This article is a part of my free Exploring Sous Vide email course. If you want to discover how to consistently create amazing food using sous vide then my course is exactly what you're looking for. For a printed version of this course, you can purchase my Exploring Sous Vide cookbook.
When using sous vide to cook by the thickness of the food, it can be hard to remember how long meats with different thickness take to heat through and pasteurize. To help you out, I've created a sous vide thickness ruler that you can use to quickly see how long you need to cook the food for. You can download the ruler (or in Fahrenheit) and either print it out or just reference it when you are cooking. My sous vide thickness ruler will show you how long to sous vide specific cuts of food and help you be confident in your cook times.
Just a reminder that the times shown on the ruler are only how long a piece of meat takes to come up to temperature or to become pastuerized, it doesn't take tenderization into account. So a chuck steak cooked for 2 hours will still be real tough. I go into this in more detail in an upcoming lesson but in the meantime you can see the tenderness-based cooking charts in my best selling book Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide or view some of them online in my comprehensive sous vide times and temperatures section of the site.
To use, simply print out the second page. I prefer printing it onto thick card stock so it's more rigid. You then cut out the cards by following the dotted lines. Try to make the bottom as level as possible to ensure accurate measurements. I like to align a ruler along the line and draw a knife along it, just make sure you do it on a cutting board!
I also recommend measuring the lines to make sure they are still correct. I've tested the printing out of several programs, on PC and Macs, and on various printers and it normally comes out properly but double checking never hurts. Sometimes a program will try to scale the image, which will result in distorted measurements.
Once it is cut out, simply hold the card up to the thickest point of the food you are preparing to cook and follow the time listed in the column you want.
For example, if you wanted to heat a piece of beef tenderloin you would hold the Beef card up to the beef. If it is 35mm thick you would then cook it for an hour and forty minutes if it was in the refrigerator or two hours if it was frozen. Remember, these are the minimum times needed, you can cook it for an hour or two longer if you aren't in a hurry.
I provide 3 different rulers with times for sous vide beef, chicken, and fish. The sous vide beef ruler has times for heating frozen and thawed beef and pasteurizing it at both 55°C and 60.5°C. The sous vide chicken has times for pasteurizing chicken at 57.5°C, 60.5°C, 63.5°C, and 66°C. The sous vide fish ruler has times for heating fatty fish, and pasteurizing both lean and fatty fish at 55°C and 60.5°C.
The times are also approximate since there are many factors that go into how quickly food is heated. The density of the food matters a lot, which is one reason beef heats differently than chicken. To a lesser degree where you get your beef from will also affect the cooking time, and whether the beef was factory raised, farm raised, or grass-fed. Because of this, I normally don't try to pull it out at the exact minute it is done unless I'm in a real rush.
The times shown are also minimum cooking times and food can be, and sometimes needs to be, left in for longer periods in order to fully tenderize the meat. If you are cooking food longer, remember that food should not be cooked at temperatures less than 55°C (131°F) for more than 4 hours.