Sous Vide Burgers (taste test)

With a bit of experimenting and research, we've come up with some great tips for making sous vide burgers. We're aiming for juicy, great texture and the medium to medium-rare temperature we like. Nailed it!

The taste test included different ways to season the burgers and two different cooking temperatures. We also scanned the best sous vide sites and summarized what you need to know to make a delicious sous vide burger.

sous vide burger in bun on plate 2

The soft texture and pure meaty flavor are the highlights of a sous vide hamburger. Your favorite toppings will elevate it even more.

Sous vide is a cooking method that cooks food in a sealed bag, immersed in a water bath, at a precisely controlled temperature. The food is cooked to an exact doneness and texture based on the temperature and time chosen. It takes all the guess work out of cooking (after a bit of experimenting). 

Grilled vs Sous Vide Burgers

There are many sous vide-ers out there who think the only way worth making a burger is on the grill or smashed in a skillet.

Quicker? Yes. Better? That's a matter of personal taste. Give this sous vide burger recipe a try and see where you stand. Me - I love sous vide burgers 🙂

Upside of sous vide hamburgers

  • Doneness: Sous vide burgers are cooked to the exact temperature you like - every time. This does take a bit of trial and error. For example, you will see a pretty large variation for 'medium rare' sous vide temperature settings from 124F-135F/51-57.2C on various websites. But when you find the temperature for doneness you like, you can expect 100% consistency from there on.
  • Juiciness: You can always count on a juicy, tender burger - especially with burger meat that is 15-20% fat.
  • Make ahead: Freeze a batch of burgers after your sous vide them. Then you just have to warm them and grill or pan fry them for a perfect burger.
  • Safety: As long as you are cooking above 130°F/54.5°C, bacteria will be killed and burgers will be perfectly safe to eat - even at medium rare.
  • Stress free cooking: You only need 40 minutes for the sous vide cooking process, but there's a nice long window up to 3 hours where there will be no change to the temperature and texture. I find the lower time juicier though e.g. 45-50 minutes.
  • Appearance: You can still achieve a nice grilled or crusty brown exterior after the sous vide process with a 2 minute grill or pan fry.
  • Crowd-friendly: The sous vide method is fantastic for a larger crowd. You can prep the burgers (even at different temperatures) well ahead of time and do the two minute grill part when guests arrive.

Downside

  • Experts say sous vide burgers less than 1 inch/2.5cm thick are not worth doing in the sous vide.
  • Sous vide burgers take longer to make than grilled or frying pan burgers. And more steps - sous vide, resting time, grilling time.
  • Most agree you should only season the surface of the burger so if insist on a lot of fillers.... Stay tuned on this one.

Tailor To Your Taste

Here are a few variations and substitutions you can try to make these burgers the way you love them.

Seasoning

  • Most like to keep it simple with salt, pepper and sometimes garlic powder. I also tried Montreal Steak Seasoning which was quite good I thought. Other options are paprika, smoked paprika, onion powder, chili powder, thyme or cumin. Sometimes I slather on spicy BBQ sauce after sous vide and before grilling.

Choose your doneness

  • See recipe for temperatures, keeping in mind there is a range and you'll have to find your own sweet spot.

Toppings

  • The list of toppings is no different from regular burgers. A few great options are: tomatoes, shredded lettuce, dice or caramelized onions, cheese, bacon, aioli, horseradish, the usual condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustard, relish), avocado, mango, salsas.

The Taste Test

Cooking temperature

We tested two temperatures: 134F/56.7C and 138F/58.9C for medium-rarish.

Results

half a sous vide burger in bun with bit taken
This burger was cooked at 134F/56.7C for an hour and seasoned on the surface only. Some taste testers found the burger a bit too rare and mushy in texture. Not a traditional texture. Others were happy with the medium rare cook (tender, juicy) but wanted more aggressive seasoning.
half a sous vide burger on plate with pickle
This burger was cooked at 138F/58.9C for an hour (outside seasoning only) and found to be a perfect medium rare-ish with a nice juicy texture. Very soft but not mushy or raw feeling. Delish.

Seasonings

We tried 3 different options (see picture below):

  1. Montreal Steak Spice (left) on surfaces.
  2. Salt, garlic powder and pepper on surfaces plus 1 tbsp ketchup and a sprinkle of garlic powder and pepper mixed into each burger patty (middle).
  3. Montreal Steak Spice on surfaces plus ½ tbsp ketchup and a sprinkle of garlic powder and pepper mixed into each burger patty (right).

All 3 burgers were cooked at the same 138F/58.9C temperature for the same 1 hour time.

Results

3 half burgers in buns on cutting board
Burger #1 (left) with outside seasoning only was excellent - moist and good texture. The taste of the pure meat shone through. Burger #2 (middle) with 1 tablespoon of ketchup mixed into each patty was dry with a not very pleasant texture. It also started to fall apart after cooking - not recommended. Burger #3 (right) with ½ tablespoon ketchup had good flavor and a more traditional burger texture. Very good.

Taste Test Conclusion

I encourage you to do your own experimenting with temperature, amount of time and seasoning. So much has to do with personal preference. The first time you make a burger, it may not be perfect, but the next time it will.

For me, the perfect temperature is 138F/58.9C if seasoning only on the outside. And 136F/57.8C if using a bit of ketchup or BBQ sauce mixed into the ground beef.

As far as seasoning goes, I recommend fairly aggressive seasoning on the outside before sous vide and re-seasoning before grilling. If you do choose to mix some seasoning into the meat, add no more than ½ tablespoon ketchup or BBQ sauce per patty and use any dry seasonings you like except salt.

My first choice is #1 (burger on the left) which had the purest beefy flavor - with #3 (burger on the right) as a very close second. The middle #2 burger is not recommended.

How to make sous vide burgers

2 raw seasoned burgers on plate
Lightly shape patties and season generously with Montreal Steak Spice or simply salt, black pepper and garlic powder.
burgers in ziploc bags in water bath sous vide
Place burgers in ziploc bag (not vacuum seal) and use the water displacement method to place in sous vide water bath set to the temperature for the doneness you want to achieve (see recipe).
cooked burgers patted dry with paper towel
Pat cooked burgers dry with paper towels. Let rest for 10 minutes before pan frying or grilling. Re-season with salt and pepper.
3 sous vide burgers grilling on grill
Place on hot grill and grill burgers for a minute on each side. Add cheese after flipping to second side if desired.
half sous vide burger on cutting board p

Expert Tips for Sous Vide Burgers

Anyone who has dabbled with sous vide cooking has undoubtedly crossed paths with Serious Eats (Anova/Food Lab/ j. kenji lópez-alt and Chef Steps (Joule). And perhaps Sous Vide Everything (youtube), Amazing Foods and us (!) Two Kooks In The Kitchen.

Here are tips to make a great sous vide hamburger - from these and other sources.

Burger size: for sous vide, it's best to make burgers that are 6-7 ounces (170-198g) and 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick burger or just slightly thicker. As with other cooking methods, there will be some shrinkage with cooking.

Don't overhandle the patties: When making burgers (and this is true for any burger), don't over handle and pack the meat. Form the patties as lightly as possible to avoid dense burgers. I don't bother with a ring mold. Some do.

Bagging: Interestingly, vacuum sealing a burger is NOT a good idea. It packs the meat too much making the burgers too dense. For sous vide burgers, the water displacement method with plastic bags (e.g. zipper lock) is best.

Seasoning: Most experts advise that sous vide burgers should only be seasoned on the outside. Apparently, salt mixed in with the meat draws out moisture, making the burgers drier. I tested the seasoning theory (without salt) - see below.

Fillings: I haven't tried this, but Sous Vide Everything filled their beef patties with red pepper and mozzarella cheese (use only low moisture). Maybe worth a try?

Timing: Most blogs agree that 40-45 minutes is the minimum time needed for the sous vide cook. One said they cooked the burgers for 3 hours and there was no difference from the 40 minute timing. I personally find the longer time less juicy.

Temperature: Surprisingly, there is quite a variation in temperature recommended for the same medium-rare doneness as I mentioned above. I believe the reasons for this variation are:

  • what people perceive medium rare looks like, and
  • how some chefs taking into account the 10% increase in temperature that will take place in the finishing step (grilling or pan frying) - perhaps this is why they start with a lower temperature.

Rest time: Don't skip this. Rest your burgers for at least 10 minutes after the sous vide process and before grilling to maintain juiciness.

Achieving a rich crust on the surface: The best way to do this is to plunge the cooked sous vide burgers in the bag into ice water (½ ice, ½ water) for 10 minutes. This cools them down and allows an extra minute or two for searing to get the surface more charred. (I usually don't bother with the chilling as I don't find it makes a huge difference to the taste and, of course, the burger goes straight into a bun with toppings, so you don't see much anyway.)

Make Ahead

You can sous vide the burgers, cool them, then transfer to a sealed container or bag to freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to eat, warm them up from frozen in the sous vide at 125F/51.7C for about an hour. Pat them dry and grill for a minute per side on high.

Sous vide burgers will also be fine in the fridge for several days until you are ready to do the final grill.

What to serve with burgers

I love to serve the burgers with grilled charred onions, grilled corn salad, corn and tomato salad or herb potato salad. Fries and a pickle are pretty great too 🙂

Love sous vide cooking?

Check out our best sous vide recipes (and tips). And if you love sous vide burgers, you will also love this sous vide recipe for hamburger steak with onion gravy. Pure comfort food.

half a sous vide burger on plate with pickle
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Sous Vide Burgers

With a bit of experimenting and research, we've come up with some great tips for making sous vide burgers. We're aiming for juicy, great texture and the medium to medium-rare temperature we like. Nailed it!
Prep Time8 mins
Cook Time45 mins
grill2 mins
Total Time55 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 3
Author: Cheryl

Equipment

  • Sous Vide equipment (sous vide machine or sous vide immersion circulator)

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ pounds (570g) lean ground beef
  • seasoning: Montreal Steak Spice, Note 1

Optional

  • buns, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, onions, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, mango, salsas, horseradish

Instructions

  • HEAT SOUS VIDE WATER BATH to:
    ° 134F/56.7C - 136F/57.8C for medium-rare -ish (although some would call this medium). I use 136F-138F.
    ° 137F/58C-138F/59C for medium (still warm pink)
    ° 140F/60C for medium well-ish
  • PREPARE HAMBURGER PATTIES: Lightly form 3 ground meat patties of about 6-6 ½ ounces/170-185g each, 1 inch/2.5cm thick. Don't over handle the meat. Season patties generously on both sides and edges with Montreal Steak Spice (or simply salt, black pepper and garlic powder). Transfer patties to a large zipper lock bag in a single layer. Do not use a vacuum sealer or the burgers will become too packed and dense.
  • COOK SOUS VIDE: Place bag with burger patties in sous vide bath with the water displacement method Note 2. Cook for 40-45 minutes up to a maximum of 3 hours. I find about 45 minutes to 1 hour results in the best juicy burgers.
  • REST AND FINISH BURGERS: Remove burgers from water bath and plastic bag. Pat dry well with paper towels. Rest for 10 minutes while you prepare grill or cast iron skillet for a quick sear. Sprinkle burgers lightly with salt and pepper. Then sear burgers on grill or in skillet.
    Pan sear: Heat a cast iron skillet to high (8-9/10). Add a teaspoon of vegetable or grapeseed oil. Sear burgers for 1 minute per side until top surface is browned.
    Gas grill: Heat grill to high (~500-550F). Spray burgers with oil. Grill for 1 minute on first side (cover grill). Flip burgers and grill 1 minute on second side (cover grill again) until browned. Add a slice of cheese on second side if you like.
    Serve in buns with your favorite toppings.

Notes

  1. Seasoning: instead of Montreal Steak Spice, use salt, pepper and garlic powder (or other seasonings you like). Season generously. If desired, you can mix 1 ½ tablespoon ketchup or BBQ sauce (no more than this) into the meat along with a sprinkle of garlic powder and pepper. 
  2. Seal bag with displacement method: Place unzipped bag of burgers into water until top of bag is just above water line. Air will be pushed out. Then zip up bag. Let bag go - it should sink below water line. If bag doesn't sink, clip to side of container or add a metal spoon in bag. 
  3. Make Ahead
    • You can sous vide the burgers, cool them, then transfer to a sealed container or bag to freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to eat,
      • warm them up from frozen in the sous vide at 125F/51.7C for about an hour. Pat them dry and grill for a minute per side on high.
      • Or defrost them to room temperature and sear in pan or grill. 
    • Sous vide burgers will also be fine in the fridge for several days until you are ready to do the final grill. 
 
Nutrition values are estimates and do not include buns and toppings of your choice.

Nutrition

Calories: 263kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 41g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 117mg | Sodium: 125mg | Potassium: 663mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 35IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 30mg | Iron: 5mg
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