Which Sous Vide Temperature Should I Use? Chuck Roast 5 Ways

Recently I was lucky enough to speak at the International Sous Vide Association and I gave a talk all about how temperature affects meat.

I covered how temperature affects food safety, then dove into what I call the "Temperature Tentpoles" to help you cook what you want, every time! My presentation got a great response, so I thought I'd share it here. You can watch the video, or read through the transcription below.

Hey there everyone! I'm Jason Logsdon from Amazing Food Made Easy and President of the ISVA!

Today I thought it'd be great to dive a little deeper into how sous vide temperature affects meat. When you see sous vide recipes you will notice that there's a lot of different temperatures used and I wanted to give you some of the reasons behind those temperatures, and what you can expect when cooking at specific ones.

We will start off by talking about temperature and food safety. We will then dive into what I call the "Temperature Tentpoles", which are temperatures you can turn to to get in the ball park of what you are looking to accomplish.

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We will talk more in depth about:

  • 130°F (54°C)
  • 140°F (60°C)
  • 150°F (65°C)
  • 160°F (71°C)
  • 170°F (77°C)

Basically every 10 degrees from a medium-rare steak to a traditional braised or BBQ pulled pork temperature.

What Will We Cover?

This will be a higher-level talk but 5 minutes from now you will have a much better understanding of meat and how it works.

I also like to point out I'm not a food scientist so this is a much more generalized view of what happens at the various temperatures.

If you want to dive into specifics I recommend On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee or Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold.

I like to use these tentpoles because most people can't tell the difference between a few degrees here or there. So remember, if you see someone recommend 130°F for a sous vide steak it's basically the same as recommending 128°F or 132°F for steak. You can tweak to your hearts content, but knowing these will get you in the area you need to be in to achieve specific results.

How Does Heat Affect Meat?

When we are talking about heating meat, there a few things to keep in mind that are affected by the heat.

The first is the proteins in the meat.

If you look at a flank steak you can see the strands of meat, that's what we are talking about here. It's the actual "meat" in the meat.

There is also connective tissue. If you look at the flank steak it's most of the bands of white membranes and stuff between the strands of meat. It's pretty much the tough stuff that holds the meat together.

And finally we have the fat...which can be in the form of marbling, fat caps, or chunks of fat.

Cooking is all about manipulating these.

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What Meat is Made Out Of

In general, the "meat" proteins hold all the juice and liquid of the meat. They are basically like little sponges and the hotter the meat gets, the more juice is squeezed out.

The connective tissue is the chewy, tough stuff...but at higher temperatures some of it can break down and turn into gelatin, which is delicious and adds a luxurious mouthfeel to the food.

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This is why braises taste "juicy" even though a ton of juice is gone from the meat. Also, with no connective tissue the proteins fall apart...picture pot roast or sous vide pulled pork, so they are no longer tough or chewy.

And the fat...well fat is generally flavor. But some fat is fine at lower temperatures and other fats need to be heated and rendered to break them down.

To top it off, different temperatures affect these three components differently and at different speeds.

And that's why cooking can be confusing!

But this is the reason why we don't just grill a chuck steak because none of those connective tissues break down...and it's why we don't braise a filet mignon, because there's no connective tissue so the proteins just dry out for no reason.

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How Sous Vide Temperatures Affects Meat

But now that you know what is happening, we can dive into our tentpoles. We will use a sous vide chuck roast as our example, because it works at all temperatures, and we will cook it for 24 hours.

But this applies to almost all types of meat, including sous vide lamb, sous vide pork, and even most poultry and chicken.

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Chuck Roast at 130°F (54°C)

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We will start at 130°F (54°C). A chuck roast needs to be cooked for 24 to 48 hours at this temperature to be tender and it basically comes out with the texture of a medium-rare steak.

It'll be chewy, have some bite, and hold together like a good steak should.

The proteins are still holding a ton of moisture.

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At this temperature the meat has only squeezed out about 21% of the steak by weight.

Just for reference, if you are using a tender cut then at 2 hours you've lost 10% of the weight in juices, at 12 hours it's up to 15% and at 24 hours you've lost all the juices you will lose at 21%.

Chuck Roast at 140°F (60°C)

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Now we start increasing the temperature to the next tentpole which is 140°F.

This puts us more in the medium range for a steak. Not too much changes in the meat from the medium-rare version, though you are now losing 30% of the weight as juices, which is half again what you lost at 130°F.

That loss of juice is why medium steaks taste so much drier than medium-rare steaks - they have lost a lot more of the juices.

Chuck Roast at 150°F (65°C)

Sous vide baby back ribs 115

Moving up the scale we get into the "well done" range at 150°F, which I know everyone gets all fired up about. But that's normally because we picture a nice filet mignon or a ribeye that comes in overcooked and dry.

But well done can be delicious! My favorite ribs are well done at 150°F. A well done chuck roast at 150°F is like the perfect sous vide pot roast to me.

It's Just as Juicy!

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And from a juiciness perspective, after 24 hours it's just lost 33% of it's juices, almost the same as the 140°F version.

But while the proteins in the meat are still basically the same, the connective tissue and fat is beginning to break down much more quickly. This makes the food much more tender, and the strands of meat start to flake off much more easily.

Many people suggest this starts to happen at 135°F, so below that the fat and connective tissue doesn't break down enough to notice, at least until the meat itself turns to mush.

At 150°F that connective tissue breaks down much faster than the meat tenderizes, so you get that more braise-like texture with the juiciness of a steak. Like I said, I do pot roast, sous vide baby back ribs, chopped pork and other fatty cuts at this temperature and absolutely love them.

Want to Get More From Sous Vide?

Do you worry you're not getting the most out of your sous vide machine?

Quickly level up your sous vide game! Make perfect meats, master searing, and discover the sous vide times and temperatures you need to make everyday food amazing and impress your friends and family with the Sous Vide Quick Start Course!

Chuck Roast at 160°F (71°C)

The next tentpole is 160°F, which seems like another simple jump of 10°F...but technically these tentpoles could be 154°F and 155°F, because between there is when something magical happens...well, more the reverse of magical I guess.

Sous vide brisket cranberry bbq sauce side

This is where the proteins in the meat change drastically. Below 155°F the proteins behave like steaks, and above it they shrivel up and squeeze out more and more liquids. You can see the gaps in the meat here where the protein has pulled back and how much drier it looks.

So at 160°F; we are now losing 37% of the weight in juices. That about a half cup of juices for a 12oz steak.

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Here is a shot of the juices at 130°F for 2 hours and 36 hours, vs the juices at 160°F for only 18 hours and you can drastically see the difference.

You also are really breaking down the connective tissue. Where at 150°F you can pull apart the meat with some effort, at 160°F you may have trouble keeping it together for long enough to sear it. And you can see this in the color and composition of the juices.

Here's another shot from above. Look at the color difference

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Chuck Roast at 170°F (77°C)

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Next up is 170°F, which is generally the highest I cook my meat at, as it's broken down fully and completely shreddable.

It's great for shredded beef, pork rillettes, and a more traditional tasting braise. It's usually more shreddable than what I'm looking for but for certain dishes it can work great.

Visual Guide to Meat Temperatures

Here's a visual guide to the changes in the meat.

We went from this to this... you can see how the size and shape of the meat changes based off how the proteins have changed.

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Here's what the inside of the meat looks like and you can see how the color changes between temperatures, as well as how the texture and size changes.

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So to recap...here's a chuck roast at all the tentpole temperatures

Chuck Roast at 130°F

At 130°F, when cooked for 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.

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Chuck Roast at 170°F

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.

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At the other end of the spectrum we have 170°F.

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 steak, it'll never turn into the 170°F one.

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Chuck Roast at 140°F

Filling in the other times, the 140°F is basically a medium steak. It greatly resembles the 130°F but is a little drier, a little firmer.

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Chuck Roast at 150°F

At 150°F it's more like a medium-well steak...or a perfectly cooked sous vide brisket.

It's actually still pretty juicy, not as much as the 130°F of course, it's lost 50% more liquid now, but still seems more steak-like and it has some structure to it and isn't shreddable. I wish my picture wasn't so bad, because it's delicious!

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Chuck Roast at 160°F

The 160°F is a lot like the 170°F 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.

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As I said, this is a general overview. I know people like Cole Wagoner from Anova are doing things with 180°F or 190°F briskets and other people are experimenting all the time, but as general tentpoles, I call them:

The Perfect Temperature For Your Sous Vide Dish

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  • 130°F (54°C) Medium Rare Steak
  • 140°F (60°C) Medium Steak
  • 150°F (65°C) Perfect Braise
  • 160°F (71°C) Starts to Fall Apart
  • 170°F (77°C) Fully Shreddable

Now when people recommend a certain temperature you will understand what they are trying to accomplish, and if you prefer a different texture how you can change it to meet your own needs!

Until next time, I'm Jason Logsdon!

If you like this you can get more than 85 inspiring recipes to get you on your way to sous vide success. It's all in my best selling book Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide - Get Your Copy Today!

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All tags for this article: Chuck Roast, Sous Vide, Sous Vide Chuck Roast


Jason logsdon headshot 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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