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Bag of Steak

Discussion in 'Sous Vide Cooking' started by Ravenbrook, May 11, 2019.

  1. Ravenbrook

    Ravenbrook Newbie

    Hello, I bought a few pounds of Steak Tips from my local butcher. I put them in a bag and used my seal a meal to remove the air. The steak is basically in a big lump in the bag. My question is do I need to put the meat into a few bags so that it is not one big lump in a single bag? Or can I leave it the way that it is? I'm thinking I can leave it in one bag, hoping it would cook like a small roast would? It's not nearly that thick probably 2-2 1/2 " thick. I've only used my Sous Vide once on a Wagyu Sirloin last weekend and it turned out perfect, hoping the same for these steak tips.
  2. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member

    You can put numerous pieces of meat in a bag, but it should be in one layer in the bag, so each piece is against both sides of the bag.

    TomKnollRFV and sigmo like this.
  3. sigmo

    sigmo Smoking Fanatic ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    My experience has been that when I vacuum seal with a good vacuum sealer (this may not work for a bag-o-meat that you just immerse to drive out most of the air), the pieces of meat get smashed together so tightly that from a thermal-resistance point of view, it then behaves as a single piece of meat for time calculations.

    But something to keep in mind is that these pieces of meat are then NOT behaving as a single "whole muscle" piece for the purposes of food-safety considerations.

    So as Bear recommends, it's good to spread the chunks out to some degree to form more of a flat plate of meat as opposed to a sphere of meat. That way, the heat will penetrate rapidly enough to assure that pasteurization occurs before the entire thickness is beyond the "danger zone".

    Personally, I've never had a problem with bags of meat chunks.

    When I buy, for example, whole tenderloins, then cut, season, vacuum-seal, and freeze them, I always end up with some trimmings that I then seal into bags of approximately the same weight as we like our steaks. These come out great cooked exactly the same way as we do the whole steaks.

    But I try not to let the thickness of these bags-o-chunks to end up too thick. I want the temperature in the center of the thickest part of the bag to come up to pasteurization temperature quickly enough to assure food safety.

    From what I've read, frozen steaks, up to 1.5" in thickness require (as a good guideline) 1 extra hour of sous vide time. So add that into your pasteurization time-temperature table calculations. We prefer our tenderloins to sous vide at 55°C (131°F). Supposedly, you can cook for a long time at temperatures over 130 without fear of botulism and other anaerobic bacteria problems. To me, they come out perfect at that temperature, anyhow, and the time is extremely forgiving.

    If you're getting a good high vacuum that squeezes the meat together well, the heat penetration will be the same as if you were cooking a solid piece of meat. But do remember that even at the deepest point in your bag-o-meat, you will potentially have non-sterile (contaminated) surfaces. So you must get the entire thickness of your bag-o-meat up to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill the baddies, and have that happen BEFORE 4 hours has elapsed.

    But honestly, unless your bag-o-meat is more than 1.5" thick at its thickest point, you should be OK if cooking at 130°F or above in a properly stirred, well controlled water bath with adequate space between separate bags.

    I tend not to trust the sous vide setups that do not actively stir the water!

    If anyone sees any dangers to what I've said here, PLEASE correct me! I don't want to be spreading any dangerous information here.
  4. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member

    I don't know enough to tell others what is safe & what isn't with SV.
    When I said to keep the pieces in a single layer in the bag, it was because I read that when I started using SV.
    I also read at that time to stay above 130° with meats, so I do all of mine at 131° or above, depending on what cut it is.

    I trust my Sous Vide Supreme completely, and it doesn't stir the water---It keeps it at perfect temps in a different way, without a circulator, and works awesome----Always Plus or Minus less than 0.5°.

  5. chopsaw

    chopsaw Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Always a single layer for me . Even with no circulator the water still moves . The hot and cold change places until it evens out .
    dr k likes this.
  6. dr k

    dr k Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Yes! With my 6 qt. analog round crockpot the Auber chart is right on whether you touch the stoneware walls anywhere through the glass lid handle hole. It's perfect on temp. But its what you can get in 6qts. Yes I can see the convection currents. So all is good for small roasts. I found a $5.00 48qt coleman cooler, waiting if I need a circulator. Not soon. I saw an Ambiano 800 watt $50 circulator at Aldi I should have jumped on before I got the cooler. Crockpot SV is an awesome yogurt maker. The problem is not smoking while using the PID for SV.
    chopsaw likes this.
  7. sigmo

    sigmo Smoking Fanatic ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    This past Christmas, I bought a couple of huge rib roasts and cut enormous rib eye steaks from them. I then seasoned, vac packed, and froze them.

    These were really "Flintstones" size steaks. So I had to find something in which to sous vide them. The local Sears store was going out of business, and happened to have a batch of coolers for really cheap. So I got one of them, and had enough sheer size for the bath.

    But then I got to worrying that with all of that "Ice" that would need to be melted, pehaps the 1200 Watts of my immersion circulator would not be enough power to keep the water at temperature, especially while initially thawing such a massive load (about 12 pounds of frozen meat).

    Luckily, the local Target store just happened to have some smaller 800 Watt immersion circulators on sale for half price. So I got two of those.

    I trimmed three locations around the edges of the cooler to accommodate the three sous vide gadgets I now had. I'd recently rewired my garage to have ample circuits and lots of outlets for operating various power tools, especially at one big workbench. I was able to thus power my triple circulator, 2800 Watt Sous Vide monster!

    I set all three circulators for 131 degrees F, pre heated the beast, and then ran these huge steaks. The main problem was searing them all in a short time once we were ready for service at Christmas dinner.

    But with a huge cast iron skillet on the biggest burner of our stove we got it done. Everyone absolutely loved these ridiculously large steaks, and even my son, who is an adamant smoker and sous vide nut said it was the best steak he's ever had! For me, that was the best compliment I've ever gotten on a meal.

    In the end, I think I could have gotten away with less power. But I had scoured the internet, using such sites as "Engineering Toolbox" and others to try to figure out how much of a thermal load that mass of "ice" would present to the bath, and I hadn't found the definitive answer or formula to calculate that.

    I wanted to be better safe than sorry for an important occasion.

    I would like to devise an experiment where I can measure the actual average power consumption of one or more Sous Vide circulators with known "frozen meat loads" to try to ascertain some approximate "constants" that would let me compute the power needed to properly heat a bath to various temperatures with various frozen meat loads.

    There are some good formulas for the thermal resistances of different types of meat, but I found nothing that would answer my immediate question at that time. Thus the 2800 Watt monster bath.

    I may try contacting the one expert on the subject that I found to see if he could help compute some tables or create some formulas people could use to answer these questions.

    Maybe you guys have some better info than what I found.

    I'll try to find a picture of "The Beast" in action. I think I snapped at least one. But man o man, those were some amazing bronto-steaks!
  8. dr k

    dr k Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Yup me to. I usually get the whole seven bone prime rib with ribs intact to cut off myself for Dino ribs. I steal an inch of meat from the eye. For a three and four bone rack. The cap meat usually over cooks before the eye and separates at the ribbon of fat so I remove the cap meat to cook separately or roll and tie to cut pinwheel cap steaks after removing the silver skin. I pitch the intermuscular fat between the eye/cap since this cut is loaded intramuscular marbling fat. I cut the eye steaks very thick which more resembles filet steaks. Now no chunks of fat in the middle of a ribeye.
    sigmo likes this.
  9. sigmo

    sigmo Smoking Fanatic ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    I like that! I too, like to cut steaks off of full loins or roasts, etc., and I do usually trim them before bagging because I'd rather do all of the "work" at once, and then have a nicer experience when eating. I'm going to study your method and see if I need to modify what I've done in the past to make things even better!

    And I recently posted the same thing you said, about not being able to run a smoker at the same time as the Sous Vide as being a good reason to pick up one of these immersion circulators. I wouldn't want to be prevented from doing both at the same time! ;)

    I did find the one and only photo I got of the cooler-O-Sous-Vide in operation:


    The markings on the steaks that I can read show that the "as bagged" weights were 1.96 lbs, 1.82 lbs, etc.

    They really were a treat! All of that power was probably overkill. But I just wanted to be very sure it went well for Christmas dinner. The two smaller 800 Watt units are in the back and my original old-standby 1200 Watt unit is in the foreground.

    The two small ones read in °F, while by default the big one reads in °C, so the two small ones are set to 131°F, while the big one is set to my usual 55°C. I was impressed with how well all three tracked each other and shared the load.

    I did occasionally move the steaks around to make sure they all got equal treatment, but again, that was probably not necessary either. The stirring was pretty effective!

    Looking at that photo, I see that I probably could have trimmed these a lot better, so I will have to look at your method and use that when I try this again. I trim the tenderloins that I cut into steaks carefully. I don't like having much fat, and no gristle when I'm eating a tenderloin steak.

    By buying full loins or roasts, the price per pound is a lot lower than buying already cut steaks, and I can trim and cut them the way we like them.

    I'm dead serious that my wife and I are so spoiled by our tenderloins that we can't eat steak of any kind when we go out to eat without being disappointed. I guess that's a good thing, though!

    And it's so easy to just drag a frozen bagged steak out of the freezer and toss it into the sous vide, and then, when we're ready to eat just pull it out, dry it off a bit, sear it, and serve. The actual "cooking" time to prepare a meal this way is about the same as microwaving a frozen dinner, and the cost for a fantastic tenderloin is often less than going out to McDonalds or something like that! We often comment about how guilty we feel! ;)
  10. dr k

    dr k Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    The mini roasts from the eye of ribeye are individually vac sealed so one is more than enough for the lady and myself. I just got in two 11"×50' of Ultra vac rolls from Lisa, one of our SMF sponsors with her company vacuumsealersunlimited.com. there's a featured thread with a 15% off sm519 code for May. They are $12.99ea. Stronger/thicker than Foodsaver material at a fraction of the price. I've got several years with these two rols before needing more. The 80' I got in 2014 isn't finished up yet. I have 20' to go. The Ultra is better and less expensive than the order I placed in 2014. They have different sizes/combinations of bags and rolls and case pricing. Anyone with a vac sealers ought to check this site.
  11. sigmo

    sigmo Smoking Fanatic ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    I'd probably get more of the bags to start. Our vac sealer protects itself from overheating its heat-sealing element by limiting how quickly you can make one seal after another. This really slows me down when I'm trying to make bags out of the rolls.

    So short of buying a much higher-end vac sealer, I've been using the pre-made bags. So that's probably what I'd go for in a next order.

    I usually cut the tenderloins into approximately 8 ounce steaks. But even those are enough that with a few sides, one of them feeds my wife and I.

    That's not to say that I won't scarf down a huge steak every once in a while, though!

    I'll definitely check out vacuumsealersunlimited.com!

    I love the idea of supporting a business that supports our forum here.
    dr k likes this.
  12. chopsaw

    chopsaw Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    LOL ,,, I run a bigger cooler with one Anova 800 watt .
  13. sigmo

    sigmo Smoking Fanatic ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Here's the thing:

    It's not really the volume of water that I was worried about.

    Assuming you have no food in the cooler, and also assuming that your cooler is well-insulated, the heat loss from the top surface of the water will be the only significant "load" the system will experience.

    The surface evaporation (latent heat of vaporization) can be significant, of course, and even without that, you'd have some heat loss simply because that top surface isn't insulated. So people often cover their sous vide containers just to lessen that evaporation and resultant heat loss.

    But if we ignore that for a moment, the only thing a larger volume of water does is slow down the rate of rise in temperature of the water (for a given power input). Once the bath is up to temperature, if we assume perfect insulation and no heat loss from the top surface, the heater doesn't need to work at all.

    So you could theoretically use a low-power heater for an enormous volume of water if you don't mind waiting a long time for that water to come up to temperature before you start cooking.

    But the problem I'm talking about, and what I faced with my Christmas dinner, was that I was going to load 12 pounds of frozen meat into the bath. So the question was:

    Will 1200 Watts be enough to maintain the water bath temperature at 131°F accurately for the time immediately after I plunge 12 pounds of frozen beef into that bath?

    If this was just 12 pounds of ice cubes, all free and separate, the answer may well have been no! The water temperature would likely go down to near freezing right away, and then need to be brought back up to 131 before I could start timing the cooking.

    But of course, the meat has a certain thermal resistance that is going to be much greater than free-floating, and melting ice. And the meat isn't pure water, so its "specific heat" is not going to be the same as that of water. And as the surface of the meat thaws, its thermal transfer characteristics change versus the solidly-frozen meat. And then the thickness of the thawed meat changes throughout the thawing process, etc.

    My reasoning was that at the very instant you plunge the frozen steaks into the 131° water, it will behave more or less like pure ice, in the shape of those steaks, with the additional small insulation value of the vacuum packing bags.

    I assume that as the outer surfaces of the steaks thaw, the thermal resistance goes up, and the heat load on the bath decreases.

    But how fast? And what would the thermal load be initially?

    These are far from trivial engineering questions. Do I know the thermal resistance of frozen beef? Do I know the specific heats of both frozen and thawed beef? What calculus would one use to compute the variation in thermal resistance versus time as that particular temperature of water deposits its heat through the bag, and through the ever-growing "thawed shell thickness" of beef and into the frozen inner part?

    Beats me!

    But the point is: Other than the surface heat loss, it doesn't matter how large your bath is, as long as you are willing to wait for it to come up to temperature.

    And this is a simple calculation because we know the volume of water (by measuring the inside dimensions of the cooler).

    And we know that 1 BTU is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

    And, we look it up, and find that: 1 W = 3.412142 Btu per hour.

    So 800 Watts = 2730 BTU per hour. And that's 45.5 BTU per minute.

    So your 800 Watt immersion circulator can raise 1 pound of water 45.5 degrees F Per minute.

    It's probably easiest to figure your water volume in cubic inches because you've got an inch-graduated tape measure laying around. Measure the width and depth, and then the height to the waterline from the bottom and multiply those three numbers (of inches) and you'll get the volume in cubic inches.

    Some Gogle-Fu (or in my case DuckDuckGo-Fu) finds that 1 cubic inch of water has a mass of: 0.0361 pounds.

    Multiply your cooler's cubic inches by 0.0361 pounds, and you have the number of pounds of water you'll need to be raising to your cooking temperature.

    Now, take the starting temperature of the water and subtract that from the desired cooking temperature, and you can then figure how long your 800 Watt heater will take to get that water up to cooking temperature.


    But you can see that calculating the heat load created by some bags of frozen steak is an entirely different, and far more complex problem. Far beyond my current knowledge.

    This is one of those problems that may be better determined by trial and error with careful measurements.

    And I will say that from my research, pork, chicken, beef, etc., all have different thermal resistances, and those thermal resistances are different when the meat is frozen than when it is thawed. Man, this starts to make a guy's head hurt!

    Take your cooler, get it up to temperature, and then toss in 12 pounds of ice. Then measure the water temperature at various points in the cooler every five minutes for a while. Let me know what you get.

    Now, freeze six sous vide vacuum bags full of water, each weighing 2 pounds, and trying to keep them the shape of a 2" thick steak. Try the experiment again with that and also plot the temperatures every five minutes and see what happens.

    Now, try it again with six frozen 2 pound beef steaks in their vacuum bags and plot the temperatures with that "load".

    Now, try it again with twelve 1 pound beef steaks (so they're thinner and present more surface area to the bath).

    Now try it again, but with chicken.

    Try it again with pork.

    I'd love to see the temperature versus time graphs for all of those cases.

    Now, try all of that again, but with a 1200 Watt circulator.

    Again with two 800s and a 1200, and on and on.

    I'll bet the results are non-linear with respect to the power because more rapid thawing changes the thickness of the thawed-layer of the meat faster, resulting in some odd curves.

    Man, I don't even want to think about it all too hard!

    A trip to Target on Christmas eve day and about $80 got me two of the same circulators as you use, and I had my trusty old 1200 Watter, so I blasted it with extreme overkill. To quote Jeremy Clarkson: "More Power!"

    But you know what? Your single 800 watt unit may well have worked just as well for me! :emoji_blush: The thermal resistance of the meat and bag may well be fairly high such that even with a lot of frozen meat in the bath, the load on the circulator's heater might not be all that much.

    I just don't know! But I'd like to know. I really would.

    But to make sure Christmas dinner was ready on time, perfectly cooked, and safe. Priceless!

    And now I've got the super power sous vide rig at the ready any time I may need it (or be paranoid and just think I need it)! :emoji_wink:
    Last edited: May 17, 2019
  14. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member

    A Dumb Bear would have just thawed everything out first.