How To Cook The PERFECT Steak . . . In Your Cooler!

how to cook the perfect steak It’s funny how some of the ideas I get for posts actually come about. Awhile ago I was craving steak! Delicious, tender, medium rare steak. I had seen a way to cook “restaurant style” steak on Pinterest several times…so I went in search of it.

This is the post I found. Sounded good. And to be fair…it WAS good! A LOT better than the steaks I usually make out on my little WeberQ.

But…that being said…they weren’t as good as the steaks I made using this CRAZY idea at Serious Eats that I stumbled onto by complete accident! I honestly don’t know what I was researching…but it certainly wasn’t this!

It’s a technique for cooking food in hot water that is referred to by chefs as “sous vide” cooking. This method of cooking foods at precise low-temperatures in vacuum-sealed pouches has apparently revolutionized fine-dining kitchens around the world. But the equipment normally used to cook this way is VERY EXPENSIVE!

sous vide supreme

J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats, however, figured out a way to accomplish the same “high tech” cooking as the Sous Vide Supreme machine above, just by using a cooler and some plastic ziploc storage bags!


how to cook the perfect steak

It’s brilliantly simple!

Since “coolers” are just as efficient at keeping things HOT as they are COLD…they work perfectly for this.

Step 1:  Fill up your cooler with water just a couple degrees higher than the temperature you’d like to cook your food at (this is to account for temperature loss when you add cold food to it). I used a candy thermometer and heated the water on the stove to 140 degrees before pouring it into the cooler. I was shooting for an ultimate cooking temp of 130 to 135.

Step 2:  Seal your food in a plastic Ziploc bag. As you can see from the pictures below, I also added some “aromatics” to my bag…some fresh rosemary, garlic and salt and pepper. But it’s not necessary. 

Step 3:  Drop it in the water (remove the air in the plastic bag by slowly dipping the open bag into the water, sealing it just before the water starts to pour inside. This will keep the food submerged, and in full contact with the water).

Step 4:  Close your cooler until your food is cooked. For steak it’s at least 45 minutes (I waited one hour) or up to 12 HOURS! Yep, that’s why chefs love this idea so much…you can cook steak to the perfect “doneness” ahead of time, and let it sit in the water bath until it’s the perfect time to serve.

how to cook the perfect steak

With this method, you cook at precisely the temperature you want your food to finish at (say 130°F for a medium-rare steak). No part of the meat can possibly overcook, giving you evenly cooked meat from edge to center.

Here are the temperatures you’re shooting for:

For MEDIUM 140°F

At 130°F and above, bacteria will cease to multiply, but lower than this, and bacteria will multiply at an accelerated rate. So to be on the safe side…stick to 130 and above.

One hour later you will have PERFECTLY COOKED medium-rare to medium steak. HOWEVER, while it will be cooked to perfection inside, it won’t have that nice char on the outside. But, one minute per side in a very hot pan on the stove takes care of that to perfection as well!

how to cook the perfect steak

One last thing I want to mention about cooking your steak this way.  You can cook the “lesser cuts” of beef and this technique renders them just as tender and and even more flavorful as the much more expensive varieties.

Cheap AND delicious steak?? How much are all you meat-eaters out there loving me right now?? ;-)

how to cook the perfect steak

I really, REALLY hope you will try this at least once. (I’ve made four steaks total now using this method…each just as delicious as the last.)

If you like inexpensive steak, prepared to perfection…I promise you won’t be sorry!

And of course, as usual, I’ll expect a full report!


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    • says

      I wouldn’t cook food in plastic. There is no BPA in Zip Lock bags but there are other chemicals that might leach out of zip lock bags when heated. I would rather eat iron pan seared steak that takes only about 10 minutes to make than boil water (wastes energy heating), wait an hour and then sear on iron skillet. Too much energy consumption and it takes too long. Just my two cents.

    • Doug says

      You should be safe using plastic bags for sous-vide cooking as long as you are using products that are intended for that purpose. Using Food Saver bags is OK, as well as any bags distributed by companies like Ary, that make chamber vacuum sealers. Also, the temperatures that you usually cook sous-vide food (less than boiling water) are low enough so there is no danger of overheating the plastic. You should avoid anything with polyvinyl chloride in it, since these materials contain plasticizers that could leach out and be harmful.

  1. Linda says

    I can remember my grandmother cooking on rock salt! No one ever believes me when I say that, but she did! I remember her wrapping a turkey in tin foil and putting it in a roasting pan full of rock salt. It was completely covered with the salt. I have no idea how many hours it took to cook and it was not brown and crispy, but it was cooked! :)

    • Doug says

      Cooking in a salt crust is a standard technique. I have seen it described by both Jaques Pepin and Jose Andres on PBS cooking shows. Just mix egg whites with kosher salt to make a mixture with the consistency of wet plaster, then use it to completely cover your whole fish, or whatever you’re cooking. Bake in the oven until the egg white crust is lightly browned. Then crack open the crust and serve. The meat will be surprisingly well seasoned (not too salty) and moist. It really works!

  2. kim says

    This would be the perfect solution to a day that I don’t want to deal with the charcoal grill. I may just have to do this with the steaks that are in my fridge as we speak and watch my family drop their jaws as I tell them how I cooked it!

    • Terri says

      Actually meat and candy thermometers are inexpensive. I use our meat thermometer every time we barbeque. It’s a very handy tool.

      Since it takes such a small amount of time to cook, just putting the steak in water that is at 212′ would get overcooked in a matter of a 2-3 minutes.

  3. Vicki says

    There is a thermal cooker called Saratoga Jacks that costs less than $100.00 that you could do this method in. In addition, you can cook just about any meal in it and bring it in your car, boat, camper, etc. and have a hot meal waiting hours later. It’s kind of a slower cooker – but without electricity. You simply put your food in a cooking pot that comes with the cooker, bring the food up to a boil, place it in the outer unit – and you have a hot meal ready a few hours later. They have a great website with videos. You can also check them out on Amazon. I’ll be ordering mine pretty soon – can’t wait to try it!

  4. Martica says

    Can’t wait to try this. Easier with a vacuumn sealer bag (great investment) and while yes, still plastic, designed for putting in boiling water etc. I can see this as a great way to cook them when you are cooking for a crowd and then of course finish in a pan or on the grill to their desired “doneness” preference. And throw the corn or other veggies in at some point too! I tend to buy in bulk, season and freeze in the vac bags so this would be just a matter of thaw and souse vide! I’m curious if you seared the meat first how it would turn out – again thinking cooking for a crowd, picnicking, etc.

  5. Christine says

    I’m curious, did the Great Value bags leak any water into your steak? I only ask because we just spent a week up in Yellowstone camping and nearly everything I had in Ziplock (and store brand) bags leaked cooler water into our foods ruining them. I am guessing if the hot water leaked into the steak bag while cooking it would be quite nasty. Maybe like the previous poster mentioned…with a vacuum sealer bag I would try it.

    • Jessica S says

      I would go for the less fancy baggies that don’t have the little handle to zip it closed… I have noticed that mine have a miniscule hole that air/water leak into and out of…

  6. Noel says

    I have also used this method on cooking eggs in the morning! Add eggs + whatever omelet-ish ingredients you like (veggie or pre-cooked, I wouldn’t add raw sausage or anything similar) to a plastic bag (I like Freezer Ziplock for the durability), smush all up and drop in a pot of boiling water for about 12 minutes. Make sure that your plastic doesn’t sit on the the edge of the pot because it will melt!

  7. Ed says

    Could any if you steak connoisseurs out there help me identify the cut used by the poster in the pics above? Is it a ribeye? I am absolutely terrible when it comes to steak cuts. I ordered a Bach of ribeye from Safeway store once, and all cuts came with a horrendous bundle of nerves in every corner. Now I don’t know uf that’s inherent to all ribeyes, or Safeway just sold me bad cuts. ( I haven’t bought ribeye ever since).

    By the way, last week I discovered Walmart sells a new line of frozen steaks (it’s a 3r party brand, not their own) that are probably or of the best steaks I’ve ever had. They come in red boxes, labeled “NEW YORK STRIP” in big books letters ( they also had RIBEYE) and here’s my favorite part. The box contains 6 steaks, individually vacuum sealed. The box contains a total 2.2 pounds and costs $8. They come already seasoned and tenderized. Thats even cheaper than the not as fancy steak cuts I purchase from other stores, who are neither individually vacuum sealed nor seasoned or tenderized. I’m gonna buy some of these today and I can even skip the ziplock bags!

    If anyone can help me identifying the cut in the picture I’d appreciate it.

  8. MI Gal says

    3 lbs boneless round steak about 1 1/2 ” thick, 2 hours in cooler I warmed up with water first, then filled with 150 degree water, still took 10 min on a hot gas grill to med-med rare. I’ll definitely try it again, but will have to figure out some tweaks.

  9. Brandette W. says

    I recently learned about the Omelets in a Ziploc idea. We tried it one night for dinner and it was so fun and tasty. I love that we each can make the omelets how we want and there is no mess to clean up. Just a pot of boiling water, easy peasy!

    I was also concerned about actually cooking food in plastic bags, but I read in several different places that the Ziploc freezer bags are safe for this. Remember back in the 80 or 90′s, when there was a craze of boil-in-a-bag foods like chipped beef, broccoli and cheese, etc. I remember my Mom buying some of those when I was little and us eating them for easy dinners. This reminds me of the same concept.

  10. WhySayWhat says

    I’ve also used my cooler to make homemade yogurt too…worked perfectly to keep the powdered milk and water mix at the right temp for 24 hours until it had become nonfat plain yogurt! To keep the water out of my containers (I was reusing 32 ounce yogurt containers), I put the hot water into Ziploc bags and nestled them around the containers. I went the extra step and popped my remote temp gauge in there as well so I could replace the hot water bags if needed (which I didn’t need to do).

    Just one more reason to love my cheap little cooler!

  11. says

    I am all about a perfectly cooked med-rare steak but even though it’s possible to do it this way….it grosses me out.
    I am a bit fanatical about food temps and food safety and while this is SAFE…. technically I would still worry. Even if you put water that is 150 degrees IN the cooler it really isn’t designed to keep it that temp for a long time. Every time you open the lid to check the temp it’s going to cool more….once it’s down too far you have no idea how long it’s been too cool…and that is what worries me.

    I just can’t do it.

    I won’t even let something sit in my crock pot on WARM for more than an hour or two… but I would love to hear more about this method ..even if it’s isn’t for me.

  12. DZ29C says

    just had to try this cause it was so off the wall. very easy & good. husband was happy as I don’t make steak
    often–always too raw or too tough so I quit wasting money by trying. used one of my boiling Deni bags.
    will look for those ribeye steaks at WalMart.

  13. Susan Hyten says

    I tried this method last night and the steaks were perfect. My only concern is… the water cools, isn’t there a chance that bacteria will produce? I left the steaks in the water bath for six hours. Thx.

  14. says

    That is a great idea! If you want to make it easier there is a product called a Saratoga Jacks Thermal Cooker and it is the same idea. You boil your food in the pans on the stove, place them in the base, and let it “cook”. No power needed! You can use a small camp stove in an emergency to boil the food for a few minutes. I made “baked” chicken using a cereal bag insert and the chicken comes out so tender and juicy. I bought my cooker for emergencies, but I have used it many times already for our regular meals. Applesauce and mashed potatoes are two of my families favorites from the cooker. Here is the website link plus I have done several posts about it on my blog if anyone is interested.

  15. Jessica says

    Great Idea for camping! Boil water over fire, dump in cooler. Wait for dinner while cooking potatoes or something else!!!!
    Also good to know for emergency preparedness situations that you can cook meat with little energy if you have a cooler.
    Thank you for this AWESOME post.

  16. Doug says

    I like the idea! I did wonder though if a crock pot would work well and use one of those crock pot liners to prevent any “touching” of the sides? We use the crock pot a lot so this could be another great use if it would work, may just have to try it.


  1. [...] That’s right.  If you have the time, and get the temperature right, you can cook a restaurant quality steak, in a cooler.  I saw this linked on Facebook about a month ago, and have been fascinated with it ever since.  Since it’s been doom and gloom at news lately, I though a change of pace would be good.  Here is a pretty big excerpt… [...]

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