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With most steaks the recommended cooking time in sous vide is about an hour (of course depending on the thickness of the cut).

I have done some sous vide cooks recently, and they always ended up perfect until last time, where I had a ribeye, which turned out tough and chewy.

I have since learned, that ribeye in particular has some connective tissue, which can make it tough. I have also learned, that most tenderizing methods, like vinegar or baking soda don't actually really work, because they are only in contact with the meat on the outside.

So I was wondering if I could improve the result, if I simply increase the cooking time to say 2h? Or should it be way longer than that in order to tenderize the connective tissue?

What would be the downside of increasing the cooking time?

  • 60 hours: cooking.stackexchange.com/a/53376/67 . You just have to cook it at a low enough temperature that you're not overcooking it – Joe Apr 7 at 23:39
  • Sounds like you had a really bad ribeye. Ribeye is one of the most tender cuts from the whole cow. – Behacad Apr 8 at 18:26
  • @Behacad that may have been the case, it was heavily discounted, even though it was "organic". – user1721135 Apr 9 at 19:54
  • I've had very cheap ribeye from some asian supermarkets, and couldn't believe it was ribeye and not part of the leg. – Behacad Apr 9 at 20:27
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Collagen (type-1, for the scientific folks), one of the major connective tissues in beef, begins to dissolve into gelatin starting at 55°C (131°F) but very slowly, long enough for the meat itself to become mush. The pace increases with rising temperature to about 71°C (160°F), at which point further rises in temperature don't accelerate the process much -- but that would be medium-well, a crime for ribeye. Unfortunately, collagen begins to denature at 68°C (154°F), which is also when the meat begins to constrict/toughen substantially and release lots of its juices. Cooks Illustrated suggests 54°C/130°F for 2-3 hours, but in my steak that didn't melt the collagen at all. I find the best trade-off is medium, 63-64°C (145-147°F) for 3 hours. Yes, it isn't the deep rosy and extra-tender medium rare, but most of the connective tissue vanishes and is replaced with luscious gelatin.

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In general, the longer you cook a protein at low temperature the more the texture will change. However, it doesn't just get more tender. It can get stringy, or mushy, and unpleasant over time, depending on the type of protein. Thickness and type of muscle matters when calculating time.

In general, I cook 1 - 2 inch thick rib eye like any other traditional steak, for between 1 and 2 hours to achieve a typical mouthfeel/texture. On the other hand, I have cooked oxtail for up to 100 hours using sous vide. You can safely cook as long as you want, but there will be a point when you might not like the results.

Rib eye is not generally considered a "tough cut". Two hours won't change things that much, but if you want to experiment, I would suggest cooking three identical steaks of your choice for three different times, then sear and see what you think.

This is a helpful guide that might also shed light on your questions.

  • When you say "stringy", does it mean it starts resembling "pulled"? – user1721135 Apr 9 at 19:54
  • @user1721135 sort of, but the texture can go unpleasant after a while. – moscafj Apr 10 at 1:46
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There is one, albeit slightly risky way to tenderize a tough cut of sous vide steak without it starting to resemble pulled pork.

For a 1 inch thick steak, cook it at 121 deg F for 2-4 hours before you cook it to the final temperature. You can tenderize it longer and get it more tender but the chance of spoilage goes up rapidly at this temperature.

Over 130 deg F, the meat will slowly turn into a pulled pork texture.

Another option is to vacuum brine/marinade the steak for a few days to tenderize it, though it will start looking like cured meat after a while.

My local grocery store sells some of the toughest ribeye at under $5 a pound... but after throwing all these tenderization methods at it, it comes out pretty good.

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    Is that the technique they call "warm aging"? – user1721135 Apr 12 at 22:25
  • I suppose so, I didn't know there was a term for the process. I always just called it controlled rotting, I guess warm aging sounds better too. – Netduke Apr 15 at 14:35
  • Interesting, I gotta try that. I watched an episode of sousvideeverything, where they tried that, but it didn't work. However, they did use meat, that was already very tender to begin with. Do you have personal experience with this? Did it work for you? – user1721135 Apr 15 at 21:43
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    It worked for me, I use it on some rather tough cuts of ribeye (USDA ungraded/standard). Pre-seared, 1% salt by weight Equilibrium Vacuum Brined for 5 days, 4 hours of warm aging, 6 hours of cooking at 132 deg F. Results in a very tender steak. If it gets too mushy, reduce the amount of time at the 132 deg F final step. – Netduke Apr 16 at 15:30
  • I guess with pre-searing, it should be pretty safe, after all only the surface of the meat contains bacteria right? – user1721135 Apr 26 at 20:32

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