Sous Vide vs. Grilled Steak

Conventional Grilled Steak

Conventional Grilled Steak

Sous Vide Steak

Sous Vide Steak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last night, our neighbor, Dr. Vince, invited us down for dinner. “We’re doing a competition,” Dr. Vince told Mike. “Steak two ways.”

Dr. Vince

Now in classic French parlance, this might mean steak with two sauces, or, say one pan-seared and the other grilled. In this case, it was sous vide vs. conventional grilling. For those unfamiliar, sous vide is the latest gastronomic rage in what’s frequently referred to as molecular or modernist cuisine. In a nutshell: food is put into a sealed plastic bag and then cooked in a water bath at a precise temperature, generally one much lower than used in traditional cooking and for a longer period of time. Sous vide is French for “under vacuum” or “without air.”  This is the kind of thing that Dr. Vince does when he’s not working as a medical doctor. For instance, he once invited us over to test two versions of ramen made from different flours. (Ramen made with 00 flour won out.)

Mike's fabulous gratin

Mike’s fabulous gratin, a recipe from CookFearless.com

Dr. Vince borrowed a friend’s spendy sous vide machine. An intellectually curious guy by nature, Dr. Vince followed the finicky directions to the letter. For a fairer comparison, he puts the conventional steak into a sealed bag to marinate, too. The conventional steak was coated with same rub and grilled over a gas grill while the sous vide steak quickly seared over Dr. Vince’s personal toy, a crazy-hot cooker that can generate approximately one million BTUs.

Then, we let them rest for ten minutes and dug in. For the occasion, Mike made this potato gratin from CookFearless, although he substituted in prosciutto for pancetta. The four of us ate nearly the entire pan. Dr. Vince’s wife, Dr. Susan, made an apple pie and a side salad.

Sous Vide up close

The sous vide steak had the classic even cooking throughout that the method is known for. It lost no juice in the cooking process, while the other grilled steak had the traditional trickles of reddish brown liquid seeping from underneath following cooking. The porcini rub was more evident on the sous vide steak. The decision had been made earlier to cook the sous vide steak to just a touch medium; the conventional steak was a perfectly cooked medium-rare.

Steak off

Convention steak left, Sous Vide on right

The conclusion? Generally inconclusive, but in this test, at least, the conventional grilled steak got the best marks. The table wasn’t overwhelmed by the sous vide version, which had the solid, evenly cooked texture that you find in slow-cooked meats, such as smoked brisket or barbecued pork. The conventional steak had more flavor, arguably some of it imparted from the caramelizing factor from the fire. It also had better mouth feel. But, the sous vide steak was cooked to a higher internal temperature. What if it, too, had been cooked medium rare? Or finished on the grill, instead of a crazy-hot iron skillet? Ah, another test, another time.

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4 Comments

Filed under Dinner Parties, Dr. Vince, made from scratch, modernist cuisine

4 responses to “Sous Vide vs. Grilled Steak

  1. Kate

    If it was a real test the yes both should be cooked to the same doneness on the same equipment after the sous vide. But my real comment is … Why can’t we all have neighbours like that!

    • Kathleen Flinn

      Right?! I didn’t get a chance to post the ramen noodle test night. So awesome. I’ll get them up soon.

      Yes, we agreed we need a repeat, this time with both cooked to medium rare. I mean, it’s not that I *want* to it, but I feel that it’s my contribution to science…

  2. Hurrah for the test! But I think your final thoughts are very valid… the experiment doesn’t seem to have been done fairly, with one cooked to medium, and one cooked to medium rare.
    From personal experience, I’ve definitely found that the flavor concentration of meat from sous vide tends to be less than what can be accomplished on a traditional grill, unless you’re using a strong flavored marinade and vacuum sealing it tightly.
    Sous vide’s benefit around steak is the even texture throughout (as you mentioned) allowing for perfectly cooked steak, no matter the thickness.

    • Kathleen Flinn

      I thought it was so interesting to taste and see them side by side. The whole process is interesting, and while I don’t think I’ll personally be investing in a sous vide machine, I can see why there’s so much enthusiasm around it.

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