Sous Vide Cooking – What Temperature & For How Long?

So You Think You’re Ready To Sous Vide?

You’ve mastered the barbecue and are a whizz with the steam oven, so now you’ve decided to throw yourself into the exciting world of sous vide cooking.

You’ve bought a fancy immersion circulator and a plastic tub complete with racks so that you can feed the entire family, all at the same time. You’ve even sprung for a vacuum sealer and some tried and tested food-grade plastic bags to go with it. You’ve bagged up a selection of perfectly seasoned steaks and you are finally ready to make your first attempt at cooking sous vide.

Or are you?

Well, before you spend a small fortune on equipment, there are a few things that you should consider first, like exactly what you expect to get from cooking using the sous vide method rather than a different cooking technique. For more on this, you can read more here.

And sadly, all the top of the range equipment in the world won’t help you to get dinner on the table if you don’t know the answer to 2 vital questions:

  1. What temperature do I cook my steak at?
  1. How long do I cook my steak for?

You see, much fuss is made about the science and specialised kit that you need to follow the sous vide method, but the fact of the matter is that:

  • The science is all about cooking items at low, very precise temperatures for longer than usual periods of time.
  • The specialised kit is there purely to make sure that the temperature that you are cooking at is exactly what you want it to be.

The science and the kit are the tools that enable you to turn out restaurant standard sous vide food from your humble home kitchen. However, the temperature and length of cooking time are the magic information that bring the whole thing together into a (hopefully) delicious plate of food.

Whole fish in a vacuum sealer bag on a wooden board, ready for the sous vide machine

Help! What Temperature & For How Long?

There are 3 options for getting to grips with these vital questions:

Trial and Error

You can go for it yourself. Take a guess at a temperature, pop your steak in your sous vide machine and come back and see how it looks after an hour or so.

Clearly, this is far from ideal. 

Fiddling around trying to find the sweet spot for one variable is bad enough, but for 2…?! Don’t forget that the temperature that you cook something at can directly affect how long you cook it for. A chicken breast will be ready far faster if you heat it to 180C than if you only warm it at 120C. And if you don’t get enough heat into it, it will remain raw in the centre, no matter how long you leave it for.

Online Resources

There are a number of websites that offer advice on temperatures and cooking times. Do a quick search on ‘sous vide egg’ and thousands of results will come up, from full-blown recipes to analyses of how variations in temp and time can alter the texture of your egg. 

It’s not surprising that many of the most informed websites are connected to sous vide machine makers. One of the best that I’ve found is ChefSteps.com The people behind ChefSteps are the same group that launched the Joule home sous vide machine back in 2016 and much of the site refers to cooking with their device. 

But this doesn’t mean that you have to own a Joule to make use of their expertise. The finely tuned balance between time and temperature works for any immersion circulator, as long as it is accurate and reliable.

In fact, you can download a sous vide cooking app based on a totally different brand or model to the device you have in your kitchen and use it just as you would if you owned their most expensive piece of equipment. But more on apps later.

Where ChefSteps really knocks the opposition out of the park is their Sous Vide Time and Temperature Guide. It is a very comprehensive chart. It starts with ‘The Basics’ such as a medium rare pork chop (62C/149F for 1 hour, if you’re interested) and goes on to give times and temperatures for a couple of cuts of beef and chicken, fish, potatoes, green vegetables and the ever popular poached egg.

From there, the ChefSteps Guide goes into more detail. There is a table for a variety of cuts of beef with advice on how to cook them from rare through to well done. Chicken, pork, fish, veggies and even fruit get their own summaries. 

Another great feature of this resource is that each chart comes with notes on the bottom which give additional information to help you on your sous vide journey. For example, the main chicken table talks about light and dark meat, but the notes give specific advice for breasts and legs. Very useful.

Here is a link to the ChefSteps Sous Vide Time and Temperature Guide. If you like it, you can actually buy a copy of this chart for your pantry door, which is not a bad idea when you are first starting out.

And if you consider yourself a bit of a home gourmet you might be interested to know that ChefSteps take their website to the next level with their ‘Studio Pass’.  This is a monthly or annual subscription which gives you access to ChefSteps expertise with bells on. There are cooking videos, scientific explanations of exactly what happens in the water bath when you sous vide a chicken thigh and loads more information for a serious cook who wants to take their kitchen skills up a notch. And it isn’t solely limited to sous vide either – microwaves, blenders, slow cookers – nothing escapes the scrutiny of the ChefSteps team. 

But this is all a paid extra. 

The basic site is still well-worth a look. Especially for that easy-to-read ‘Guide!

Steak in a vacuum sealer bag, ready for the sous vide method of cooking with rosemary to the left and potatoes and garlic to the right.

Apps

As I’ve already said, a number of sous vide makers have apps to go with their devices. 

Two of the biggest players in the market, Anova and Joule, have apps to go with their appliances, but they are not alone. Inkbird and a plenty of other manufacturers who have yet to launch in the Australian market also offer help via the app store.

Why mention apps made by a company when you can’t buy it’s products here in Australia? Well, just because you can’t get your hands on their particular sous vide device, doesn’t mean that you can’t use their app. After all, If it’s in your app store, you can download it. And remember that the advice on apps can be used in exactly the same way as you’d use the information in an instruction manual or on a website.

For example, I’ve yet to commit to a Joule sous vide device (largely because, as I’m writing this in 2021, they have yet to launch in Australia), but I’ve had the ChefSteps Joule App on my phone for a while. The app offers a comprehensive introduction to all things sous vide from tips to get you started through to recipes and time and temp suggestions for different cuts of meat and fish. There’s even a link to their FaceBook page so that you can interact with other members of the Joule community and share your culinary victories.

I’ve also popped the Anova app on my phone so that I can compare it with it’s rival and it holds up very well. It has heaps of useful advice and cooking suggestions which are valid no matter which brand of sous vide machine you own.

One of the things that I like about both of these apps is that they are great is you are a visual kind of person. For example, if you want to cook a steak, both apps offer pictures of steaks cooked from rare through to well done along with details of the temperature and time that you need to set your immersion circulator to to get the same result as the photo. It’s a pretty foolproof way to experiment with your new toy and knock out tasty dishes.

And as both are currently free in the App Store, you’ve got nothing to lose by downloading them and giving them a try.

But these 2 are just the tip of the iceberg. If you ever wondered if the sous vide method was just a fad, type it into the search box of the app store and marvel at how many apps come up. Apart from appliance manufacturers, there are apps created by chefs, scientists and enthusiasts covering everything from detailed analyses of cooking temperatures and timings through to recipe indexes and garnish suggestions! Many are free, but some are quite expensive, so it’s worth doing your research and reading a few reviews before you click and pay.

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