Take steak camping
June 17, 2019 5:14 PM   Subscribe

I have two raw steaks in my freezer. They're seasoned and ready for the sous vide. Here's my plan: cook them in the sous vide, straight from the freezer, at 135 degrees for 2 1/2 hours. Remove them from the sous vide, let them cool, and put them in the fridge.

The next day, put them in the cooler with ice and take them to the campsite. That night, sear them on a griddle either on the fire or on a camp stove, depending on burn bans. Can I eat it? Will it be good? Any advice? How do I make sure the inside of the steak warms up enough to be tasty without overcooking it?
posted by The corpse in the library to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This won't work. The point of sous vide is that when it comes out of the water the entire steak is 135 degrees and ready to eat; the searing just takes the warm steak and makes the edges crispy and yummy and not grey. If you do what you are planning to do, the inside of the steak will be near freezing, so you'll have hot-and-crispy outside and cold beef inside. It won't be poison or inedible, but it will be a very unusual (and generally unpleasant) result.

If you're starting it on the fire from a cold piece of meat, the inside of the steak will stand a much better chance of warming up and the steak not overcooking if the inside of the steak hasn't already been cooked. Just skip the sous vide this time.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:53 PM on June 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

Why not pack the steaks frozen, such that they'll thaw by dinner? Use a grill grate over a fire or on your camp stove.

Look at it as an opportunity to learn how to cook steaks; sous vide was invented to feed lots and lots of French troops in a easy standardizable way at scale. The side effect that sous vide could make tougher cuts more palatable was a bonus.
posted by porpoise at 6:03 PM on June 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Enh, it works fine. I’ve done much the same at home when a change in dinner plans means that an already sous-vided steak waits in the fridge for the next night. Is it optimal? Maybe not. Is it still pretty good? Yes.

Personally, I’d let the steaks come to ambient temperature before searing so that the centers won’t be cold. They likely won’t come to perfect rare temperature, but if you sous vided correctly, they’ll be perfectly rare in doneness.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:20 PM on June 17, 2019

Can anyone comment whether sous vide would pasteurize the steak? My instinct says that it would. My instinct also says you would not want to push it. Presumably there would be no problem taking it out of the cooler in advance and letting it come up to ambient temperature?
posted by sjswitzer at 6:27 PM on June 17, 2019

Response by poster: Homeboy Trouble: why would the inside of the steak be near freezing? I haven't sous vided frozen meat before but my understanding is that if you cook it an extra hour, frozen is fine.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:28 PM on June 17, 2019

Best answer: This will totally work! I've done it before many times. I don't think you even need to worry too much about the insides getting up to temperature on the retherm/sear since it will take a few minutes to get a good crust anyway.

By the way, there is some debate about whether or not it's worth searing the steaks before you sous vide them (in addition to after), but in general it helps with the second sear (it goes better if they've been seared once before) and it can help kill any remaining surface bacteria which is a good idea if you're going to sous vide and then hold. You can totally sear while still frozen too.
posted by rossination at 6:29 PM on June 17, 2019

Response by poster: > Why not pack the steaks frozen, such that they'll thaw by dinner

Unpredictability. I've never done that and am concerned that I don't know how long it would take them to thaw in the cooler, so I'd end up with either still-frozen steaks or defrosted-for-a-day-at-not-ideal-temperature steaks. But I'm happy to be proven wrong.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:31 PM on June 17, 2019

Nthing that I don't see the point of doing the sous-vide step, especially if you're planning on chilling it afterwards. I think you'll get better results just doing all of your cooking at camp; just chuck the frozen steaks in the cooler and go from there.

The other worry is that not immediately searing and consuming after the sous-vide step would just increase the amount of time the steak spends in the danger zone. It's *probably* okay, but I feel like the last place I'd want to find out I'm wrong is while camping.
posted by Aleyn at 6:32 PM on June 17, 2019

Also, arguably, you'll get a better result cooking from frozen anyway, so I wouldn't worry too much about how much it's defrosted.
posted by Aleyn at 6:36 PM on June 17, 2019

Cooking on an open fire is pretty easy, and works well if you have a lot of flames, because it tends to make it really hard to over cook them. Good, hot fire, with high flames and you get a good steak pretty easily. You can use a thermometer or the squeeze test to see when they are done.

By which I mean, you don't *need* to do the sous vide stage. And, as mentioned, cooking over a fire from frozen works too.

Having said that, as long as your steaks don't re-freeze I think the cooler idea would be fine. I have a weak stove, so have had a hell of a time with food overcooking during the sear stage of sous vide, so I have taken to cooling the cooked steaks (fridge or just time at room temp) before searing and this has produced much better results for my weedy propane stove. I tried torches and all sorts but what worked best was letting the meat cool and then throwing it into a 'hot as I can get it' cast iron skillet.

But, honestly, cook it over the fire. It works well and more time in the smoke gets a better flavour anyway.
posted by Brockles at 6:41 PM on June 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

The other thing to keep in mind is that when you’re camping EVERYTHING tastes fucking awesome. Something about being outdoors all day, cooking over a campfire, etc means that if you heated up your shoes, they’d probably be pretty good. Quality steak made in any reasonable way? Fantastic.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 6:59 PM on June 17, 2019 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I’ll be honest I’ve stopped using sous vide for steaks, however your plan would work. I’d pull the steaks out of the cooler about an hour before cooking to let them come up to room temp as much as possible before searing. You’ll have a better chance getting the inside to a decent temp.

Also make sure to dry the outside as much as possible before grilling over super high heat.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:09 PM on June 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have done something pretty close to this while camping, and it was fine. Sous vide, then chill, then grill is a reasonably common technique for steaks. Here's a few variants of it (not all of which are appropriate for camping, but just as ideas of what people out there are doing). Apparently some restaurants will parcook steaks in a water bath, then chill them to get them out of the 'danger zone' quickly, then sear them directly from the refrigerator, plate, and serve. It seems to give fine results; some people are big fans of it. There are threads on "time-shifting" sous vide on various cooking forums, and nobody seems to be chiming in to say that it's killed their family yet.

I would let the steaks sit after searing them to let the insides warm up (i.e. don't cut into them immediately, which you shouldn't anyway). I'd imagine a very thick steak might be more likely to have a cool inside than a thinner one, or a small medallion cut that you'll sear on top+bottom+sides, but in the worst case I don't think you'll get anything remotely inedible. It'll just be cool-ish inside. Damn sight better than burned steak.

As for those who are suggesting that OP just cook it over the fire, that's fine, but there are lots of us who like sous vide because you really can't fuck it up. You can ruin the hell out of a very nice piece of meat, and have a whole bunch of people very angry at you, if you try to actually grill steaks and do it wrong. I would be a hot mess of nerves if I had to try and grill a bunch of people's dinner over an open fire, with no backup plan if it goes terribly wrong. For those who know how to grill and are comfortable with it, I think you are underestimating how much of a potential epic clusterfuck that looks like to someone who isn't comfortable with it. I love sous vide because it zeros out a ton of variables, any of which can—with a moment's inattention or distraction or whatever—mean you're The One Who Fucked Up Dinner. I'll sous vide all the things given the opportunity.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:04 PM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

The main thing I'd do is be sure you get the temp down on the steak after you pull it. So after 2.5 hours in the water, put the sealed bags in an ice water bath to cool it quickly. Helps prevent sitting out too long while cooling.
posted by Carillon at 8:23 PM on June 17, 2019

But I'm happy to be proven wrong.

If you're going to sous vide, aim for something in the rare range.

But you're going to end up with a grey steak if you pre-sous vide it.

If you're grilling, say, eye round or something below A-/ prime- grade that might be ok.

If you've got your hands on a nice piece of grass/ pasture-fed, wine/ grain-finished NY strip... I'd try to learn how those cook on a fire/ grill. It's worth it.

On a Weber Q - assuming 1 1/14" steaks; learning how to get the grill to 300, liberally salting the steak (for the maillard reaction) and oiling it (with grapeseed oil), 2 minutes diagnonal on the grill, flip, 2 minutes, flip & rotate 45', 2 mnutes, flip, 2 minutes, remove and rest for 4 minutes, and serve. Perfect medium-rare steaks.

For steaks on a grill over a fire - you have to start developing your experience somewhere/ somewhen.

Depends on how hot/ consistent you get your wood fire.

But I can guarantee you that a pre-sous vide-ed steak is going to be overcooked (or under temp) on your set up unless you can achieve a super-hot char method.

If you're going sous vide to make a less great cut palatable, chuck or eye is ok. Get them almost "baseball" thick (at least 3 3.5") thick and sous vide them on ultra low to break up the connective tissue. Grill on high to get a crust (you'll want to re-salt the steaks before grilling); it's internally cooked so fuckit. Medium/ Well Cooked; but tender on the inside (as opposed to tough if cooked to wellness on a grill) and crispy on the outside (need the salt to make a crust).
posted by porpoise at 8:53 PM on June 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am a fairly non-intuitive cook, and I once brought a couple of filets camping in a fit of inspired ambition. I had never done it before, was poorly skilled at stovetop steak'ing, and IT WAS GREAT. Campfire is the perfect temperature for 1) steaks; and 2) pancakes. Go nuts, use cast iron. I'd probably skip the sous vide.

Ice in a cooler was fine to keep them cold enough to be cooked without adding bacteria, I think I made them on the second night.
posted by rhizome at 10:09 PM on June 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've done almost exactly what you're thinking of doing, with outstanding results.

1. Sous vide to your desired temp. What kind of steaks are in your freezer? That might influence your time and temperature. My preference is for 130F for campfire steaks.

2. Chill in an ice bath immediately. You want to cool it to < 40F as quickly as possible and get it into your fridge / cooler. Use a ton of ice in enough water to submerge the steaks. Stir it around every few minutes.

3. When camping, let the steaks come to ambient temperature while you prepare the coals.

4. Make coals. Don't cook too early in the fire.

5. Dry the steaks with paper towels and add some high heat oil (like grapeseed or avocado oil). Grill the steaks just an inch or two from blistering hot coals for less than 60 seconds per side.

6. Let the seared steaks rest for about 10 minutes under foil.
posted by reeddavid at 11:21 PM on June 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'd just cook the steaks at home, slice them up , and put them in the cooler, well-wrapped. Then you won't have to wait as long for your supper.
posted by mareli at 3:57 AM on June 18, 2019

Best answer: It’ll work wonderfully just the way you describe it. I totally get wanting to precook them and not worry about temping them over a dang fire. Take them out of the bag an hour in advance and put them near the fire on a wire rack to dry. High-heat neutral oil or ghee and salt right before putting them on the flame (earlier salting will draw out more moisture which you’d probably like to avoid).

Rest them under foil a little longer than you think you should to let residual heat travel to the center and then maybe flash them in the fire once more to crisp em up.
posted by supercres at 4:27 AM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughts and techniques. As far as why I would do this: I like to prep as much of the cooking at home as possible, and minimize the amount of raw meat in the cooler and at the campground. I cut tomatoes at home, I brown the ground beef, etc. Having the steaks cooked to a safe temp (so easier to handle) but not yet charred (so they can still get reheated and dramatic) would be ideal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:02 AM on June 18, 2019

Best answer: Sure, it's what I'd call a Modified Reverse Sear -- reddit thread on exactly what you want -- and it'll probably also be great. I do think that between the SV and the sear, putting it in the cooler and back will send the meat through the danger zone anyway, so it may not be so much of a safe-keeper.
posted by rhizome at 9:35 AM on June 18, 2019

Best answer: It'll work and be fine. Campfire food is almost always amazing.

Taking the frozen steaks without the SV will be fine, too.

If you want to get fancy and control some variables pick up some dry ice and use a separate cooler and pack your proteins in sensible portions in good freezer bags and wrap them in paper towels or a cloth to prevent direct contact with the dry ice. (keep small piece dry ice in the bag, and slab dry ice paper-wrapped)

If you keep a good styrofoam cooler and don't open/close it a lot it'll keep for days, just like the do shipping frozen foods and meat.

You can defrost proteins the same way you do at home by transferring them to your "fridge" which is your normal cooler, a secondary cooler or whatever to your liking for cross contamination control. Or soaking in water in the bag, or even going to the water spout in camp and using running water.

Something to maybe keep in mind is that good quality beef has actually been handled a lot over a variety of temperatures and often even aged in meat lockers and stuff. If it's clean, good quality beef it's going to be pretty safe compared to pork or chicken.
posted by loquacious at 11:24 AM on June 18, 2019

Best answer: You can do this and it totally works. Unless your cooler is filled with dry ice, it's a refrigerator not a freezer, so frozen centers isn't likely. Consider SV at 132 F rather than 135 unless the cut needs it, and especially if the steaks are thicker than 1.5" put them on the side of the grill to warm up and dry the surface as you stoke the flame before your reverse sear. I like this method for camping because it ensures the meat is cooked thru so you're not dealing with raw juices, plus you can use an extra thick cut and get everything rendered.
posted by a halcyon day at 12:50 PM on June 18, 2019

Response by poster: Update: it worked and was delicious.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:03 AM on June 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

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