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Steak and sous vide cooking were seemingly made for each other. All the benefits that the sous vide brings to the table work so perfectly with a bone-in ribeye steak. If you like your steaks juicy, there is no better way than sous vide cooking.
Don’t have a sous vide? Get one, but in the meantime, we’ll give you an alternative method to achieve similar results as well. It is very important that you read through the sous vide explanations even if you don’t have one, as it will explain why the other method works the way it does.
Picking the Perfect Steak for the Sous Vide
I really like bone-in ribeyes for sous vide cooking. You may know them as cowboy steaks, tomahawk steaks, prime rib, or rib roasts (they are all pretty much the same cut).
We generally avoid bone-in steaks when using traditional cooking methods because the bone has a higher specific heat than the meat, requiring more cook time. Since we are using our temperature controlled sous vide method, we can get all that great flavor and texture from the bone meat and we won’t risk over cooking our food.
The other major benefit of bone-in steaks is they are cheaper and have more meat on them. We got a USDA Choice 2.72 pound steak, normally $40 for just $13.50! That is $2-3 per pound cheaper than the boneless ones.
Also, when picking steaks you generally want thicker cuts. A thicker cut means more middle. I like my steaks between 1.5 and 2.5 inches tall. If you don’t see any thick cuts, ask the butcher behind the counter, and most stores will custom cut one for you at no charge (our steak was custom cut).
That said, a sous vide is actually really perfect for thin cuts too since there is no chance of overcooking.
What is a Sous Vide?
Sous vide, French for “under vacuum,” is the process of cooking sealed food in a water bath at a controlled temperature slowly. You may have also heard this called precision cooking.
The beauty of the sous vide cooking process is that your food will never exceed the temperature of the water you put it in. That said, it is basically impossible to overcook your food.
How Does Sous Vide Cooking Work?
First, let’s understand the water bath. Every substance has something called specific heat. This roughly translates into how much energy it takes to heat something and how much heat energy that thing will then store.
Aluminium has a low specific heat, which means it heats fast and also loses heat fast. This is why you can touch a sheet of foil moments after it comes out of the oven.
Water, on the other hand, has a really high specific heat, this is why it takes forever to get a pot of water to boil. Also if you turn off the stove, that boiling water will be hot for a long time. Cooking in a water bath works because water is really great at moving and storing heat.
Next, let’s talk about thermodynamics in simple terms. When we cook anything, heat wants to travel from things that have warmth to things that don’t. As a basic visual equation, think of it this way:
Hot pan + cold food going onto that hot pan = hot food
When we think of how heat travels within our food (from the outside to the inside), it is the same process. This is where we get the idea of doneness.
Steak is the perfect illustration of doneness. Cook a steak on a hot grill, in a pan, or in your oven, and you will get varying doneness. This is because the cooking vessel is hotter than you want the steak to be.
For example, if you were grilling a steak at 450°F, the outside of the steak will be at 450°F (that is how you get grill marks). That means your steak will be well done at the outside, to medium-well, to medium, or to wherever you stopped cooking.
That gradient of doneness from brown to pink is because the outside of the steak is hottest, and the inside is the coolest.
The problem with high heat cooking is the heat applied to the outside of the meat is way higher than what you want the inside to be at. By using a water bath set to the temperature you want the inside done at, you can bring the whole steak up to medium rare without over cooking any part of it.
Even if you wanted a well-done steak, this method would ensure no part of your steak is overcooked.
What Doesn’t a Sous Vide Do?
In reading this, you might be thinking that a sous vide equals perfect steaks, and you would be half right. The temperature and doneness is only part of the equation when cooking (especially with meats).
What sous vide cooking doesn’t do is brown. That means no grill marks, and no tasty crust or crunch. Sous vide food may be the perfect temperature, but the taste and texture won’t be there.
Avid readers of our blog will be familiar with the concept of Maillard Browning a.k.a the Maillard Reaction. The Maillard Reaction occurs right around 300°F and is what helps give browned food their distinctive flavors. Since sous vide is only cooking at low temperatures, this process will never happen.
Two Phase Cooking
To get your food to the right texture and overall flavor on your ribeye steak, you’d want to cook your food in two phases:
- Phase 1: In the sous vide to cook the meat all the way through to desired temperature
- Phase 2: In a searing hot pan, broiler, or grill as fast as possible to brown the outside of the steak
We have left this recipe very basic so you can add and subtract to it as you wish. As a general rule of thumb, do not add herbs on the surface of the food in high heat cooking, because they will burn. All spices benefit from additional fat like butter to transfer their flavors because they are mostly oil based. Some of our favorite additions are:
- Thyme in the butter when you sear it: this is the most common prep you will see in videos online
- Rosemary: fairly common during the holidays
- Blackened spices like paprika or cayenne added before the sear
There are very few tools you need in addition to the sous vide for this recipe:
- Sous Vide Precision Cooker (we love ours from Anova)
- 12+ quart tub or large stock pot for water
- Heavy freezer bags
- Something to sear with (skillet, broiler, grill, blow torch)
- 1 bone in rib eye 1.5+ inches thick
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 4 tablespoons butter (2 tablespoons butter for the sous vide 2 tablespoons butter for the sear)
- 8 quarts water
- Set your sous vide to 129°F
- Fill your tub with about 8 quarts of water
- Mix your seasonings together - in our case, salt and pepper
- Season all sides of the ribeye liberally
- Place the steak into a heavy-duty freezer bag
- Place 2 tablespoons butter into the bag (1 tablespoons per side)
- Without letting water into the bag, submerge it into water to force the air out around the steak and seal the bag and set aside
- When your sous vide comes up to temperature, place steak in and cook for at least 1.5 hours
- Remove steak from bag and pat dry with paper towels
- Heat a pan, oven, or grill as hot as it can get
- Add 2 tablespoons butter
- Sear both sides of the steak for 1 minute per side