Not only is steak delicious, but it can be expensive, so we want to make sure we’re cooking it as well (not well done!) as possible. Almost always, sous vide is going to be the best method for cooking steak, but there are a few times when the grill is superior.
I clearly love sous vide cooking, but I didn’t discover it until I was about 26 and had grown up on grilled steaks. They’re both delicious! However, when I cook a steak, I’m almost always reaching for my immersion circulator, not my grill tongs.
If you’re unfamiliar with sous vide cooking, I’ve got a Beginner’s Guide to Sous Vide Cooking to get you started and my cookbooks can serve as great beginner’s resources. I’ve even got a beginner’s course called Sous Vide School to really walk you through the method!
My beginner’s interactive guide to sous vide cooking will teach you how to make sous vide dinners, desserts, drinks and more while saving time and money!
The Pros and Cons of Using Sous Vide Instead of the Grill
Most of the time, sous vide cooking will produce better results when cooking steak over a grill. You’re able to completely control the heat and eliminate virtually all risk of over or undercooking.
- There is no risk of overcooking your steak. That is the worst case scenario, right?! Worry no more. Since the temperature of the water bath is exactly the temperature you want the inside of your steak to reach, you literally can’t overcook it.
- There is no risk of undercooking your steak. Although overcooking it is usually the biggest fear, undercooking isn’t great either. For the same reason as overcooking, there’s no reason to worry!
- It will be perfectly cooked from edge to edge. When you grill or pan sear steak, there will be a brown ring on the outside and a red center. With sous vide, more of the steak is medium-rare (or your desired temperature)
- You can cook frozen steak when you sous vide.
- You can use sous vide to tenderize leaner and/or tougher cuts of steak. Since you’re able to expose the meat to heat for a longer period of time without overcooking it, a chuck steak can become buttery and delicious.
- No babysitting the grill. Since the time from just right to overdone can happen in a matter of seconds, you pretty much have to be standing over the grill the whole time you’re cooking a steak. With sous vide, your cooking time window is way wider. We’re talking 1-4 hours. Drop the steak in the water bath and go about preparing the rest of the meal. It will be ready when you are.
- High heat does a better job of rendering fat for these short cook times, so if you’re cooking with a fatty steak like a wagyu or ribeye, low heat and just a couple of hours as we typically would do with sous vide isn’t going to be the best choice.
- It takes more time to sous vide. You can grill a steak in just a few minutes, but sous vide takes time.
- Your kitchen can get smokey when you sear. When you sous vide a steak, you still need to sear it, and the best way to do it is in a screaming hot cast iron skillet. This can kick up a lot of smoke, so hopefully you’ve got a good fan!
When to Use a Grill Instead of Sous Vide
I opt for the grill instead of sous vide when cooking steak on one rare occasion: when I’m cooking with a fatty cut like ribeye. Even then, I’ll still use sous vide if I have the time for a longer cook (like 4 hours).
The only other time? When I don’t have time. I can grill a steak in just a few minutes, but sous vide will take me at least an hour, and sometimes even I forget to plan ahead.
Sous Vide Times and Temps for Steak
Here are the times and temps for different results, but know that I treat lean and fatty steak differently. Below the chart, I’ll tell you my favorite times and temps for each cuts.
|Rare||125 degrees F|
52 degrees C
|Medium Rare||130 degrees F|
54 degrees C
|Medium||135 degrees F|
57 degrees C
|Well Done||140 degrees F|
60 degrees C
For lean steak (round, sirloin, filet mignon, flank), I like 128 degrees F for 1-2 hours. I like a lean steak to be on the rare side and since there’s not much fat, I’m not risking chewiness.
For fatty steak (ribeyes, strip, t-bone), I like 133 degrees F (even up to 135 if very fatty) for 3-4 hours. A higher temperature and more time will help render that fat better.
To finish the steak, I like a screaming hot cast iron skillet with plenty of butter or ghee. Just 20-30 seconds on each side should get you a good crust.
Toppings and Sauces for Steak
No matter how you end up cooking your steak, you’ll want to make sure it tastes great. Here are a few of my favorite ways to add flavor to my steak:
And this is just the tip of the iceberg: I have even more recipes in my cookbook, Sous Vide Meal Prep.
If you need some inspiration for what to serve with your steak, I’ve got a whole list of steak side dishes.
You can also view this recipe as a step-by-step web story here.
Get the Recipe:
Sous Vide vs Grill for Steak (& sous vide steak recipe)
- Preheat water bath to your desired temperature using immersion circulator. 125 degrees F for rare, 130 degrees F for medium rare, 135 degrees F for medium, 140 degrees F for well done.
- While the water bath is preheating, season the steaks liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. Add to a vacuum seal bag, keeping them separated if possible, and vacuum seal. Do NOT stack the steaks on top of each other in the bag.
- Cook in preheated water bath for 1-2 hours for lean cuts of steak, 3-4 for fattier cuts of steak.
- When steaks are done, begin preheating a cast iron skillet over high heat on your stove. Make sure your stove vent fan is on high.
- Remove the steaks from the water bath and vacuum seal bag. Pat completely dry with a clean towel or paper towels.
- Add butter or ghee to the skillet when skillet is smoking and you're ready to sear. Sear for 20-30 seconds on each side, until a good char has formed.