Sous Vide Thickness Ruler

Thanks for joining our Sous Vide Newsletter. I hope you enjoy it as well as these sous vide thickness rulers. If you have any questions or comments, or suggestions about any articles or topics you'd like us to discuss please let me know. You can download the rulers here:
Download Ruler

How to Use the Sous Vide Thickness Ruler

To use, simply print out the second page.  I prefer printing it onto thick card stock so it's more rigid.  You then just 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. We've testing 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.

Why Cook Sous Vide by Thickness?

There are two ways to cook sous vide, one is based on the thickness of the food and the other is based on the desired tenderness.

Cooking based on thickness is how PolyScience, Baldwin, and Nathan started out as they did research on food safety. Cooking sous vide based on thickness basically tells you the minimum time you can cook a piece of meat to ensure it is safe and comes up to temperature in the middle. It doesn't take into account tenderizing time or any other factors. It's often used by restaurants or home cooks who want to minimize cooking time and are using tender cuts of meat that don't need the tenderization.

Cooking sous vide based on tenderness takes into account how tough a piece of meat is and how long it needs to be cooked in order to make it appealing. So a chuck steak needs to be cooked a lot longer than a filet, even though they are both safe after the same amount of time. As long as the minimum cooking time is met for the temperature used, then it's completely safe to eat.

Both sous vide methods have their uses. Thickness-based is great for very tender cuts cooked by people who need them done in the minimum amount of time. Tenderness-based is best for tougher cuts or people that have a range of time that they are interested in.

There are tenderness based cooking charts both in our sous vide app for iPhone and Android as well as our book Beginning Sous Vide.

A Few Notes on the Times

Times were extrapolated from the descriptions in Baldwin's Practical Guide to Sous Vide and Book, as well as Nathan's tables on eGullet and a few other sources.

We 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 55ºC and 60.5ºC. The sous vide chicken has times for pasteurizing chicken at 57.5ºC, 60.5ºC, 63.5ºC, and 66ºC. The sous vide fish ruler has times for heating fatty fish, and pasteurizing both lean and fatty fish at 55ºC and 60.5ºC.

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 55ºC (131ºF) for more than 4 hours.

This project was inspired by the thickness ruler done by PedroG at the sous vide wiki.