What is Sous Vide Cooking?

Why Sous Vide Makes the Best Bacon in the Known Universe.

At the Baconer HQ, we love getting feedback. Looooooove it. Like, we will stop our Make Bacon Awesome process and pump our fists, maybe even high five a cat whenever we get feedback.

Part of that is the fact that most of our feedback is really positive. We get it -- you like the Baconer’s bacon. Well, there’s a good reason for that. It’s just really, really, really ridiculously good-tasting bacon. So in addition to compliments, we’ve found that a number of you are quite curious about just how we can make such awesome bacon.

That is a legit question. And we’ve got the answer right here.

While you may think that there’s a bacon fairy that comes by the Baconer kitchen, her wings made of dried maple and skirt made of bacon slices (actually, that’s disgusting; let’s strike that mental image, shall we?), the truth is we don’t have a magical being as the source of our bacony goodness.

Well. Kind of.

If you’re going by phonetics, her name is Sue Veed. But the proper spelling is Sous Vide -- she’s French, she’s a machine, and she is the gosh-darn greatest.

Tell Me About Ms. Sous Vide

If you speak French, you know what Sous Vide means. Which is probably pretty boring. But to us ‘MURICANS, Sous Vide sure sounds fancy. Though the technique -- which requires proper equipment, training, and finesse -- is definitely up there on the fancy scale, the pure definition of the term is not. Literally translated, Sous Vide means “Under Vacuum.” Food cooked via Sous Vide is placed in a vacuum-sealed bag and then set to a specific temperature in a water bath. This process can also be done using a glass jar, and steam instead of water.

Because science is awesome, this technique was actually invented centuries ago. In 1799, Sir Benjamin Thompson -- an American-born British physicist -- decided he needed a better way to cook his mutton. Through his experiments with temperature and air (instead of water), he developed the core foundation for Sous Vide cooking while trying to perfect a shoulder mutton recipe. Yes, being a foodie was a thing even post-Revolutionary War, and the ripple effect of Sir Thompson’s scientific cookery tinkerings goes all the way to July 2018: the best bacon in the world, courtesy of the Baconer.

There was a little more between then and now, of course, though you could certainly just jump in your TARDIS to time-travel from tasting Sir Thompson’s mutton to the Baconer’s products in our Oakland kitchen. The two essential milestones you’d be skipping are 1) the invention of vacuum-sealing food as a means of preservation in industrial preparation (circa mid-1960s) and 2) the refinement of Sous Vide by French chefs Georges Pralus and Bruno Goussault in the 1970s by experimenting with cook times and temperatures.



How Does Sous Vide Work?

So, what is actually happening here? Typically when you cook, the heat releases flavors and juices. Some of that gets reabsorbed back into the food, but a lot of if it lost to the world. Think of the vacuum sealing as a protective barrier that prevents anything from escaping.

Rather than those juices getting steamed off in a pan or pot -- or diluted in boiling water, lost to the grill drippings, or another form of escape -- the food is literally cooked in them. That’s why Sous Vide is recognized around the world as being a fantastic way of enhancing flavor while preserving texture, particularly in keeping the tenderness of meat.

Want to get even more technical about it? Here’s a scientific recap taken from our friends at Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, we know, but it’s sourced and succinct):

The use of temperatures much lower than for conventional cooking is an equally essential feature of sous-vide, resulting in much higher succulence at these lower temperatures, as cell walls in the food do not burst. In the case of meat cooking, tough collagen in connective tissue can be hydrolysed into gelatin, without heating the meat’s proteins high enough that they denature to a degree that the texture toughens and moisture is wrung out of the meat. In contrast, with the cooking of vegetables, where extreme tenderness or softness is seen as undesirably overcooked, the ability of the sous-vide technique to cook vegetables at a temperature below the boiling point of water allows vegetables to be thoroughly cooked (and pasteurized, if necessary) while maintaining a firm or somewhat crisp texture. While the cell walls will generally not burst, the de-polymerization of the pectic polysaccharides that connect the vegetable cells together and/or the gelatinisation of starch in the vegetable can be achieved without overcooking.

So, the trick with Sous Vide cooking really comes down finding the perfect balance of  temperature and time. Advancements in home culinary technology have made this technique available to the casual chef -- you basically only need the immersion cooker to control the water temperature, a big pot, and a vacuum sealer.

Immersion cookers run between $75 and $200 for the home market, and many even have Bluetooth connectivity to let you know how things are going even when you’re out of the room.


Yes, But What Does The Baconer Do?

Okay, so we’ve established that Sous Vide is really great, right? So let’s think about how we can apply this to today’s cooking -- namely, bacon. The Baconer was actually founded based on experimenting with Sous Vide cooking and bacon. Like, we didn’t have a grand plan to go into business making this amazing bacon. It just happened, and we wound up with the urge to share it with the world.

But to make it a commercial product, we had to do two things. First, we had to meet market standards. Second, we had to make amazing flavors in a repeatable way.

For the first part, this is what you have to know: any bacon sold is required by law to be brought up to a minimum cooked temperature before it can be packaged and sold. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, this standard applies. So from Oscar Mayer to artisanal bacon folks like us, this must happen or very bad things will happen to your company (also, some people will have bathroom issues -- no one wants either of those things). Thus, even though most people think of it as raw, it’s technically a cooked product. So when you open the package and start cooking it at home, you’re really just cooking it further, caramelizing sugars and crisping it.

Most places have a set-in-stone method of making bacon, a method that’s so tried-and-true that it’s basically the industry tradition. You cure it, then you smoke it. Then you either leave it in the smoker for even longer until it reaches the temperature required by law, or you transfer it to an oven to complete this process. Or if you’re really mass producing it like the Oscar Mayers of the world, you rapidly heat it with a super hot steam blast.

But, that’s not how we roll -- er, smoke -- at The Baconer. Instead, our process is unique in that we smoke our slabs, then transfer them to the Sous Vide as a finishing step until they reach the required temperature. What does this accomplish?

Let’s take a closer look (it’s too bad we couldn’t give you a closer smell):

1) Because the slabs are sealed, the cooking process releases juices -- but the juices that run off stay contained, essentially slow-cooking the meat in its own juices. Because of this, there is zero flavor loss. That’s right, no flavor escaped. (In supervillain voice) Where did you think you were going flavor? You cannot escape, bwahahahahahah.

Seriously, in a smoker, 50% of the flavor just drips right off and is left on the smoker floor. That’s 50% less deliciousness going into your bacon. In our world, that is a huge thumbs down. 

2) This also helps the flavors (including the smoke) penetrate deep into the meat. In a traditional heating process, much of the flavor sits on the surface. But with the power of Sous Vide, the flavor winds up being more focused and intense; it also elevates each individual ingredient to come through clearly in the finished product.

3) Finally, the Sous Vide provides an incredibly delicate texture. When we say that it’s unparalleled by anything achievable by dry heat, we understand that this is a Very Big Statement to make. However, it’s true. This is simply part-and-parcel with Sous Vide cooking, and why this technique is used by chefs worldwide to really get the most out of their meat. For bacon, this particularly comes into play with thicker cuts like lardons and steaks.



Wanna Try Sous Vide Bacon?

Yes you do. Of course you do. I mean, you’ve read 1,500 words about Sous Vide and bacon by now, you have to be thinking about it. Well, here’s one more thing we should mention -- at The Baconer, we prep our Sous Vide bacon with extra flavors. Jalapeno bacon? Hot damn. Bourbon bacon? Line it up.

We invite you to check out our flavor selection at The Baconer, and we ship anywhere in the United States, so there really is no reason why you can’t enjoy some of this bacon. Well, if you are dead like Sir Benjamin Thompson, then that’s not possible. However, if we ever hear the TARDIS or the DeLorean, you can bet that our first trip through space and time would be to wow Sir Thompson with the power of modern Sous Vide-cooked bacon.