The Best Steak
An anniversary dinner, and a cooking method you should try
A few weeks ago in The Bulwark, I wrote about independent YouTube channels, run by people who are hobbyists or self-trained experts. Some of the clearest, most useful information I come across is often from these channels. You can learn about absolutely anything. There are several people who refinish furniture and explain the process in detail. There’s a guy who does a great car buying and repair show, demonstrating, for example, that with a good mechanic you can often buy an ailing car and fix it up for less than buying a good one up front. (“Good mechanic,” of course, does a lot of work there.)
But really, think of any home repair or general work-with-your-hands hobby or skill, and you can find serious, granular information on YouTube, from someone dedicated and well-versed, but often informally or self-taught.
I spent a good chunk of the article talking about Guga, an apparently self-trained cook who runs two channels, Guga Foods and Sous Vide Everything. Don’t be fooled by their big numbers and slick production quality; they didn’t start like that, and they’ve been incrementally improved over the years.
When my parents bought my wife and I a sous vide cooker/immersion circulator last Christmas, we found that Guga’s channels were the most useful places to learn the details and intricacies of this new form of cooking. The mainstream food sources weren’t cutting it:
If you want answers to your questions about steak, don’t bother watching this Epicurious video called “Your Steak Questions Answered By Experts.” That’s what I found out, anyway, as my wife and I were trying to learn how to make steaks with the sous-vide immersion circulator we got for Christmas last year.
You may have heard of sous vide as a fancy restaurant trick, or from those Starbucks egg bites; perhaps you don’t really know what it is. Sous vide refers, technically, not to the device, but to the method: you vacuum-seal your food in a bag, and cook it in a precisely controlled, low-temperature water bath until you reach your desired internal temperature—then you sear or finish the food after patting it dry.
It’s definitely a weekend dinner thing, not an everyday thing, but the devices, called immersion circulators, can be had for $100 these days. And unlike so many kitchen gadgets and gimmicks, from electric pizza ovens to air fryers to any other complicated appliance, the immersion circulator has been genuinely useful, and its simplicity means it basically just works unless the device breaks. It’s a forgiving and easy cooking method, yet it also produces really excellent food.
Our usual sous vide dinner is a ribeye steak. You can throw in a hot pan for a couple of minutes per side, and then throw the pan in the oven for 10 minutes, and done. But the sous vide steak is a revelation. The method allows you to set a medium rare temperature—131 to 135 Fahrenheit—for as long as you want, such that the fat becomes soft and semi-rendered all the way through, and the center and edges are cooked to the same perfect doneness. Then you just basically flash-fry it in a very hot pan, enough to put a sear on it but not enough to produce much of a “gray band” into the steak’s interior. In other words, a medium-rare sous vide steak isn’t “warm red center,” it’s warm red all the way through.
From one of those Sous Vide Everything videos, we learned that six hours is a pretty optimal time for a steak to sit in the water bath. It becomes more tender as it sits, and while you could actually leave for up to two days or so, it would more or less fall apart at that point (and burn a lot of electricity). We also learned something called “dry brining,” which means salting the steak a day ahead, and allowing the salt to penetrate and season the meat before cooking begins. It enhances the flavor, and produces a very slight pleasant chewiness in the meat’s texture.
My parents, despite buying us the device, think this is a little much. Say I want to make steak on Saturday night. On Thursday I’ll take the steak out of the freezer (we also learned that you can freeze steaks for up to a year, and they’re indistinguishable from fresh!) I’ll let it thaw overnight, and then I’ll salt and season it on Friday, and let it dry brine overnight again. Saturday around lunch time, I’ll start it cooking. And then around 6, I’ll pull it out, wrap it in paper towels to thoroughly dry it, and sear it in a hot cast iron pan.
It is a little absurd that a meal that used to entail five to ten minutes now entails two days of forethought. It’s hard to go back to the old way, however, and despite the time involved, the sous vide process takes very little actual work.
My wife and I, a little over four years ago, wanted to buy a tomahawk steak—an impressive-looking ribeye with a very long, clean rib bone sticking out of it—to celebrate our marriage. We never did get to buying one, and eventually just decided that it wasn’t worth paying for that display-only bone.
But a couple of months ago, right around our fourth anniversary, we spotted a prime, dry-aged tomahawk in the meat counter at Wegmans. Not cheap, but if you put it in perspective, you could add a nice bottle of red wine and still pay less than a steakhouse dinner. I carved it at the table like a Brazilian steakhouse, and paired it with a Napa cabernet. And, well, it was worth it.
I’m realizing that a lot of being married and having an actual domestic routine is figuring out the optimal mix between convenience and quality with stuff like food and housework. It’s very different from my grad school days, when I’d come home from class to my pillbox apartment, work or study or fool around through dinnertime, and then go out at 10pm for late-night Chinese takeout, and browse the supermarket or the liquor store while I waited. A small part of me misses that, but I’m thankful to have a stable and settled life, and I wouldn’t ever go back.
But I understand why marriage is associated with weight gain: I eat on a proper meal schedule now! And of course a big juicy prime-grade ribeye steak doesn’t help either. But it’s damn good. And so are lots of other things in a sous vide preparation, from other meats, to mashed potatoes, to cocktail shrimp, to salmon fillets. If you like to cook at home but aren’t familiar with this, definitely check it out. It’s one of the only kitchen appliances or implements I own that I never get tired of. (To which I’ll add the carbon steel knife set my wife bought us those four years ago, one of which is pictured, fittingly, with the tomahawk ribeye.)