Sous vide cooking has revolutionized the way people cook steak. This precise low and slow cooking method yields incredibly tender, juicy, and flavorful results every time when done properly. One key step in cooking the perfect sous vide steak is to season the meat properly before it goes into the water bath.
Seasoning steak before sous vide provides a number of benefits that enhance the final dish. Here’s an in-depth look at why it’s important to season meat before sous viding and how to do it right.
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One of the biggest reasons to season steak before dropping it in the sous vide bath is to boost the flavor. Dry brining with salt and allowing it to penetrate deep into the meat not only tenderizes the steak but also enhances its natural flavor.
The salt helps amplify the savory umami notes in the beef. Cracked black pepper and spices like garlic powder, onion powder, cumin or paprika also provide a flavor boost. Herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano add aromatic notes when rubbed on the meat.
Layering seasoning on the steak before sous vide allows the flavors to fully permeate every bite instead of just coating the exterior. It infuses the meat with well-balanced, robust flavor.
Tenderizing the Meat
In addition to enhancing flavor, seasoning steak before cooking helps tenderize it. The salt in a dry brine helps break down tough muscle fibers and connective tissue through the process of osmosis.
Over time, the salt migrates into the meat, allowing it to become more tender and juicy. Even just seasoning immediately before cooking makes the steak a bit more tender than dropping unseasoned meat into the water bath.
For best results, season the steak at least 40 minutes before cooking. Leaving it overnight in the fridge allows the salt to deeply penetrate and work its magic. Just don’t overdo the salt or it may become too salty.
Developing a Better Crust
Getting a good sear and crust after sous vide is crucial for both flavor and texture. The Maillard reaction that occurs when the meat hits the hot pan caramelizes the exterior and adds that beloved depth of flavor.
Starting with well-seasoned meat makes it easier to achieve an exemplary crust. The spices, salt and pepper already coating the exterior speeds up and enhances the browning process.
You can further encourage crust formation by patting the steak dry before searing. Allowing the seasoning to adhere to the meat also prevents it from falling off into the bag juices during the water bath stage.
When to Season Steak Before Sous Vide
Now that you know why it’s important to season steak before cooking it sous vide, the next question is when exactly to add the seasoning. Here are three options that all work well:
Right Before Cooking
- Even waiting just 30-60 mins helps flavors penetrate
- Allows salt to start tenderizing the meat
- Provides convenience if you’re cooking day-of
A Few Hours Before
- Seasoning 2-12 hours before cooking recommended
- Allows robust flavor infusion into the meat
- Salt has time to tenderize steak but not make it too salty
- For best results, season 12-24 hours before cooking
- Gives salt and spices maximum time to penetrate deeply
- Most effective for tenderizing tougher cuts of meat
- Ensure steak is thoroughly patted dry before searing
No matter which option you choose, just don’t season right as you drop the meat into the water bath. Give the salt and spices some lead time to work their magic.
Best Seasonings for Steak Before Sous Vide
You can take steak seasoning in many flavor directions based on personal tastes. That said, here are some of the most popular choices:
- Kosher or sea salt provides the essential saline flavor
- Use coarsely ground salt for best coverage
- Limit to about 1/2 tsp per pound of meat
- Fresh cracked pepper packs the most punch
- Coats and subtly flavors the exterior
- Use liberally or to taste
- Provides a robust, savory garlic bite
- Balances nicely with peppery notes
- Adds a touch of onion sweetness
- Great paired with garlic powder
- Rosemary, thyme, oregano all work nicely
- Add an extra layer of aroma and flavor
- Smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder, etc
- Tailor the spice profile to your preferences
Mix and match to create the ideal custom blend. Just don’t overdo it or the seasoning may overpower the natural flavor of quality beef.
How to Actually Season Steak Before Sous Vide
Now for the nitty gritty of how to properly season steak before it hits the water bath. Here are two reliable methods:
- Coat steak evenly with dry seasoning
- Allow salt, spices, etc to penetrate the meat
- Works best when seasoning at least 1-2 hours prior
- Patting steak dry first helps seasoning adhere
Wet Marinades and Rubs
- Make a paste of oil, spices, herbs, sauces, etc
- Slather mixture over the meat
- Allows flavor infusion into steak
- Marinate in fridge for 1-24 hours before cooking
Both dry brining and wet marinades effectively infuse steak with seasoning before cooking. The only potential downside to wet mixtures is they can sometimes wash off during the water bath stage.
For most consistent results, pat the steak dry and then use a dry brine approach. Make sure the seasoning evenly coats all exterior surfaces of the meat before sealing.
And that’s the key – make sure you season the steak before vacuum sealing the bag if using an immersion circulator. Seasoning after sealing means none of that flavor is getting into the meat during cooking.
Should You Sear Steak Before Sous Vide?
Some cooks advocate searing steak before putting it into the sous vide water bath. Here are the potential benefits and drawbacks of this method:
Potential Benefits of Pre-Searing
- Develops flavorful fond on the meat
- Adds initial caramelization and Maillard reaction
- Helps seasoning and marinades adhere
- Provides texture contrast between crust and interior
Potential Drawbacks of Pre-Searing
- Can overcook the very outer steak layers
- Requires extra time and dishes to clean
- Searing after yields superior crust formation
- Can lose fond during water bath stage
Many home cooks find it’s best to just sear the steak after sous vide when the entire interior is perfectly cooked edge to edge. But pre-searing certainly remains a viable option.
Key Tips for Seasoning Steak Before Sous Vide
Follow these tips when seasoning steak prior to sous vide cooking:
- Use coarsely ground salt rather than fine powder– it adheres and penetrates better
- Apply seasoning evenly over all surfaces – don’t just coat one side
- Resist over-seasoning – it’s easy to add more later if needed
- Feel free to experiment with different seasoning blends
- Make sure steak is dry before seasoning so it sticks
- Season in advance if possible – at least 40 mins to overnight ideally
Properly preparing the steak with seasoning before sous vide leads to the very best results every time.
Conclusion: Why Seasoning Before Sous Vide Yields Optimal Steak
Taking the time to season steak before dropping it into the sous vide water bath pays off in the form of better flavor, more tender meat, and superior searing.
Salt and spices intensely infuse the meat when given enough time before cooking. This amplifies flavor and makes the steak remarkably tender. Starting with well-seasoned meat also ensures you achieve the perfect crust when searing after sous vide.
While it’s easy to skip this step, seasoned meat cooked via precision immersion circulators achieves far superior end results. For your best steak ever, remember to season properly before going low and slow sous vide.