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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  1. 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.

  2. Mrs B. says

    OMG!! Thank you, I am going camping this weekend with a few Scouts and I know know how we are going to prepare our supper and still get in a six hour hike.

  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. Kim says

    If you don’t have a thermometer…. can you just boil your water and cook it less time? Or give the water a few minutes to cool down?

    • 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.

  5. 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!

  6. kari says

    Wow, I too have been curious about the Sous Vide method. This is awesome, Jillee, I may just have to give this a try.

  7. 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! :)

    • says

      That’s how my mom makes standing rib roast for Christmas! She also pours a bunch of oil over the salt, then sets the roast on top of it. Delicious!

    • 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!

  8. Jen says

    I’ve seen this on pinterest for cooking corn too. My concern is for bpa or other yucky stuff leaching out of the plastics when heated. Does anyone know any details about that?

    • 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.

      • says

        I agree. Vacuum sealer plastic bags can withstand higher temperatures but not these Zip Lock bags. They are for cold storage and not for cooking in boiling water.

  9. Penny Hannah says

    What an extremely clever idea! By the same reasoning, I guess you could cook things in a thermos flask as well – all sorts of possibilities…..


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