How to Determine Temperatures
What is your favorite temperature to cook steak to?
These are the links mentioned in the video, the equipment used in this video (all links are probably affiliate links), and links pointing to more information.
The most important thing to know when trying to consistently create amazing food with sous vide is understanding how time and temperature work together to cook your food. In the previous video, we talked about how sous vide times work and now we will look at sous vide temperatures.
As opposed to most traditional cooking methods, sous vided food is cooked at the temperature you want the final food to end up at. This is usually between 120°F and 185°F (48.9°C and 85°C), depending on the food being prepared.
There are a few different categories of food, but in this video I will focus on meat. It applies to beef, lamb and pork, as well as poultry and game meats. Later videos will cover vegetables, infusions, custards, and other foods.
Effects of Sous Vide Temperature on Meat
Viewed from a high-level perspective, as meat is heated the components that make it up change. These changes result in structural transformations that affect the texture, juiciness, and mouthfeel of the meat. The higher the temperature of the heat applied to the meat, the faster these changes occur.
As proteins are heated, they begin to contract. This contraction squeezes moisture out of the meat, which is one reason well-done steaks are so dry.
On the flip side, when collagen is heated, it breaks down, releasing gelatin and resulting in tender meat, which is one reason pot roasts and braises are fall-apart tender. Choosing the right temperature for what you are trying to accomplish is critical to consistently creating amazing food.
Note: The following examples are mainly of beef, but the concepts also hold true for most red meats, pork, and poultry.
Determining Sous Vide Temperatures
More than any other factor, the temperature used in sous vide determines the end result of the food. Different temperatures will produce food with extremely different textures, and understanding which temperatures do what is key.
It’s common to focus on the precision of sous vide machines and get bogged down discussing exact temperatures.
Many people argue if a steak should be cooked at 130°F or 131°F (54.4°C or 55°C) and to me it is just overkill. There is a difference between degrees, but especially when just getting started I find it best to think in terms of ranges of temperature since each range results in very similar food.
An example is comparing a medium-rare steak to a braised pot roast. The steak is moist, bright red, with a little chew to it. The pot roast is brown, dry (except for the wonderful juices in the braise liquid), and is pull-apart tender.
We’ve all had steaks cooked to different temperatures, even ones that we would still consider “medium-rare”, and they are all basically the same type of dish, especially when compared to the pot roast.
The medium-rare range goes from around 130°F to 139°F (54.4°C to 59.4°C) for beef. As long as you set your sous vide machine in that range, you’ll get a great medium-rare meal. Once you’ve tried it a few times you can decide if you prefer 131°F or 132°F, but that’s not critical to getting started successfully.
This personal preference is where a lot of differences in recommended recipe temperatures come from. Some people prefer their steaks a little more done at 135°F (57.2°C) and some people love them at 130°F (54.4°C), but one temperature isn’t “right” for everyone.
You can get more detailed recommendations from my comprehensive sous vide time and temperature pages or learn about heating by thickness.