Sous Vide vs. Reverse Searing

Sous Vide

Which guarantees the perfect steak

The world around us evolves with a frantic speed. Sometimes even we realize the changes and in a while we lost two or three steps, feeling like natives of Borneo that are suddenly catapulted into the middle of Times Square. This is the logical consequence of the time we are living: digital, hectic, iperstimulated by informations. Banal, but absolutely true. Usually we tend to talk about these things by giving him strongly negative connotation, as an expression of the decay of social relationships but I am convinced that in everything there are always positives and negatives sides. The overall judgment depends on which of these you want to see first.

In the world of cooking on fire, one of the aspects that I rate as definitely positive it is given from the contaminations. The limits of gastronomy are increasingly blurred, there are no more free ports and everything is becaming a one-only enormous border land. Just look around to find out how we are surrounded by ethnic interpretations of national dishes or otherwise, of italianization of dishes and techniques from other countries. Our world from this point of view has media-exploded in the middle of this context and therefore could not be else than one of the its main expressions.

For the uninitiated, or those who like me sometimes lose some of those famous passages, in recent times it has become fashionable among grillers 2.0, the use of Sous Vide for the phase of pre-cooking of steaks, which anticipates that of grilling in the strict sense, in place of Reverse Searing we “old man” we used to do. But methods are equivalent? Which of the two works best and under which point of view? Let’s try.

As usual, however, a clarification of terms is needed.

Pre-cooking

An “evolved” steak cooking method involves a stage prior to that of high temperature direct grilling, during which it is “maintained” at a controlled temperature, generally between 30°C and 50°C for a time of about 1 hour. These conditions will activate certain latent enzymes, called Cathepsins that trigger an action of partial demolition of the fibers making the steak incredibly tender. Moreover this stage get close and a lot, to the temperature at which the Maillard reaction occurs, making the phase of grilling really fast.

Sous Vide

It’s a method of cooking very popular in haute cuisine, which is becoming increasingly widespread in recent years both in restaurants more “proletarian” both with amateurs thanks to the emergence of home devices that make it now truly affordable for everyone. It is essentially a low-temperature cooking for a very long time applied to many types of foods whose effects are in part those seen for the pre-cooking but in general we could say that the softness and juiciness of the meat are its strengths, playing on textures and taste intensities unusual for other cooking methods. Physically it means to let the vacuum food rest in a liquid at a specific fixed temperature and for a given time.

To bring all this to Grilling, as I said, it is recently in vogue carrying out the step of pre-cooking through the Sous Vide. The practitioners of this approach believe that this combines the maximum benefits of low temperature cooking with the wonderful scents, colors and flavors of the grill.

Reverse Searing

It’s one of the cooking approaches that have been brought to the knowledge of the masses Italian grilling a few years ago by Gianfranco Lo Cascio and from then on became a very common and appreciated method. This is called the Finney Method, from the name of its inventor, which reverses the order of the operating procedures typically used in the Steakhouse, which is to follow the stage of grilling with a rest in the oven at holding temperature, waiting for the order of customer, satisfied just in time. In this case the period of stagnation is earlier than grilling, however, extremely fast, with many benefits related to what we have said for the Sous Vide. Hence the name Reverse Searing.

Il Test

It ‘s time to make a judgment, steak in hand, through the comparison of some tests. Let’s start by saying that the test will be to cut steaks at the time by a Standing Rib. The steaks are boneless to have the best possible uniformity of cooking. Indicazioni Sous VideI did not give special importance to the weight, because I think it is far more important the uniformity of thickness that will be exactly two of my fingers each. With all of them we will make a pre-cooking step. The test on the reverse will be based on what I believe to be the best possible condition, a pre-cooking for 35°C for 1 h and then hard grilling. If we talk about Sous Vide instead the question becomes a bit more complicated. Frankly I can not say I’m an expert, so I have to base myself on outside opinions. But I read and hear about it lot of different opinions: some say that pre-cooking without some form of flavoring (usually butter) in vacuum expresses unsatisfactory results, others argue that apart from a slight displacement on the unusual texture of the flesh, simple vacuum pre-cooking is all you serve. In general, however, I see that most of people rely on the temperature level suggested on the usage directions of the app by Anova, the manufacturer of the device we will use for testing. This indicates for a Ribeye Medium Rare cooking, one hour of pre-cooking at 54°C, significantly higher than the one I’m used to when I do the Reverse Searing.

Taglio Bistecche Sous Vide
Taglio Bistecche Sous Vide

Taglio Bistecche Sous Vide
Taglio Bistecche Sous Vide

Salomonically I decide to perform the precooking of 4 ribeye: one as mentioned, in a kettle set at 35°C as I usually do, the other three with Anova. Among these, one at 54°C under simple vacuum, one at 54°C in vacuum with a knob of butter and, finally, always in a simple vacuum at 35°C, just to replicate the same conditions of my usual reverse searing. All of this for one hour. The recipe Anova propose in addition some simple spices such as Salt and Pepper but only as optional, indicating that they’re not considered decisive for the final result. So I decide to apply on all 4 the same treatment that I usually do, which is a member of the Montreal-style seasoning, which gives intensity and depth of flavor to my steaks without being invasive. I said seasoning, not rub. This therefore will not contribute in any way to the formation of bark. Also I decide to accelerate as much as possible the phase of cauterization, so as to minimize the variables and to highlight as much as possible the contribution of the precooking stage. For this purpose, I will use a red-hot cast iron plate, that give me stability, uniformity and power of cauterization. Finally, I will proceed to the test in combination with a light meal, so that hunger does not influence my judgment nor that the feeling of satiety make the possible negative aspects prevail on the positive ones. I’d say it’s time to start.

Reverse Searing Sous Vide
Precottura Sous Vide 35

Cottura Sous Vide 35
Cottura Sous Vide 35

The first phase of the test relates to the pre-cooking at 35°C. I turned on Anova for vacuum steak and stabilized my kettle with the free one in, after which I set a 60-minute countdown. When about 20 minutes was missing I put the iron plate on precooking at the maximum fire power of a Broil King Regal 420. Before to throw the steaks on the plate at the same time I brushed on the surface a little oil and nothing else. Cast iron is hot, a couple of turns and in a moment we are at 55°C at the core, my favorite cooking temperature.

Cottura Reverse Searing
Reverse Searing

Sous Vide 35°C
Sous Vide 35°C

Considerations: both when I removed the steaks by pre-cooking, and when I removed from cooking plate, I did not notice any difference it terms of softness, as in terms of texture. Even the appearance, if I had not marked which one belonged to which technique, I could have easily confused them one with the other. When I cut both, I found the same degree of resistance, practically zero. The real difference was observed in the mouth: I’m sorry for my Anovist friends but here the Reverse wins hands down. The steak in sous vide was certainly very good but lacked the aromatic complexity and intensity of taste of that in Reverse Searing. I tried to be as objective as possible but here it is not a matter of degrees, the taste of the one in Reverse literally explode in your mouth! It is also true that we did not followed the advice of the manufacturer here and we made our own way. Let to Anova the revenge and this time on home turf: precooking at 54°C for both remaining in vacuum steaks: one with and one without butter.

Sous Vide 54°C
Cottura Sous Vide

Cottura Sous Vide 54°C

Same procedure of the first stage: 1 hour countdown as soon as the Anova reached the water temperature, heating plate twenty minutes early, a little oil on the surface and hard grilling. Let’s start by saying that something has changed: a strange texture, definitely tender but at the same time more compact than that of the previous steaks. I didn’t notice large differences between the two. I expected to see the one in vacuum with butter, pour the dressing but it was not absolutely so. As soon as I put the probe in I was already over 57 ° C and I must admit to having had some doubts on how to behave on the grid. So I decided to keep the steaks on the plate the minimum time enough to reach a decent sear without worrying anymore about the internal temperature, which in fact is really occurred very quickly.

Sous Vide 54°C con Burro
Sous Vide 54°C con Burro

Sous Vide 54°C senza Burro
Sous Vide 54°C senza Burro

Considerations: Consistency in part, the aesthetic appearance does not differ much from that of the previous two steaks. When cut, they show an intense and uniform pink color on the whole surface, which is the distinctive visual sign of this kind of cooking. The proof of taste like the time before, is the one that marks the biggest differences. Indeed, the manufacturer was right: both are better than the one in sous vide at 35°C, the taste is definitely richer. Between the two I feel absolutely to agree with those who argue the need of butter. It seems that the dressing was perfectly absorbed by the steak and that it releases in every bite in a very intensive way, effectively giving the steak a significant plus.

Conclusions

In conclusion of the test if I have to make a final judgment, I would say that cooking in sous vide has definitely different characteristics for both consistency and texture and for flavor intensity. I would feel to say that the choice can be a matter of personal taste. As though this second phase has brought the experience of Sous Vide closer to an equal comparison, my final vote goes to Reverse Searing. Perhaps because I’m more accustomed to it but the emotions of the first steak I have not found in any of the followings nor about intensity neither about complexity, without the cooking in sous vide has then made truly differential advantages for what concerns the softness.

And you, have you ever tried them? Which one you prefer?

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2 Comments

  • Sorry, but you didn’t cook the sous vide steak long enough. 1 1/2″ steak should be cooked for 2 hours. Heh…if your fingers are like mine, then your steaks are more likely 2″ thick and need to be cooked for even longer. 🙂

    The guys over at Sansaire have a pretty good thickness chart: https://sansaire.com/cook-steak-sous-vide/

    Call me old school, but I still think cooking in Fahrenheit, so 130F is my perfect medium-rare. 🙂

    Want the best of both worlds? Cook your sous vide steak for 2 hours, then plunge it into an ice bath for 30 minutes (effectively stopping the cook dead in its tracks). You could then sear them by your favourite method (including a blistering hot propane grill) with having minimal fear of ruining that beautiful edge-to-edge medium rare finish.
    You could also, post ice bath either transport them in a cooler for your tailgate party or pop them in the fridge for a couple hours to delay your finishing time.

    • Hi Steve. Many people have actually reported that the title of the post may deceive. In fact, the intention was not to compare the sous vide cooking with the Reverse Searing than to compare a reverse searing made in traditional mode, through a charcoal grill (indirect mode, 30°C), with a more modern one, through sous vide, to see if the traditional cooking could make some benefits to some extent.
      That is why the sous vide cooking is not complete: my intention was just to activate the enzymes typical of reverse searing as I do in the charcoal grill. It’s a mistake I’m aware of and I apologize for the misunderstanding.

      You’re not old school, you just use the unit of measure you’re used to. 130°F is about 54°C, so I fully agree with you, it’s a perfect Medium rare cooking 😉

      I found as very interesting and very useful your suggestion to put a cold break step along the steak cooking process just before proceeding to the final searing. Thank you very much for that. I will go very soon to test it 😉

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