How Does Time and Temperature Affect Juiciness in Sous Vide Chuck Roast
Note: I recently did a presentation for the International Sous Vide Association's Sous Vide Summit (you can purchase recordings from any of the sous vide summits as well). I wanted to share the transcript with you all so you could see some of the results as well!
Hey there, I'm Jason Logsdon from Amazing Food Made Easy and the ISVA! So excited to be here today! Since I can't see you all, please drop a comment and say hi.
Today we are talking all about chuck roasts! So to help with the presentation, I'm going to ask each of you to let me know your recommended time and temperature for chuck roast in the comments! There's no wrong answer.
So this presentation came about from my frustration with the exchanges in my Exploring Sous Vide Facebook group. Someone would ask this question and there would be a wide variety of answers.
Here's some from my group last time....and it kept going. None of the suggestions lined up, and the person asking got really confused, as did some of the commenters.
Let's check out the comments here...
So the answers are all over the place
And there are two reasons why this happens. The first is because there are multiple dishes you can make from these cuts of meat. And the dish you are aiming to create can vastly change which time and temperature you would consider as "right".
And the second reason is many people don't understand how time and temperature interact and affect food in sous vide.
So that's what I wanted to talk about today, and I'll be using 2 experiments to highlight it. One with different times, and 1 with different temperatures. There should be some great stuff in here for newbies, and for people who have been sous viding for a while.
3 Keys to Sous Vide Outcomes
So what are we testing...
I wanted to focus on what I think are the 3 key factors to sous vide. That is texture, tenderness, and juiciness.
And we modify those by changing the time and temperature. So in each experiment, we will be examining how the different times, and different temperatures affect these 3 things.
That all sound good? Like it could give us some helpful information?
And one side note, this is done on chuck roast, but the general concepts apply to all cuts of sous vide beef, and almost all types of meat. Sous vide pork and sous vide lamb behave similarly, as does sous vide chicken and poultry, and even game and exotic meats like elk, venison, and kangaroo. The specifics might shift slightly, but the general concepts are still the same.
Experiment One - Time
The first experiment is all about time. So what are we going to do? We will cook chuck steaks at 130°F (54°C) for 2, 6, 12, 24, and 48 hours. So the first one is basically just heated through, and the last one is cooked 24 times longer than that. This should give us a good idea of the amount of juice that comes out and how the tenderness changes.
To get set up, I cut the chuck roast into 5 equal pieces, about 1" thick and each weigh about 12 ounces, a nice sized steak.
I bagged them separately, unsalted so it wouldn't affect the moisture. Then I cooked them for the indicated time.
At the end of the time, I removed them from bag, drained and measured the liquid, weighed the steak and cut off a piece to test for tenderness.
So let's start with tenderness! What happened during the cook times.
I'll start you off with the 2 hour cook. At that short of a time, it was basically inedible, super chewy and still tough. There's a reason we normally don't grill chuck steaks.
Let's jump to the end then! After 48 hours in the bath any guesses on the tenderness?
Yeah, it was super tender, and you can basically cut it with a fork. It's more tender than I prefer, since I usually like some bite to my steak but it's very good and I would definitely enjoy eating it.
So where between 2 hours and 48 hours does it really start to hit a sweet spot?
Let's look at 6 hours. It's now been cooked 3 times as long as the 2 hour cook.
When I tried it, it's still pretty dang tough. I still wouldn't want to eat it. I don't think you could tell the difference between this and the 2 hour steak if it wasn't side by side.
So doubling that time to 12 hours. It is now finally starting to soften some. Though it's still too tough for my preferences. If a friend gave this to me I'd probably force my way through it, but only if they were a good friend.
Now, 24 hours in. It's finally decent! It is still chewy, with a lot of bite, but I definitely wouldn't send it back into the kitchen. If a friend served this to me, I'd enjoy it!
And this is what people forget, tenderizing meat takes a LONG time. Especially at lower temperatures. This also means that it's much harder to overcook it though.
Why the Range
I always get questioned by new cooks who can't understand why I give such a big range for food. When someone hears "sous vide a chuck roast for 24 to 48 hours" they think I'm just crazy and that I'm bad at writing recipes.
But now hopefully you can start to see why. The tenderness happens over time, and most meat goes from tough to tender to overly tender, but it's not a sudden thing.
When I pick my timing, I picture a bell curve, and I mark the points where I think the meat starts to be tender, and the point where it starts becoming too tender. And that's the range.
We just looked at this, right? At 6 hours, it's too tough for about anyone. At 24 hours, I'd eat that! It's not my personal preference, but not bad at all. At 48 hours, I'd eat that too. It's a little too tender for me but not bad at all.
So the answer to "where in 24 to 48 hours is the RIGHT time", really is, anywhere! If you want it more tender, skew to the longer time, if you like more bite, skew shorter.
If you are cooking a tougher type of cow, like a select grade, or some types of grass fed, skew on the longer side. If it's a more tender type of cow, like a prime grade or American Wagyu, then skew shorter.
But it's not like baking that chicken, if you go 30 minutes longer than you meant to where dinner will be ruined...with sous vide, it'll still turn out great and you probably won't even notice the difference.
So, let's chat juice! Tenderness is just 1 of the 3 criteria we look for. Any guess of how much moisture was lost for the different ones? I'll give you a clue, it increases over time.
So let's start at the extremes.
After 2 hours, which is about the minimum amount of time required to heat this through, we lost just over 2 tablespoons of liquid. By weight, that's 9% of the steak already lost.
So, 2 tablespoons lost to start, what do you think was the result after 48 hours? Any guesses in the comments?
So after 48 hours, we had a total of 5 tablespoons come out, more than twice as much. 20% of the total weight of the steak lost...which sounds like a ton, but this IS cooking after all, and there is always moisture loss. After all, that's what all the smoke and steam comes from in traditional cooking, you just can't see it!
So let's fill in the rest.
At 6 hours we had 3 tablespoons lost.
At 12 hours 3.5 tablespoons
At 24 hours, 5 tablespoons...sorry, what? Yup, basically all the juice was already lost after 24 hours...the next 24 hours caused no juice to come out.
When this result came in, I figured I screwed up. Then in the next experiment I weighed the 130F for 36 hour steak... any guesses what that result was?
Yup, 5 tablespoons. All 3 time points were about the exact same.
So the longer you cook it, up to a point, the more moisture that is lost. So keep that in mind, while you can make a chuck roast as tender as a ribeye, you can't keep all the moisture you will have because you need to cook it so long.
You can see all the differences here. And also pay attention to the color, that's not just my poor lighting. We'll get into that more in the next experiment.
Experiment 2 - Temperature
So experiment 2! Different temperatures!
I prepped the chuck roast the same way as I did in the time test. 5 equal pieces an inch thick and weighing about 12 oz, a nice sized steak.
Again bagged them separately and unsalted. Then I cooked them at 130°F (54.4°C), 140°F (60°C), 150°F (65.6°C), 160°F (71.1°C) and 170°F (76.6°C).
I poured out the juice and measured it and weighed the steaks. I also took some photos so you could see the texture.
OK, let's start with the juice here, since we just finished it up from the other experiment. For reference, here's the juice from the first experiment, and here it is from the second.
As I mentioned, at 130°F (54.4°C) for 36 hours we lost about 5 tablespoons of liquid, or 20% of the weight of the meat.
So what does bumping the temperature by 10 degrees do? We still did the cook for 36 hours. So any guesses?
It costs us another 2 tablespoons, up to 7 total, or 30% of the weight of the meat. That's a 50% increase is juice loss, going from low medium-rare to solid medium.
Going to 150°F (65.6°C), we are now at 8 tablespoons. Not as big of a difference as going from 130°F (54.4°C) to 140°F (60°C) though.
Another 10 degrees and we are at 9 tablespoons.
Almost the exact same at 160°F (71.1°C). Just like with time, there does seem to be a temperature that the juice loss plateaus and you can't squeeze any more out.
We are also officially at the point where measuring in tablespoons seems kind of silly. That's more than half a cup. And it's 37% of the weight of your food. When people talk about not wanting to throw away the purge, there's a reason. You are pouring a third of the money you spent on the meat down the drain. And taste those juices sometime, they have a lot of flavor in them!
I have an article on using the juices on my website at AFMEasy.com/SVJuice, and Father Leo is going to be talking about them today at XX as well. So check those out because you don't want to waste it.
And it's not just the quantity of the juice lost. Look at the colors and the makeup of the juice. At 130°F (54.4°C) it's a deep red, and very thin. At 170°F (76.6°C) it's brown, has fat floating on the top, and is filled with particulate.
Here's another shot highlighting the differences.
So it's not just more juice being pulled out, it's also different things being pulled out.
So if you want to maximize your juices, reduce your cooking time, and reduce your temperature! Within reason of course!
And the final piece of the puzzle is to answer what happened to the meat itself? What is the texture like?
Here's all 5 temperatures, and you can see how drastically the temperature has affected them. These all started out looking basically the same.
At 130°F (54.4°C), after 36 hours the meat is basically a perfect steak. It always reminds me of a ribeye. Nice and medium rare, tender, ready to toss on the grill and sear off before a great meal. This is my preferred steak temperature.
At the other end of the spectrum we have 170°F (76.6°C). Here the meat simply falls apart, even though it was only cooked for 18 hours, half as long. You don't even have a pot roast, it's more of a shredded beef and you're going to have trouble searing it in pretty much any which way you try. I mean, it was hard to take out of the bag, I shook it off with the tongs and the end fell off.
And these two things no longer look like the same cut at all. They aren't the same color or the same texture, and they behave very differently. No matter how long you cook that 130°F (54.4°C) steak, it'll never turn into the 170°F (76.6°C) one.
Filling in the others, the 140°F (60°C) is basically a medium steak. It greatly resembles the 130°F (54.4°C)F but is a little drier, a little firmer.
At 150°F (65.6°C) it's more like a medium-well steak...or a perfectly cooked brisket. It's actually still pretty juicy, not as much as the 130°F (54.4°C) of course, it's lost 50% more liquid than it did, but still seems more steak-like and it has some structure to it and isn't shreddable.
The 160°F (71.1°C) is a lot like the 170°F (76.6°C) version but it holds together a little better. I didn't have to be quite as careful taking it out of the bag, but it is still really easy to shred, very close to a traditional braise.
Here are all 5 pieces. So where do these two types of ranges meet - these steak-like and braise-like textures? Right around 155°F (68.3°C). When I took the CREA class they focused a lot on this border, because it really differentiates two completely different dishes, steak-like and braise-like.
So let's answer our original question..."How long to cook chuck for?"
If you want a steak, then anything below about 145°F (62.8°C) basically comes out as a regular steak, just different donenesses. And it is tender between 24 and 48 hours. I usually go 131°F (55°C), but this range is also where chicken falls for me, at 140°F (60°C), and pork chops or loin, at 140°F (60°C).
If you want something between steak-like and braise-like, but very tender but not falling apart yet, then you want between 145°F (62.8°C) and 154°F (67.8°C). It's the perfect smoked chuck temperature, and I love pot roast here. It's also perfect for BBQ brisket or ribs, chicken or turkey thighs, and "well-done" steaks. I usually go 152°F (66.7°C)F or so.
Then finally if you want shredded beef, then you'll want to be above 155°F (68.3°C). The higher the temperature, the more quickly and more fully it breaks apart. This is also great for pulled pork, shredded chicken, and if you want a more traditional braise texture. I usually do 156°F (68.9°C) or 165°F (73.9°C) depending on how much I want it to break down.
So now you really know the answer to how long to cook chuck...it depends!
Thanks so much, I'm Jason Logsdon!
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This article is by me, Jason Logsdon. I'm an adventurous home cook and professional blogger who loves to try new things, especially when it comes to cooking. I've explored everything from sous vide and whipping siphons to pressure cookers and blow torches; created foams, gels and spheres; made barrel aged cocktails and brewed beer. I have also written 10 cookbooks on modernist cooking and sous vide and I run the AmazingFoodMadeEasy.com website.
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