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.
In previous lessons we discussed How to Determine Sous Vide Temperatures and How Sous Vide Times Work, today we are going to tie it all together and discuss how to cook beef and other red meat. I'll cover some of the time and temperatures I recommend for certain kinds of meat and give you the reasoning behind them so you can make your own decisions.
My best-selling Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide also explores these items in much more detail.
Before we get to the time and temperatures, lets discuss what exactly I mean by "Red Meat". Generally, red meat refers to the meat from mammals and it all behaves pretty similarly. The ones I am most familiar with are beef, lamb, venison, and veal but I have also discussed recipes with readers who cook moose, elk, bear, kangaroo, bison, and many others. Usually pork is treated differently than red meat and we will discuss it in a future lesson.
Most red meat behaves similarly but the type of animal, and how it was raised, can lead to a few differences. Just like field-raised grass-fed cows produce meat with different cooking requirements than grain-fed feedlot-raised cows, the amount of exercise the animals get and their diet will be reflected in their meat.
Knowing that the meat generally behaves the same, you can easily apply the following times and temperatures to most types of red meat. For instance, if you have a piece of meat you normally grill to medium rare like a deer tenderloin, you can use a time and temperature for a piece of beef sous vided to medium-rare, then adjust the times as needed.
The same goes for a tough cut of meat, say a moose shoulder, that you want to shred. Just follow the time and temperature for shredded beef and you should come close.
Warning: One concern is pathogens that might be present in wild game. If you are eating wild game, cooked traditionally or with sous vide, you should make yourself aware of the pathogens and what temperatures are needed to kill them as it may differ from beef.
There are lots of things you can do to beef and red meat before you sous vide them. The meat is often portioned out, fat and other tough parts are removed, and the meat is shaped. It's usually then salted or a spice rub is applied. Spices, herb, sauces, and other flavoring agents can also be added to the bag.
Note: I highly recommend looking back through the lesson on What to do Before You Sous Vide Your Food since it goes into more details.
When you are sous viding beef or other red meats there are two main directions you can go. The first is to create a steak-like texture, and the second is to end up with a more pull-apart, braise-like texture. Regardless of the type of meat, the texture you are aiming for will determine the temperature you will use.
Steak-like texture is what you think of when you think of a typical steak. It's usually filet, ribeye, sirloin, flank steak or another tender cut that is traditionally grilled or pan fried.
With sous vide, you can also cook tough cuts at a low temperature for an extended period of time, usually 1 to 2 days, and the result will be steak-like. This is often done with brisket, chuck roast, ribs, top round and other tough cuts.
The temperatures used for steak-like texture are the easiest to determine. Most cooks, or eaters, generally know how they like their steaks, either rare, medium rare, medium or (gulp) well done. Those donenesses correspond to specific ranges of temperature, so you can have an easy starting point.
Warning: Just a reminder that if you drop the temperature below 130°F (54.4°C) you are in the danger zone, not killing any pathogens, and shouldn't cook the steak for more than an hour or two.
If you are unsure of the specific temperature in the ranges above you like your meat cooked, I recommend starting with 125°F (51.6°C) for rare, 131°F (55°C) for medium rare and 140°F (60°C) for medium. You can then adjust the temperature up or down in future cooks to better match your preference.
If you are cooking for people who like their steaks cooked to different temperatures you have a few options. I go into them in more depth in our companion lesson on How to Sous Vide Steaks to Two Different Temperatures.
The second direction you can take red meat is in a more braise-like preparation. This is food that is similar to shredded beef, braised meats, and other "low and slow" preparations. The cuts used for this are tough and generally high in fat and connective tissue, such as chuck roast, shanks, brisket, and many roasts.
As the food cooks at a higher temperature, the connective tissue breaks down, making the meat flaky and shreddable. The higher the temperature you use, and the longer you cook it, will cause the meat to break down more and more.
Most braise-like temperatures range from around 150°F up to 185°F (65.6°C to 85°C). The temperatures I recommend starting with are:
Note: For more information you can read about the effects of sous vide temperature on meat.
Once you've cooked meat to those temperatures you will have a better feel for the texture that results from each one. Then you can tweak the temperature and the time it is cooked to meet your standards.
When you start to determine how long to cook a piece of red meat for, you first need to determine what type it is. There are broadly 2 types of red meat: tender cuts and tough cuts.
Tender cuts are those pieces of meat that just need to be heated through, and maybe pasteurized, before you eat them. This is usually most types of steak, tenderloins, and other cuts you would usually enjoy grilling or pan frying.
In general a piece of meat will be heated through at the following rate:
You can follow the charts on the Sous Vide Cooking Times page for the specific amount of time. Most red meat heats closely enough to each other for the charts to work well across most animals.
Tough cuts of meat require extended cooking times to break down and tenderize the meat. The amount of time will depend greatly on the cut. These times will usually range from 18 hours to 2 days. I have extensive time recommendations in my Sous Vide Time and Temperatures article.
If you are cooking a type of meat that is not covered, like elk or kangaroo, you can generally find a similar cut of beef or lamb and then start with the time recommended for it.
Some cuts do not fall directly into the tough or tender categories. A good example of this is flank steak or sirloin. Both cuts can be just heated through and served, but extended cooking can tenderize them slightly more, resulting in a much more tender steak. Most of these cuts can benefit from a 5 to 10 hour time in the sous vide bath.
To finish red meat I will usually dry it really well, salt it and then sear it. This gives it a much more appealing look and adds a lot of great flavor to it. To sear red meat I usually pan fry it or grill it.
I also often will use a torch. If I'm deep frying something else I'll often use the oil to deep fry the meat as well.
Whatever method you use, you will want to sear it very quickly to prevent it from overcooking any more than is necessary. You can read more about How to Sear After Sous Vide.
Some people also smoke their meat after it has been sous vided, especially for brisket and other barbecued meats.
Here are a few of my favorite sous vide recipes for different types of red meat. My best-selling Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide also has many more recipes for you to explore.
In this lesson we discussed how to sous vide beef and other red meats. We looked at how to break down meat into tough vs tender cuts and decide if you want a steak-like or braise-like texture.
Do you know anyone that is struggling with sous vide and would find this information helpful? Why not do them a favor and send them a link to this Exploring Sous Vide email course or get them a printed version of this course!
Thanks again and happy cooking!
Jason Logsdon, Amazing Food Made Easy