Testing out the Beer Cooler Sous Vide Hack

I've been wanting to try to replicate J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's now-famous Beer Cooker Sous Vide Hack for over a year now, and I finally had an opportunity last night. The results were impressive, if you consider that all it took was hot water from my sink (and a lot of time) to cook a steak.

The first step is to faux-vacuum seal the meat in a sealable plastic bag, but I cheated a little by using a pre-sealed cut of meat. Marci happened to acquire a few beautiful steaks a short while back, courtesy of DeBragga and Spitler, each individually wrapped and sealed for easy storage. All I had to do for step one was take the guy out of the freezer to defrost for a day.

I yanked a small cooler out from one of the piles in the hallway (we have a separate storage unit! How do we still have way too much stuff for a New York City apartment?!), gave the inside a good scrub, and was ready to go. I cranked the kitchen faucet all the way, as hot as it would go, and began to fill the cooler. I expected to find that it was still too cool for sous viding, but much to my surprise it registered a solid 130°F. Still, to be safe, I put the kettle on just in case.

After that, what's really left? A whole lot of waiting, that's what. I wedged the steak down at the bottom of the cooler, dropped a ez-read thermometer in there, set the timer, and sat down to watch some of the NBA playoffs.


Every fifteen minutes or so I'd come back into the kitchen to check the temperature and pour in a little boiling water when it dropped by a few degrees. The "Little Playmate" may be a beautiful piece of 1980's industrial design, but she isn't that efficient at maintaining thermal stability. Ultimately that led to the temperature varying between 125° and 135°F, but the majority of it was in the vicinity of 130°F.

After ninety minutes the timer dinged and I removed the meat and slowly released it from its plastic casing. Everything you've heard about the visual results is true: it looked like a skinned cat. Go do a Google picture search if you don't believe me. But I cranked up the heat on my cast iron skillet until it was smoking, and gave the steak forty-five seconds on each side. I would've liked to see it with a better crust, but whaddya gonna do with a crappy low-BTU efficiency stove. Next time I should just use my creme brulee torch.

I let the meat rest for a few more minutes, and sliced it up. Here's what it looked like:


A bit overdone, yes - more medium than medium-rare - but not bad for a complete hack. Next time I'll aim for 125°F and see how it goes.



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