Sous vide is a method of cooking that involves vacuum sealing your cut of meat, and cooking it in a water bath at the exact temperature you want the meat to be, for an extended period of time.
The beauty of this is that you could cook a roast for a week, and it wouldn’t be overdone. Not technically anyways – PLEASE DON'T cook your roasts for a week! The down side of sous vide cooking is it typically involves fancy equipment to heat and circulate the water.
Sous vide can perfectly cook even odd shaped roasts that might be difficult to cook right with more traditional methods.
In this instructable, I'm going to show you how to cook sous vide with a few simple appliances.
Step 1: Gather Your Gear
If you want to cook sous vide style, you only need three things. Odds are, you already have two of these items.
- An analog crock pot. By analog, I mean one of the simple ones that just have a knob to select the heat setting. The process we'll show here uses a controller to turn the crock pot on and off, so digital crock pots will NOT work for this method. The size of the crock pot impacts the size of what you can sous vide - don't expect to get a 10 pound roast to fit in there!
[Click to see example of analog crock pot]
- A vacuum sealer. You don't need a fancy sealer. But if you want to cook large roasts, you want one that can seal a big enough bag to handle it.
[Click to see example vacuum sealers]
- A thermostatic controller. Ok, that sounds fancy, but it's really not. It's simply a device you plug your crock pot into. It has a thermometer you put in the crockpot, and it will turn the crock pot on or off to control the temperature of what you are cooking. Not much different than how your thermostat controls the temperature of your house by turning your furnace on and off.
[Click to see an example of a thermostatic controller]
You probably already have a crock pot. And odds are, you have a vacuum sealer. The thermostatic controller I use costs about $30 on amazon. That is WAY cheaper than several hundred dollars for a real sous vide machine - and it will work just as well!
Step 2: Heat Enough Water to Fill Your Crock Pot.
We are going to be filling the crock pot with water in a later step. The crock pot is a great cooking tool, but being a SLOW cooker, it will take a long time to heat tap water up to cooking temperature.
So we'll give it a head start be preheating enough water to fill your crock pot to the temperature you want to cook at.
Get it to about 140 degrees and you should be good.
Step 3: Season and Seal Your Roast.
In the pictures here, I'm actually sous viding a venison roast. I like to do a basic seasoning of coating it in olive oil, then covering with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.
Feel free to use what spices and seasonings you like for whatever meat you are cooking!
Next, vacuum seal it up.
Step 4: Put Everything Together.
Put something in the bottom of the crockpot to keep the meat from getting in direct contact with it. You want the meat to be surrounded by water, top bottom and sides.
I’ll tie the temperature sensor around a tiny bowl in a way that the probe will also be surrounded by water – you don’t want that to contact the crockpot directly either.
Place the bagged meat on this setup.
Step 5: Add the Heated Water to the Crock Pot.
Use a thermometer and get your pot of water to the exact temperature you are shooting for.
If the water got too hot, add some tap water.
Once it’s the right temp, fill the crockpot – or at least make sure your roast is thoroughly covered.
Put the cover on the crock pot. The wire for the temp sensor can make this tricky, so do the best you can to get a good seal.
Step 6: Plug Everything In.
Set the controller based on its instructions. If you use the WillHi, it's basically something like this:
- Plug in the sensor
- Plug the unit in
- Plug the crock pot into the controller.
- Turn your crock pot on High.
- Press the set button
- Pick your temp
- Press set again
What it does, is turn on your device (our crockpot) when the temperature reads 1° below your set temp. Then it will turn your device off once it reads 1° above the set temp.
For this to work, you need a crockpot that has a knob to set the temperature (like this one). Digital crockpots usually reset when they get plugged in. This controller is basically plugging in/unplugging your crockpot to control the temperature, so digital crockpots won’t work.
Let’s talk temperatures for a minute. The cooking temperature will swing within a certain range, so when you first try this pay attention to how your crockpot operates.
Mine swung 4 degrees – I set the Willhi for 138°. When then temp got to 137°, it kicked on. The temperature continued to drop to about 136° before the temp started rising again. Crockpots aren’t exactly precision devices…
When the water hit 139°, it cut off the power. The temperature continued up to 140° before it started dropping – so now I know what my max temp will be – and I consider this the true cooking temperature. 140° is getting to more of a medium/borderline medium rare. Medium rare is usually the target you are shooting for with venison, so if that’s what you are after, know how your crockpot swings and set the thermostat accordingly.
Step 7: Cook As Long As You Need To.
I know. That was vague!
The time is going to vary depending on the type of meat you are cooking, and the thickness.
My venison roast in this example, I cooked for 24 hours. Venison is lean and can be tough. 24 hours gave me a perfect medium rare roast with amazing tenderness.
If you are cooking beef, pork, or chicken, you don't need to cook it nearly that long. There is a great chart at this site that covers sous vide cooking times and temps for various meats: Sous Vide Cooking Chart
If you are concerned about the safety of food cooked sous vide, the USDA has a great chart demonstrating bacteria levels after cooking at various temperatures for various times. In a nutshell, cooking to lower temperatures for longer timeframes is as effective at killing microbes as cooking to higher temperatures for short time frames.
Step 8: Sear and Serve!
Once your meat has cooked for the desired timeframe, it will be at the perfect temperature and tenderness.
However, it will look like boiled or microwaved meat.
To finish it off for serving, sear it in a pan or on the grill to crisp it up or give it a little char.
DON'T cook it too much longer! You don't want to the insides to heat up any more. Get your pan or grill nice and hot, and with a little oil or butter, hit both sides of the meat for just a minute or two.
Once it looks good, you are ready to serve!
If you'd like more info on sous vide cooking venison specifically, check out this article.