Sous Vide vs Grilling: What’s the Difference?

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Sous Vide vs Grill – two different ways to cook your food.

One is a low-temperature process that cooks in bags submerged in water, the other involves cooking over an open flame with direct contact between the heat source and the meat. 

Traditionally, food like steaks, fish, and even vegetables have been cooked on the grill. Increasingly though a new kid on the block is catching the eye of cooks all over the world.

Sous Vide is a method of cooking that has been available to the home chef for a couple of decades or so now. The technique of cooking at controlled temperatures under vacuum has been popularized by chefs around the world for its consistency and precision when it comes to cooking meats, seafoods, vegetables, desserts etc.

In this article, I compare the two cooking methods – Sous Vide vs Grill. Steak is a great comparative ingredient as cooking meat highlights the different approaches the two methods used to achieve a mouthwatering masterpiece.

How Does Grilling Work?

Grilling uses the application of intense heat to cook and sear the meat. It consists of a cooking surface, usually a metal grill, and a heat source. Commonly for outdoor grills, the heat source could be charcoal or gas, and for indoor grills either gas or electricity.

Normally, heat is applied to one side of the food being cooked and the food is frequently turned to ensure even cooking.

Direct heat can be applied by placing the steak directly above (or below depending on grill type) the heat source and indirect heat can be used to slow the cooking process by moving the steak away from the heat source.

Benefits of Grilling

  • It is a healthy method of cooking – Grilling meat lets fat oil run off the grill and away from the food, meaning less fat is consumed. This dramatically cuts down the amount eaten with your meal.
  • It retains nutrition – Boiling or frying food loses much of the nutrition contained in the meat during the cooking process. Grilling retains a higher percentage of the vitamins and minerals in the ingredients.
  • It’s great fun! – Cooking on an outdoor grill is a great social activity, and it gets the whole family outdoors!
  • Flavor – That smoky flavor you get from grilling is something to savor. Grilling seals in all the flavors and with that added little bit of char, the meat is succulent and nicely crisped for that perfect texture.

Cons of Grilling

  • It is easy to overcook food – Because of the high heat involved, all it needs is a lapse of concentration, and that beautiful moist steak tastes more like old shoe leather.
  • It’s mostly seasonal – Many grills are outdoor use only, this restricts their usage to the summer months for most people.
  • Difficult to clean – Grilling can be messy, much of the fat that melts from the meat collects in the bottom of the grill. Cleaning the grill is probably one of my least favorite household chores.
  • Potential Health Issues – Increasingly, experts are linking cancer to the chemicals produced when meat is charred and cooked at high temperatures. The chemicals, called heterocyclic amines, are known as a carcinogen. Moderation is the key here.

What is Sous Vide and How Does It Work?

Sous Vide could be considered the polar opposite of grilling in the way this method approaches cooking. Whereas grills take a hot and fast approach, Sous Vide takes a long and exact temperature approach.

Sous vide is cooking food in a vacuum sealed bag in a water bath at the pefect cooking temperature for the doneness level you want. The cooking temperature can be precisely controlled and is normally in the range of 120° F and 160° F, depending on what is being cooked and for how long.

Sous Vide cook times for a steak can take from 1 to 3 hours. But done properly, the results are well worth the wait. The internal temperature of the steak will be at your desired temperature and after cooking, you can sear the outside of it to seal in the meat juice. 

The Benefits of Sous Vide

  • Intense flavor – I love spicing up my food, and with sous vide, all the flavors are retained in the sous vide bag throughout the whole cooking process. You don’t need to add as many herbs, spices, garlic, etc. as so much more flavor is retained in your steak rub.
  • More control – Sous vide gives you precise control over the temperature your food is cooked at. You get the perfect cooking temperature every time.
  • Healthy – With no charring or overcooking of meat, none of the carcinogenic chemicals are produced. If you decide to finish it with an iron skillet sear, you could do a quick sear that won’t have as much of the charring as when grilled for long periods. 
  • Simple to prepare delicious meals – Once you have mastered the art of sous vide’s temperature and cook times, preparing consistently delicious meals couldn’t be simpler.

Read more about the healthy benefits from sous vide.

The Cons of Sous Vide

  • Slower Cook Time – Looking for a quick meal? Then sous vide may not be the first option. Because of the lower temperatures and longer cook time, sous vide cooking requires some planning.
  • Learning Curve – Although it is easy once mastered, sous vide cooking does require some practice to get it perfect. Timings and temperature are important, but also it is easy to overpower the food by adding too many flavorings such as garlic.
  • A clinical approach to cooking – Many cooks love the sensations of cooking, the aromas rising from the grill, the sizzle of fat in the pan, and the hands-on approach. Sous vide can appear a little boring to some home cooks.
  • Restricted ingredients – Certain ingredients don’t marry well with sous vide cooking. Bay leaves can leave food tasting metallic, extreme care is required with garlic, and alcohol is a definite no no as it can’t evaporate while sealed in a bag.

Similarities and Differences

Sous Vide and Grilling Similarities

These are two distinctly different approaches to the art of cooking. But one place where there is a definite similarity is the quality of the food that can be produced when both methods are used correctly.

When prepared properly foods, such as steaks are succulent, tender, and crammed full of flavor using either method.

Sous Vide and Grilling Differences

Time, temperature, and heat are the main factors that differentiate the two cooking methods. Grilling is a high-heat and fast approach to the art of cooking, Sous vide is a gentle simmer and settle back with a nice book to wait approach.

Sous vide is also a more practical option for all-year-round cooking, whereas grilling tends to be a seasonal activity. 

Sous vide is an easier method to use for a tasty steak if you’re a beginner at cooking and for steak lovers.

With sous vide, you set the temperature and time on a sous vide machine and let it cook. No need for the constant monitoring that grilling requires. 

Sous vide steaks are cooked with a consistent doneness level throughout the steak. Grilled steaks will be less cooked in the middle and more cooked as you move to the exterior of the meat, that’s why you have a pink center and brown ring around it. 

With sous vide, you don’t need to worry about defrosting any frozen meat. I have a guide on how to sous vide frozen steak

Final Thoughts on Sous Vide vs Grilling

These are two fantastic styles of cooking and preparing meals. On the one hand, you have the social aspect and the sheer fun of grilling, whereas sous vide takes a more scientific and clinical approach to cooking.

There is no doubt that both methods are worthy of their place in a cook’s armory, and both will excel in different circumstances. At the height of summer with friends around, it’s got to be time to fire up the grill.

For that important dinner party, then sous vide can take the pain from all those last-minute preparations.

One thing is certain whatever method you use, your family and guests are going to be queuing up for more!

If you’re looking for some sous vide steak recipes, check out some of these recipes: