “recipes” only as guidelines. Knowledge of how whatever I am cooking will be affected by my selected temp and time are really what guide me for each cook.

Good luck @Dru!

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Thank you Mirozen. Perhaps the temperature setting has been where I’ve gone wrong. Using the basic guides, I was under the impression that the temperature would control the degree to which beef would cook, such as whether it would be rare through well-done, and that time alone would control the degree of tenderness. But I did follow the temperature and time suggested at two different sources. Next time, I’ll increase the temperature. Also, I’ll find and read the article about collagen breakdown.

Actually @Dru you weren’t really wrong. Temp does control “doneness”, and time does control “tenderness”. The thing that I think got you is that when you choose a lower temperature you have to couple that with a longer cook time for the tenderness you desire. You can still cook at the lower temps, you just need to increase the time accordingly to get that collagen breakdown for the tenderness you want!

I think that sometimes those recipes assume we have meat that is more tender than we actually may have obtained. Experiment! Find out what YOU like, then keep doing it that way! Another poster here, @chatnoir, always encourages people to log the details of each cook. This will let you reference what you’ve done previously until you find perfection!

I log date, item being cooked, measure of the thickest part of the item, temperature cooked at, length of time cooked, and finally any comments - such as seasoning, how good it turned out, etc.

Good luck, and please post how your next cook goes!

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Hello Dru, I found another thing that can happen Lactobacillus, a good bacteria forms, it happened to me. 130 f for 72hrs, a sirloin tip roast. I was supposed to take out after 48 hrs but left it for another day. Nasty smell, tossed it. I never read about this on anova. Check it out.

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Hi @Bill_Lynch

I’ve haven’t had it happen to me (yet!), but it sounds like you experienced the dreaded Autolysis - “the destruction of cells through the action of their own enzymes”.

@Dru - I found a web page that I think may provide you with answers on pretty much everything we’ve been discussing here! Hopefully this is just what you’re looking for:
https://sousvideresources.com/2016/07/23/sous-vide-temperature-and-time/

FWIW, I’ve now had the opportunity to check out several restaurant kitchens that have precision temperature-controlled water bath [PTCWB] cooking systems installed and they all use them ONLY for boneless chicken breasts … nothing else. The advantages of having a mess o’ chicken breasts ready that are pre-cooked, moist and in a state of suspension are many and important for a restaurant’s work flow. Customer’s demand perfectly cooked and juicy food but do not want to wait a long time for it.

At home I have had the same PTCWB success with boneless chicken and turkey breasts, boneless chicken thighs, and 3” - 4” thick tenderloin steaks. When it comes to searing the meats prior to serving, I have found that a very hot skillet — either stainless steel or iron — provides the best-looking and tastiest sear. Searing over a very hot grill with its very dry heat encourages the formation of a tough, leather-like, skin that is golden and tasty, but also obnoxious to deal with (harder to cut through).

I’ll never use my PTCWB cooker to cook seafood, vegetables or fruits because there are much better ways to cook these that are faster, easier and much tastier.

Thin meats (pork chops, steaks, lamb chops) are best when carefully broiled or pan fried. Large roasts (beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey) roast best and faster in roasters with sealing covers to keep moisture in from added water, wine, and/or added vegetables. At the very end (as indicated by meat thermometer) turning the oven temp up to 500˚ and taking the cover off for just a few minutes will add a bit more browning, but this is usually not necessary.

My favorite kitchen device by far, over the PTCWB cooker or even Instant Pot, is a steam pressure oven because of its versatility in cooking all kinds of things and keeping them moist and juicy. It has a lever that, when pulled down, locks and seals the door to prevent moisture from escaping. Interior steam pressure is controlled by a vent on the top. It’s kind of like an Instant Pot that’s as large as a microwave oven.

Different modern electric/electronically-controlled cooking devices cook some things more effectively and tastier than other things. Rotisserie chickens, as found in most grocery and warehouse stores these days, are slow-roasted, succulent, mouthwateringly beautiful, and very delicious. They baste each other as they roast and their cooking fragrance is enticing.

So we need to use our heads more when it comes to cooking what we’re cooking. One does not need an Instant Pot to make perfect soft- or hard-boiled eggs, or an electronic rice cooker to make perfect fluffy rice.

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The adage applies “when all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail”. :slight_smile:

Me, I don’t use my APC for eggs or veggies - there’s better methods for these.

I AM a big fan of how tender fish is from cooking sous vide (pretty sure that’s what made it so popular with French restaurants in the first place).

I usually cook my beef roasts 48-72 hours at 135F. They’re fall apart tender. I then broil them for 15-25 mins in the oven for some good Maillard reaction on the outside.

Dru check this out

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Hey @Bill_Lynch nice find! A quick scald should be easy and help prevent any issues with Lactobacillus!

Of the two possible “stinky cook” issues of which I’ve heard (Lactobacillus and Autolysis) it’s nice to have a solution for at least one! Thanks!

LIke any type of recipes, there are better and worse sources. I highly recommend following the sous vide instructions from Serious Eats (available on their site or look for Kenji Lopez in the Anova recipe database). They are probably the most authoritative source for recipes and techniques (Cooks Illustrated is in that pantheon, too, but they don’t do much with sous vide, unfortunately).

As an FYI, it’s not recommended to cook under 130 degrees for more than two hours for safety reasons (e.g., what you did with your ribeye and strip above). Nonetheless, those steaks should have been very tender (too tender) after that amount of time. You may want to double verify your cooker temp isn’t off a little with a thermometer.

Hi @JoshK

The original poster (@Dru) was cooking a bottom roast and a chuck roast - not steaks. Much tougher cuts than most steaks. A somewhat long cook at a really low temp might still end with those cuts tough!

I appreciate all the great feedback. The sous vide resources link was very helpful. I copied, reformatted, and printed it to include with my two sous vide recipe books. Despite what several recipes said, I obviously cooked my roasts at too low a temperature, and not nearly long enough. The idea of a giant container of water sitting on my kitchen counter or island for 48-72 hours is not appealing to me, but I may still give it a go just to see what happens. I have yet to try chicken breasts, but based on zokellib’s post, that will be my next attempt. As for keeping a log, I’m just not that kind of person; I don’t have that kind of discipline. I want to be able to buy a reasonable piece of meat, hold it in the air before I submerge it in the bath, and threaten it with the trash can if it doesn’t behave correctly.

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Agreed. My point about recipes was that Serious Eats would give you the right temperature to cook a chuck roast (or whatever cut), so you wouldn’t be cooking at too low a temperature (since I think we all agree that 130F is pretty low for chuck).

In the second part of his comments, he did cook steaks - ribeye and strip. Those should have come out great at 130F after just a couple of hours. So not sure what was going on there, but suspect he may have a temperature issue. Or his expectations about results are off - the meat gets more tender, but not “cut with a butter knife” tender, which would be pretty gross for a steak.

I get it about the water sitting on your counter, but it’s all hands-off time - you just need to set it and forget it. Before you give up on sous vide, let me give you two of my absolutely favorite recipes that really show off how great sous vide cooking can be. The first will give you absolutely perfectly cooked, tender duck breasts. The second will give you some of the best brisket you’ve ever had.


And why do chicken breasts when you can get boneless leg of lamb from Costco for the same price and do this: https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2016/10/sous-vide-leg-of-lamb-mint-cumin-black-mustard-recipe.html

I’ve cooked chuck roasts several times at 135F for ~30 hours and they have been great. I think the problem may be the grade of beef being used. I used US Choice Angus beef. If you use a lower cut like Select there may not be enough fat to cook down properly… It’s my understanding that leaner cuts of beef don’t sous vide well either.

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Dru, one of SV’s significant benefits is that it frees you from attending to your cooks. With long ones, which i frequently do, i set the vessel in a corner of the kitchen floor with an insulated pad beneath. In warm weather my Anova often murmurs along out of the way on the deck by the kitchen door.

Competent cooking requires a substantial degree of discipline to achieve repeatable outcomes. Failures are seldom the food’s fault.

Hi Dru,

I would have to agree with some of these post here, I would have definitely cooked it longer. I would have gone at least 16-18 more hours. I then would have put it on the grill for more flavor. I would do a chuck roast at 32 hours minimum at 134.5 degrees. The rib eye steak was definitely overcooked. I would not have gone longer than 2.5 to 4 hours. Something happens to certain meats when you overcook them. They becomem tougher. This happened to a friend of mind who cooked a tough cut of meat for way too many hours. It got tougher. When that happens, you have to extend the time to further break down the toughness. But be careful, you can get Pate instead of what you want.

Another thing, browse the internet. There are hundreds of thoughts on sous vide. Remember, this is the science of cooking. Sometimes, you have to go in increments, rather than going to extremes. Also experiment with different temperatures. Just keep in mind that there is a place of diminishing returns. Longer doesn’t always yield better tastes. For example, ceretain cuts benefit from lower heat and shorter times for more tenderness.

Wow. This is interesting and makes sense. Will try ASAP!

Hello Dru, you don’t have to put it on the counter or island. During the summer I put mine outside on a table in the shade. Winter’s coming, so I’m likely to lleave it the mud room,as long as you have an electric outlet nearby it’s fine. You’ll just need a platter to bring the bag back to the kitchen.