Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin in a Cooler

I know that cooking a steak in a cooler sound absolutely crazy, but it’s a great way to experiment with sous vide cooking without the $400 price tag. What is sous vide? Sous vide is a method of cooking where food is sealed in an airtight bag and submerged into a water bath. The temperature must be closely regulated for both proper cooking and safety. Thankfully, a cooler is not only great at keeping foods cold, but can keep them warm as well. It’s perfect as a makeshift sous vide machine.

Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin in a Cooler

To properly sous vide a steak in a cooler, you will need an accurate digital thermometer that will constantly measure the temperature of the water. The cooler will prevent the water temperature from dropping drastically, but you still need to keep an eye on it. A temperature that drops too low will prevent the steaks from cooking fully.

Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin in a Cooler

You will need about 8 quarts of water per steak in order for the water to maintain a constant temperature. I just use a mixture of hot tap water and boiling water from the stove to achieve a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water temperature ever dips too low during cooking, I add a few cups of boiling water. Just don’t open the cooler lid too often.

Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin in a Cooler

The first step is to vacuum seal the beef tenderloin. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can place the steaks into separate zip-lock bags and remove the air by dipping the bags into water. Once the bags are nearly fully submerged, seal the bag. The water will help push out all of the air from the bags, keeping the steaks from floating and in constant contact with the water while cooking.

Feel free to add any marinade or seasonings to the vacuumed sealed bags.

Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin in a Cooler

Place the steaks into the 140 degree water for 1 hour. The steaks are ready when the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees for rare, 134 degrees for medium rare, or 140 degrees for medium. Since the water temperature is at 140 degrees, the steaks won’t reach a doneness over medium.

Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin in a Cooler

After an hour in the water bath, the steaks will need to be seared in a screaming hot pan or grill. A cast iron pan works great for this. This will create the beautiful and flavorful crust on the outside of the steak, without overcooking it.

Some of the best steaks I’ve ever made were done by this style of cooking.

Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Ingredients
  • 2 beef tenderloin filets
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbsp butter (if using a cast iron pan)
Equipment:
  • large cooler
  • digital cooking thermometer
Instructions
  1. Fill a large cooler with 140 degree Fahrenheit water. Set aside.
  2. Place a beef tenderloin filet into a vacuumed sealed bag and remove the air. Make sure that the bag has an airtight seal. Repeat with the second steak.
  3. Place the steaks into the 140 degree water and ensure that they are fully submerged (if not, place a weight on top of the steaks). Allow the steaks to cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until you have reached the desired internal temperature.
  4. A few minutes before the steaks are done cooking in the water bath, preheat a grill or cast iron pan over high heat. When the steaks are done, remove them from the vacuumed sealed bag. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. If using a grill, place the steaks over the hottest part of the grill and sear each side until golden brown, about 30 seconds per side. If using a cast iron pan, add the butter and steaks. Sear each side for about 30 seconds until golden brown.
  5. Serve immediately.
Notes
For safety, eat the steaks within 4 hours of placing them in the water.

Source: Modernist Cuisine at Home

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4 comments
Anna @ One Prickly Pear
Anna @ One Prickly Pear

You are my hero! I've been wanting to experiment with sous vide for a while now. But, you're right, some kitchen gadgets can be a little too pricy. Never thought of using a cooler. Genius! Just wondering...how do you measure the internal temperature to check if they're done without messing with the sealed bag?

Bibs @ Tasteometer
Bibs @ Tasteometer

OMG Your tenderloins look perfect. My favourite cut of beef. I have been reluctant to purchase a sous vide machine as I know I can't justify the cost due to knowing I won't be using it often enough. I do have a digital meat thermometer though and a cool box!!!!!!! Can't wait to try this ASAP, thanks for sharing.

Anna
Anna

There are a couple of options Anna. I usually just double check the temperature whenever I'm ready to pull them out of the vacuum sealed bags to sear them. If I'm more than 5-10 degrees off, I'll reseal them and put them back into the cooler. Another option is to use ziplock bags instead of vacuum sealed bags. Insert the thermometer probe into the center of the steak, place the steak into the zip-lock bag, close the bag (it won't fully close due to the probe), then place the bag into the water with the opening facing upwards. Make sure that you secure the top of the ziplock bag to the cooler, so no water can enter the bag. A third option is to cut a square of weatherstripping from a hardware store and stick it to the outside of the vacuum sealed bag. Insert the probe through the center of the weatherstripping and into the steak. However, once you insert the probe, you can't remove it until the steaks are done. I think the third option is a little overkill, so I would recommend the first two. Once you've made sous vide steaks once or twice in a cooler, you'll get a good feeling on the exact amount of time that they need to be in the water bath. Let me know if you try it Anna!

Anna
Anna

Thank you Bibs! I've been using my makeshift sous vide machine for everything. I've tried salmon, meats, and vegetables in the cooler. It has a little difficulty with higher temperatures (around 180 degrees for vegetables), but works wonderfully for everything else. Let me know if you try it!