sous vide for high altitude

Asked by on Tuesday, May 31
I have always been envious of all you techie types who can look at a problem and know how to go about finding the answer. While I'm usually a wizard with words (I'm an editor by trade), math and science completely baffle me. So my question is this. I live in the Rocky Mountains at 6,200 feet. At this elevation, water boils at about 195 degrees. I've read that it's because there is less atmospheric pressure, so the water comes to boiling sooner than at sea level. <br /> <br />Now, part of me wants to believe that 130 degrees is 130 degrees no matter where you live. But I tried my first sous vide cooking experiment yesterday (the beer cooler method described on this site), and even though I had my water at 140 degrees, my meat only got to 120 and was way too rare (and maybe not even safe). So I cooked the meat in my cast iron skillet at a lower temperature to finish the cooking and to give a little color to the outside. It was delish, and I think the texture was better than my usual grilling or pan searing, but I don't think it was a fair test for evaluating the sous vide technique. <br /> <br />Anybody got any ideas about whether I probably just didn't monitor the cooking closely enough or whether I need to make an adjustment for high altitude?

4 Answers to This Question

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My understanding is that the food will cook at the temperature you set the water bath at. If you were cooking it above the boiling point then it would make a difference. Below boiling the water still is the same temperature though. <br /> <br />My guess is the water temperature in the cooler dropped too much during cooking or it wasn't in for long enough. <br /> <br />I hope this helps!
Answered by Jason Logsdon on Wednesday, June 01
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Quite correct that at that altitude the boiling point of water will not affect the cooking time. The boiling point on top of Everest is still around 70C so you'd still be able to SV a steak even at the highest point on the planet. <br /> <br />One thing that might be have a bearing is that due to the reduced atmospheric pressure the vaporisation point of water is reduced. This will lead to increased evaporation and hence may cause the water to cool quicker than you expect, so more regular monitoring would be needed.
Answered by DaveyT on Sunday, June 05
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I've tried something similar to the beer cooler method before. My own sous vide efforts have always emphasized both water circulation and accurate temperature control. I suspect that the combination of the absence of water circulation and less attention to temperature control than is needed for safety and flavor was responsible for less-than-satisfying results. I should note that it will always be useful to sear your meats after cooking sous vide--that is a normal part of the process even when the time and temperature control is perfect.
Answered by Leigh Jones on Monday, June 17
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I also live at 6200 feet in Colorado and I SV all the time. Your thoughts are correct, 130F is 130F no matter were you are. Altitude and boiling points only come into play when you are cooking with "Boiling", that's why a pressure cooker is such a great cooking tool here at 6200 feet. (Needs to be one that can get to 15 lbs)
Answered by John Biswanger on Thursday, May 10
You can also find a lot of sous vide information, as well as over 100 recipes, in our book Beginning Sous Vide which you can get at or as a pdf download.

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