I’m referring mainly to salt. I’m starting to Sous vide steaks and chops etc. I do a fast hard sear after the sous vide is finished.

When the steak comes out of the bag I pat dry very thoroughly and remove the sprigs of herbs garlic etc. Then I lightly brush with oil and salt pepper etc and sear in butter oil mixture.

My question is how much to season with salt and pepper before the sous vide. I’m tending to go easy on that as I don’t want an overall salty flavour. But I see many recipes talk about ample seasoning for the sous vide stage (one upvoted answer on this board even capitalised SALT!).

Or should I do that and not salt the meat before searing?

  • A supplementary question. If I do not salt before the sear, but salt moderately in the sous vide, how does the sear turn out? I suppose I should experiment but I’m trying to avoid wasting meat (and time).
    – RFlack
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 23:02

3 Answers 3


Ahh, a long-debated question in low-temp cooking circles. Dave Arnold, an early low-temp (sous vide) cooking instructor, ran a test when he was an instructor at (what was then know as) the French Culinary Institute in NYC. The three variables were (a) salted - cook - chill, (b) unsalted - cook - chill, and (c) salted - direct serve. His testers preferred the unsalted, and could distinguish all three samples. So, they do present differently. Now, your process may differ from his, and he also admits that, at that time, more testing was required. I think, these days, there is agreement that if your cooking time is going to be a couple of hours or less, and you are going to serve right away, salting before the cook step is fine. However, on long cooks (12, 24, 48 hrs or more) you probably want to salt after.

Having said that, you and your diners, might prefer it one way or the other. There really isn't a right or wrong answer. I would suggest your own "triangle" test. Just do two steaks or chops in different bags. Salt one. Cook them the same. Serve three pieces (two the same and one different), blindly to someone (or have someone serve them to you), and see if you can pick out the piece that is different. Then, decide which you prefer.

  • So I read the article. Interesting. A couple of things. I don’t sear the meat before the sous vide. It’s just seasoned, vacuum sealed with some herb sprigs, butter, crushed garlic. Not sure if that’s a factor. Second, I’m only looking at what he calls direct serve.
    – RFlack
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 1:02
  • Pre-sear is useful for quicker crust formation after the cook, but that should not really change the answer. That's why I pointed out that your process might be different. I also point out that there are differences in outcome, but there are also preferences. Really, it's best to test both ways to see what you prefer. For me, I salt after the sous vide step.
    – moscafj
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 1:10

Consider this: when you salt a protein, it draws out water. However, water is not the only thing that leaves the meat.

To put it another way, prepare two different bags and add salt to one but not the other. If we successfully control the other variables, the result will be that the salted bag has more liquid in it.

Even if we recapture that liquid (the “purge”) and work it into a sauce, it’s still flavor that was once in the protein yet is now no longer there.

Ergo, by salting in the bag we are extracting flavor. Yes, salt penetrates to a degree and there is seasoning benefit to that. There is a trade off here and the only answer is that it depends on your preference and only experience will help you make your decision.

I wouldn’t lose sleep over it, personally. My preference is generally that every protein enters the bag naked. No seasoning. No garnish. Just meat and hopefully very little air.

  • 1
    I’m using consumer vac seal so very little air but not a full vacuum I’d guess. I currently discard the liquid, it looks a bit suspect sometimes! For sauce with steak I’ll usually do a red wine reduction with shiitakes and some mushroom broth. Pork chops with ratatouille and no sauce. I’m leaning to little salt before and more added on the sear. Herb sprigs (not chopped) butter and garlic clove in the bag.
    – RFlack
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 22:58
  • 1
    @RFlack check this for thoughts on the bag juice sousvideresources.com/2016/10/07/sousjus There’s lots of good stuff happening in there.
    – Preston
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 23:00

As sous vide is sealed the salt isn't going to go anywhere but the food, so if you don't want an overall salty flavor then I wouldn't add salt to the sous vide. Maybe a very small sprinkle to give it a hint, but no more. It's probably worth experimenting by cutting up a steak into 3 or 4 pieces and sous viding them with varying amounts of salt to see what suits your personal taste.

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