Why Sous Vide is Not for Me

Several months ago, we began an exploration into the world of sous vide, a cooking technique that involves cooking foods at a low temperature in a vacuum-sealed bag. Our first dinner cooked this way was chronicled in This meal brought to you by sous vide. I’d promised to write more about our sous vide meals, but we quickly figured that this method of cooking wasn’t for us. For some explanation as to why, please welcome the first post written by Jan.
~Anna

When I started this trip into one form of molecular gastronomy, I was quite exited even though I had my reservations. I did lots of research and did not find much information, which I found rather strange. Of course equipment for cooking food sous vide is not cheap. Unless you’re going to build your own, you’re going to have to spend at least 500 dollars, for something that just keeps water at a constant temperature. So of course I did more research and bought a vacuum sealer with bags that worked for sous vide food, and a 14L lab-grade water bath.

When I finally received all my equipment I was so happy, a new toy and a new project. I ran out to the store and bought two Choice New York steaks. I set my temp, seasoned and sealed the meat and threw it into my hot water bath. Then I waited and took them out after 1.5 hours, but I was surprised at what color they had turned, since they no longer looked appealing. I pan-seared the steaks on both sides and served them for dinner. My wife and I both cut into our perfectly cooked steaks but were disappointed. They where missing something, they where missing Umami.

I was disappointed, but I kept on experimenting. A week later I decided to re-do the experiment this time I used more seasoning and finished them off on a hot grill. They did come out better and more flavorful this time, but the problem was that I could have just grilled them and gotten almost the same results, in 15 minutes instead of 1.5 hours. Not only would I have saved time, but I would have saved lots of cash not buying expensive equipment. It also seemed that meats cooked this way need something more. This dinner was successful because I reserved some of the juice left in the vacuum bag and reduced it into a sauce to serve on top.

Another thing I always read about online was how great 48 or even 72 hour sous vide short ribs where.  So I went the store and picked up some short ribs, seasoned them and vacuumed sealed them and waited to let them do their magic in the water bath. After 24 hours they started to smell like something was rotting, so I just threw them out. I never got to taste the elusive, delicious sous vide short ribs. Since then I have experimented with cooked sausage, vegetables and chicken.

Short ribs just into the water bath – They didn’t make it the full 72 hours

The sous vide process only brings up your product to a desired temperature, so you can have perfectly heated food. I would have said “cooked” but most times sous vide is not the last step in actually preparing the food. My whole impression is that high end restaurants use this technique not only because it sounds fancy, but because it saves them money and time. Essentially you will never overcook because you hold you product at a certain temperature without negative effects.

So far, the best thing to come out of this experiment has been the vacuum sealer. I’ve begun using it for other purposes, for example, when making a large batch of meatballs, freezing them for easy use later.

Best thing to come out of this project: vacuum sealer

The water bath also worked well for our Oktoberfest-themed party last month, when I had to keep dozens of frankfurters warm and ready to eat.

So I am still tinkering with sous vide, hoping that will change my mind about it. But so far I would say: save your time and money, unless you want a project. My advice is to buy high quality ingredients and have fun with cooking food. And with the money you saved not buying an immersion circulator, go buy yourself a nice gas grill or barbecue.

7 thoughts on “Why Sous Vide is Not for Me

  1. You said, “After 24 hours they started to smell like something was rotting…”

    If they were in vacuum bags like the picture shows, where was the smell coming from? Did you open the bags one-third of the way through cooking?

    Did you season them in any way prior to vacuum bagging?

    • That was the same thing which I wondered. I have a suspicion that the plastic that the bags are of might be semi permeable, and some gases may escape. Another thought that I had was that after a prolonged period of time in a hot environment, the bags themselves might begin to deteriorate and this could lead to greater permeability.
      The meat was seasoned with salt and pepper, I was using the sous vide brand bags, and the water bath was set to 135 degrees F. Maybe the sous vide brand bags are not really that good for cooking over log periods of time.

  2. This is the first blog that refers to the same rotting smell I get from sous vide beef. I cooked Chuck tender at 122F for 48 hours hoping to get a more tender texture with from this tougher cut. No luck, the beef smelled bad and was still tough (yes i was brave enough to try after searing it..). Next time, I’ll try blowtorching the beef first to kill any bacteria on the surface…

    By the way, I also notice that there are food odours even through the bag, my suspicion is that food oils have adhered to the outside of the bag….

  3. I get the rotting or more like feces smell after 24 hours, happened with a pork shoulder, baby back ribs and short ribs. I blow torched the piss out em and still get that smell. I’ve read that it is some cheese bacteria that exists in the air however, the meat tastes good, I just wouldn’t serve it to anyone

  4. I recently start cooking the SV way but didn’t start off with a choice New York steak, I purchased a $2.50 boneless chuck steak. I SV’d at 140 for 4 hours, then pan seared in cast iron with a German butter. The results were better than any top shelf steak I’ve had previously. Don’t give up before the miracle happens.

  5. OK, here’s problem #1: NEVER cook sous vide at temperatures below 127 F!!! You’ve just made an incubator for harmful bacteria, and can kill yourselves that way. 130F yields a great R-MR steak, one hour for tender cuts (rib eye, filet), 2-3 for Strip or sirloin, up to 72 hours for short ribs or beef ribs. I never ever get a smell, and plenty of umami flavor, more so in the tougher cuts, due to the breakdown of the tougher connective tissues. Great mouth feel and texture too. I try to finish it off in hot cast iron with goose fat or lard (not the nasty packaged stuff from groceries, that’s like eating plastic).

    You are also not using the right bags if you can smell anything through them. I use standard Food Saver bags, or even just Freezer grade ziploc bags, and never smell anything through them. I use minimal additives in the bags, usually a little butter or olive oil, salt & pepper, maybe a crushed garlic clove, and a sprig of herbs (only a little, it intensifies in the sous vide).

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