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I want to try out low temperature cooking of some meat, e.g. beef

I don't have a reliable oven and am looking for advice before starting. Or alternatives to ovens.

I heard some people use meat in vacuum sealed plastic bags that they cook in a pot of water, (easier to measure temperature?)

What are the timings for weight/temperature combinations?

What dis/advantages does low temperature cooking have compared to grilled?

Anything else I should now before trying out?

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I recently purchased a good electronic (meat) thermometer, cause I felt my over wasn't reliable either. Turns out it is, just slightly off from any 'regular' scale. If you like to cook, you'll want such a thermometer yourself anyway. –  Tobias Op Den Brouw Jul 24 '10 at 20:31
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Cooking in a water bath in vacuum sealed bags is called sous vide.

The advantages include:

  • all of the meat is cooked to the desired temperature, and no higher, so you get 'perfect' doneness.
  • The fibres of he meat don't contract due to the high temperatures and squeeze out the moisture, so the meat stays very tender
  • if you have the right setup, you can put it on an leave it
  • you can include flavourings in the vacuum bag so your meat steeps in the flavouring whilst it cooks.

Disadvantages include:

  • it can be expensive to set up (though not always, as work arounds exist)
  • it can be difficult to keep at a constant temperature if you don't have an expensive set up
  • the meat does not have any outer crust (although this is easily remedied after the cooking)
  • takes a lot longer to cook.

I think it will be difficult to do in an oven as it is not often that ovens go as low as this type of cooking requires.

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For sous vide, beef temp is 150-160, pork is 160-180. You essentially can't overcook the meat at theses temps. The longer it is in, the more tender it will become (maybe). You'll want at least an hour, several for thick cuts. Meat thermometer will tell you when you're done. –  Adam Shiemke Jul 19 '10 at 12:56
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good luck getting the meat thermometer into the bag to check the doneness ;) –  Sam Holder Jul 19 '10 at 13:00
    
I have tried a home built device with just a heating element and it doesn't work very well because you also need something to move the water around. Douglas Baldwin has written an extensive guide (now a book) on sous-vide cooking. –  papin Jul 19 '10 at 13:39
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If you put closed cell foam tape on the bag and then put the thermometer through that and in to you meat, you'll be fine. Of course, if you've got good temp control on your water, the meat will be that temperature after a while. The temps for beef and pork above are WAY too high. I'd suggest both at about 135. Also, the weight is irrelevant to time for Sous Vide, the only thing that matters is thickness of the cut of meat. Note that since we're talking volume, double the thickness quadruples the time to get the meat to temperature. –  yossarian Jul 22 '10 at 18:16
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Buy a slow cooker. They're cheap, and it will cook your food slowly in around 6 hours.

Don't overcomplicate things:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_cooker

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Here's the best link on sous vide at home I know:

http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/04/cook-your-meat-in-a-beer-cooler-the-worlds-best-sous-vide-hack.html

For meat, you can do small cuts for short periods (hours) at low temperatures (under 150) in a beer cooler. I've done this and it works pretty well.

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If you want low temp, you should go with braising. The low temp and moisture work wonders on meat with lots of connective tissue. Plus, no expensive tools are required.

The downside is it takes TIME...possibly measured in hours. You cannot cheat a braise from what I've seen or you'll still end up with tough meat full of connective tissue and not deliciously broken down tissue.

Cheap tools of the trade are aluminum foil and a cast iron dutch oven. Sear the meat first to get some good browning. Toss in the foil and make a pouch and put in some marinade. Seal up tight. Toss in the dutch oven and then into the real oven.

Sous vide looks great on TV, but most people have what they need to braise sitting in their kitchen at this very moment. Especially if you have a little something called a Crock-Pot.

An aside: Crock-Pots are a great alternative to an unreliable oven that probably wastes lots of energy.

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Just in case -- Crock-Pot = slow cooker. That "down side" of it taking hours can be considered an up side, in that you can throw some ingredients in the slow cooker before you go to work, and come home to a great meal that's ready to eat. –  slim Mar 16 '11 at 17:04
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For a few of your questions, a query of your favorite search engine will suffice; however, a skimmed version follows:

  1. timings and weights
  2. advantages of low heat
  3. yes:
    1. it all depends really on the cut of meat, and your ultimate goal. Some might not agree with me, but you need to sear the meat. either before or after the cooking. some sear it on high heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side and then put the meat in the oven; others cook the meat and sear it at the end. it's your choice!
    2. season it with salt and pepper. be generous with the salt.
    3. buy an oven thermometer, they're like $4 and adjust your oven accordingly
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