Introduction: Beef Ribs Cooked En Sous Vide - 135 F for 48 Hours

Picture of Beef Ribs Cooked En Sous Vide - 135 F for 48 Hours

These beef ribs were far and away the best ribs I have ever eaten. Not only did we fail to photograph the first batch because we ate them so quickly, they didn't even get plated because we ate them standing up over the counter. For breakfast. The meat is completely tender and fall-off-the-bone melted, while still being medium-rare. Sauces or seasonings would have detracted from the perfect meat flavor.

"Sous vide" is French for "under vacuum" and cooking en sous vide typically refers to vacuum packing ingredients, then cooking them under very strict temperature control. "Precision cooking" might be a more accurate term, but all gastronomical things tend to gravitate toward the French descriptions. When sealed in plastic, the aromatics cannot vaporize so flavors are more intense, and food can be cooked in water baths held at specific temperatures for long periods of time without the water soaking or otherwise changing the texture of the food. Sous vide is a food service technique that has been embraced by the world's best chefs, and with some equipment that is not outrageously expensive, you can duplicate some of their dishes.

My two favorite references for sous vide are Thomas Keller's Under Pressure and A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking by Douglas Baldwin.

Here's the short form of the recipe:
Salt and vacuum pack as many beef ribs as will fit in your water bath (I prefer grass-fed beef).
Cook at 135 F for 48 hours.
Sear with propane torch.
Eat immediately - sharing is optional.

Step 1: Sous Vide Equipment

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Restaurant and food service-level sous vide equipment can be quite expensive. I managed to spend under $200 in addition to equipment I already owned for an at-home sous vide setup. I use:

Sous Vide Magic PID temperature controller purchased from Auber Instruments on Ebay
cheap crock pot1 without electronics (just an on/off switch)
FoodSaver Vac 200 (the link goes to a model that's close enough) Vacuum Sealing Kit (borrowed from helava)
Propane torch

Update: since I purchased my equipment, Sous Vide Supreme has started making an all-in-one unit designed for home use.  The regular 10L unit is $400, and the still-quite-roomy 8.7L Demi is $300 - comparison here.

1 A rice cooker or electric kettle can also work; the variables are size of container, and speed of heating. I usually pre-heat the water, as crock pots heat up VERY slowly. We've got an industrial-sized rice cooker on order. The key is to make sure your heating device doesn't have a brain, as the PID controller works by cycling the power on and off and you can't be resetting your crock pot each time.

Step 2: Salt the Meat

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Salt the meat. I "rain" about a teaspoon of coarse sea salt on each rib section.

Step 3: Vacuum Pack the Meat

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Vacuum seal the meat.

I'm using a "channel-type" vacuum sealer; professional chefs will use a chamber sealer. The primary difference is that a channel sealer has difficulty sealing liquid into the bags (because it tries to suck the liquid out). That doesn't matter for this recipe, but for other sous vide recipes I get around this by freezing the liquid ingredients, then vacuum-packing them as solids.

Step 4: Precision Cook the Meat

Picture of Precision Cook the Meat

Cook in a 135 F water bath for 48 hours. The cooking accomplishes two things: it melts the collagen, making the meat tender, and it kills most pathogens. A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking is a good reference for just how many of the pathogens are killed at what temperature over what time period.

I found my crock pot to work fine for this recipe, and to have good temperature stability and homogeneity. It is, however, a poor choice for short sous vide cooking because of its relatively low power. It cannot respond quickly to fluctuations (say throwing in a pound or two of 40 F meat). If you want to cook a piece of sirloin for 30 minutes at 125 F, the crock pot can be frustrating to use. I've got my eyes peeled for a used large commercial rice cooker...

After two days, take the meat out of the vacuum bag. The small amount liquid is tasty, and due to the melted collagen and gelatin will solidify when it cools. Be sure to reserve it for use in stock or gastrique.

Step 5: Sear the Outside of the Meat

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The meat is now fully cooked, but it won't smell done because it's not seared. Seared meat smells good. There's something deep in our genes that tells us to kill animals, cook them with fire, and eat as much as possible because those high-quality calories will make us more likely to reproduce. Or something really close to that.

Searing temperatures are much higher than cooking temperatures, especially sous vide cooking temperatures. If you bring an entire piece of meat to searing temperatures, it will be overcooked and dry, so you only want to sear the outside. This way you get all those nice Maillard reaction products and seared-meat smells on the surface, and perfectly-cooked meat on the inside.

Here, I'm using a propane torch to sear the outside of the beef ribs. Briefly pan frying them in hot oil, or putting them on a hot grill also works. Note that we're only talking a minute or so - this really is just for surface effects.

Step 6: Immediately Eat

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Eat them standing up! It's ok, they're that good.

Alternatively, serve them as the main dish at a super-fancy dinner party. Either way, they'll probably be the best ribs you've ever tasted. While you can add the sauce of your choice, it really is gilding the lily.

Strip every bit of meat off the bones, and lick your fingers. Save the bones for making stock - I just bag them and toss them in the freezer for later.


agusv (author)2014-03-11

Hi! first I just wanted to thank you for this article, it's great and I learned a lot with it. I made my own "sous vide" machine with these items:
1) a simple Hamilton beach crockpot
2) this PT100:
3) this PID:
4) this SSR:
5) and a few cables and outlets

I still haven't cooked the ribs, I've been just testing the "machine" I made, and the problem I'm having is that when the PID turns off the crockpot at 135 F, it keeps heating up the water (probably b/c of residual heat) up to 137.5 F. Then, when it turns on again at 135F, it keep losing heat down to 134.3 F. The first time I tried the residual heat brought the temperature up to 140F, and I "solved" it by opening the lid of the crockpot a little more.

So, my question is, can I cook the ribs even if the temperature fluctuates a little? If not, do you have any idea on how to fix this? Thank you!

datdarndot. (author)agusv2015-01-05

My own "home-brew" sous vide setup is very much like yours. I'm quite sure your PID has a self-calibrate mode (on mine, I press the "Set; key and the ">" key simultaneously for 3 seconds to initiate auto-calibrate), which is MUCH easier than manually setting the PID parameters. In this mode, the unit will spend up to an hour or more rising to temperature, overshooting the target temp, then turning off the heat element until it drops below target, switching on the heat again, reiteratively overshooting and undershooting progressively less each time. Once this process has completed (the blinking LED will stop blinking", your PID will have learned just how it needs to pulse on/off for your particular setup and it should stay within about ±0.3° F. as long as you have calibrated it with approximately the same volume of water you intend to always use. It should not need further calibration. In the future you can shorten the amount of time it takes your setup to stabilize by filling the crock with water very close to the target temperature .

bwims (author)2014-01-23

Most people who write books on sous-vide (including Baldwin) warn against a "propane flavour" and recommend butane-only torchers, in particular the Japanese Iwatani available from Amazon at $27 or so. You guys are lucky, here in the UK it costs a lot to buy one of these. I've never tried using propane, but since I'm the only one in my family who can taste the chlorine in our water supply and even taste the stainless steel in my Klean Kanteen (I wouldn't use a plastic water bottle!) I wasn't going to risk it. If I can't taste butane, then no one can!

You folk who want a thick burnt crust - the Iwatani will do it.

bobdog (author)2013-07-21

I've been wanting to try sous vide for a while. Right now I cook my steaks very low and slow on the grill. Finishing them with a weed burner works great! It does char veggies a bit too much though. Yes, I really do use a weed burner.

lamachine (author)2011-02-03

One caution on this method (which did work exactly as advertised). This turns just about any cheap, tough cut of meat into something very similar to prime rib. Juicy, perfectly cooked, intensely flavored. All good things for prime rib lovers, but (imho) beef ribs should have a nice crust, and be gnawed off the bone. As Eric notes, this meat literally falls off the bone. Broiling before serving with a nice BBQ sauce helped, but all who ate agreed it lacked that "Ribs" feel. FYI, the juice and meat from the ribs makes an excellent ragu sauce mixed with a tomato base.

canida (author)lamachine2011-02-10

I agree, a blowtorch of this size can't produce enough heat to really finish the outside of the ribs.

You can also finish these on a very hot grill or cast iron pan for true full-flavored meaty crust. Hit the outside with the seasoning of your choice, then sear or grill at VERY high heat just long enough to finish the exterior.

cooldoc (author)canida2011-04-21

I happened to have a small George Foreman grill on my counter when I was doing my first sous vide test and I simply had it ready and hot, threw the stake on it right out of the bag... pressed down... and... Viola'! You can even "sear" it and then turn it 90 degrees and "sear" it again for that cross-hatched look that you normally have to pay $$ for in fancy restaurants. ;-)

Seriously, it is fast and easy, especially if you are serving several steaks at once, like for a large group of guests.

One other thing... there are several good water bath controllers out there for about $150 or so... and in my opinion they are FAR better than the sousvide supreme "appliances"... they have a more specific thermal range and you can use them in anything from a crock pot to a rice cooker! My favorite is the controller made by a great little company in Canada called "sous vide magic"... the guy that created the business is an engineer so he prices his products like one... (i.e. - great prices on solid electronics).

Bubblerich (author)cooldoc2012-04-05

I completely concur with Cooldoc's recommendation of the "Sous Vide Magic" controller.

I use my mother's old electric roaster oven that holds 19 liters of water. The roaster oven, the Sous Vide Magic controller, a cheap aquarium pump and a roaster like this one: It goes for $20 on Amazon and got a 4 1/2 star rating. Your total cost comes in at less than $200 and you have a capacity almost double that of the "appliance."

What's not to like?

jeff-o (author)2009-06-30

I'd be tempted - as you mentioned - to pop the ribs onto a propane grill set to High for this final step.

devineDIY (author)jeff-o2012-03-31

Yep- this works perfectly- just don't forget them!

dustinandrews (author)2010-09-04

Over the last couple of weekends I built a souse vide temperature controller out of an Arduino, a thermocouple, an outlet with a relay (There are Instructables on doing that.) and some various electronics. It cost me about $80 and was a lot of fun to build. Once I get the schematics on the computer, I will put up an instructable.

ewilhelm (author)dustinandrews2010-09-08

Please do post an Instructable!

dustinandrews (author)ewilhelm2010-09-09

In the best tradition of instructables I will show you how to turn $90 worth of electtronics and 40 person hours into a rough version of something you can buy for $120. :) I have some photos, and the schematic is coming along. I have the parts to build another one, so I will take notes and photos as I go to make a good instructable.

Have you considered doing your big souse vide in a stock pot that's on a portable stove heating coil rather than a big rice cooker? You could just hook your PID controller to the burner, put the pot on top, and souse vide away. You wouldn't have good insulation, but you would have plenty of space.

cooldoc (author)dustinandrews2011-04-21

I love the 90-40-120 comment! LOL!

I am sure that you already know this but there are several good water bath controllers out there for about $150 or so... and in my opinion they are FAR better than the sousvide supreme "appliances"... they have a more specific thermal range and you can use them in anything from a crock pot to a rice cooker! My favorite is the controller made by a great little company in Canada called "sous vide magic"... the guy that created the business is an engineer so he prices his products like one... (i.e. - great prices on solid electronics).

dustinandrews (author)cooldoc2011-06-07

I bit late for a reply, but the instructable is here:

I even got the cost down to to about $70.

ewilhelm (author)dustinandrews2010-09-10

I now use a giant rice cooker. You can see it on Twice-Cooked Sous Vide Sea Scallops.

dustinandrews (author)ewilhelm2010-09-17

Done and done.

FrozenStar (author)2009-09-15

Looks awesome! I need to try this but I need to get a vacuum sealer and a temperature controller first :(

cooldoc (author)FrozenStar2011-04-21

FYI, before you buy something expensive... there are several good water bath controllers out there for about $150 or so... and in my opinion they are FAR better than the sousvide supreme "appliances"... they have a more specific thermal range and you can use them in anything from a crock pot to a rice cooker! My favorite is the controller made by a great little company in Canada called "sous vide magic"... the guy that created the business is an engineer so he prices his products like one... (i.e. - great prices on solid electronics).

Ev (author)2009-07-20

I have a question. Can a regular plastic bag work with all the air squeezed out? I have boiled omelettes in Hefty bags for 20 minutes, so they should work in 135f?

ewilhelm (author)Ev2009-07-20

Before I had the vacuum packer, I was experimenting with ziplock bags, and had pretty good success.

lukeyj15 (author)ewilhelm2010-06-25

ziplock bags and straws to suck out the air work well

pjamestx (author)2010-04-22

It looks like an Auber controller, maybe this one.

tsdguy (author)2010-01-30

This controller doesn't seem to be for sale at the eBay listing linked in the article. Can someone recommend a subsitute?

Phoghat (author)2009-07-25

Psst, over here, don't blow my cover. I used to work in a steak house. Ever wonder how they serve 100's of steaks a night, rare, medium well? We used to have them in temperature controlled water baths , temperature corresponding to doneness. when the order was placed, remove corresponding steak, remove from zip lock bag and slap on a 500 degree grill for searing on both sides. Yell Order up! I have to go now, don't try to contact me.

As long as it tastes good, i don't care if the chef kept them pressedbetween his knees.


jasongabrilla (author)2009-07-10

sounds a nice tip for me. but.... i never cook...

evilhelm (author)2009-07-09

WHAT?? Is there a 'good' version of me?? What is this, some kind of joke?

l8nite (author)2009-07-06

yes, i suppose you should cool it before sticking it in plastic but if you were going to cook it right away it wouldn't need to be cold. I know that when cooking a big chunk of roast beast in a crockpot/slowcooker I sear it on high heat or the charcoal grill before cooking, the taste then permeates the whole thing. I would imagine it would do the same thing in the bag, if you then used your torch trick it would recrisp the bark/crust

l8nite (author)2009-07-04

Wouldn't searing the meat before vacpacing work?

ewilhelm (author)l8nite2009-07-06

I've tried that and it works, but getting the seared meat smell fresh right before eating is preferable, in my opinion. Also, it's easier to vacuum bag items that are cold, so if you do sear before bagging, you really should cool the meat back down. Thomas Keller is very specific about only bagging things cold in his book.

bishophicks (author)2009-07-04

I've played around with sous vide a few times. I used a deep saute pan and a kitchen timer with probe thermometer attachment. I plugged the probe's cable into the timer/base and tossed the probe into the water bath. I cooked salmon that I had vacuum sealed with our Foodsaver. I heated the water to the desired temperature (130-135F) and set the stove to low. I regulated the heat by half covering the pan. I set the thermometer to sound the alarm if the temperature went above 136F. I cooked the salmon for 30 minutes and it came out perfect. The next time I cooked salmon I had to "hold it" for an extra 15 minutes while the rest of dinner finished and it was still perfect (because it doesn't go above it's finish temperature). I also made steak once - cooked at about 135-140 for 2 hours, then finished 1 minute per side in a cast iron skillet. It was a relatively cheap cut of meat, but it came out incredibly tender and perfectly cooked. I already owned all the equipment I used. I just wanted to play around with the concept without spending any money. Nothing in my set up would allow you to leave the food unattended for more than 15 minutes - it's not precise at all, but I still got decent results.

westfw (author)2009-07-02

Do any local restaurants cook this way? Sounds like something I'd like to try out "done right" before trying to do it myself. (It also sounds like something a restaurant would charge and arm and a leg for...)

ewilhelm (author)westfw2009-07-02

If you've been to even a moderately fancy restaurant, it's likely you've eaten food cooked en sous vide and not even known it. Here's an Oakland Tribune article with some local restaurants:

robotkid249 (author)2009-07-02

Looks goodd.

troyml (author)2009-06-30

Isn't this sitting within the food "danger zone" of 40-140 F. Therefore potentially harmful?

ewilhelm (author)troyml2009-06-30

You bet the food is sitting in the danger zone! Even more so when I cook sirloin at 122 F for 30 minutes. Read up on how and why this works in either of the references I mention.

Lithium Rain (author)ewilhelm2009-06-30
It was pretty much inevitable that this would be linked...

canida (author)2009-06-30

Just had some of these for breakfast - incredible as usual, and eaten over the counter. :) Where's that industrial-sized cooker?!?

zachninme (author)2009-06-29

Those look amazing.
Interesting technique... are there any other cuts/animals that work well? Too bad it requires (relatively) special equipment... the time doesn't seem that bad if it's cooking on its own. And the searing at the end w/ the torch was clever... it didn't seem to penetrate deep at all.

ewilhelm (author)zachninme2009-06-30

Things that I've tried so far include the juiciest sausage I've ever eaten, perfect-cooked eggs (yolk and white exactly the same soft-cooked texture), extra-rare sirloin and tenderloin, and various glazed vegetables.

I really got into sous vide so that I could better cook my wild boar sausages. They don't have much fat, and tend to dry out if you're not extremely careful when pan frying. Vacuum packing them, cooking at 140-145, then finishing in a hot pan for 1 minute per side yields excellent results.

helava (author)2009-06-29

Hmm... that vacuum sealer looks... familiar. The ribs look delicious. Must give that a shot, once I get a temperature controller...

ewilhelm (author)helava2009-06-30

Yes sir! Now properly noted.

trebuchet03 (author)2009-06-29

Holy Crap! I've always wanted try sous vide! I've been told it's the way to go for foie gras (you know... to prevent ending with a pan full of liquid duck fat) Thanks!

valhallas_end (author)2009-06-29

I must try this as soon as possible! If you can't find a large rice cooker, try looking at industrial (company party catering sized) temp-controlled clam or seafood steamers. You can remove the steaming trays and heat the water evenly.

About This Instructable




Bio: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through ... More »
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