The Wild South

Why a Sous Vide Machine Is a Hunter’s Best Friend

Clear out the freezer and enjoy a tender, perfectly cooked venison steak every time

I came late to the sous vide party—late, kicking, and screaming. I had friends who crooned over these French-inflected devices, with breathless Facebook posts and endless Instagram pics. Everyone just seemed to be trying a little too hard. Until I actually got one. Now, you can count me converted. I’m a be-vider.

If you’re not familiar with the technique, a quick primer: A sous vide machine is about as thick as your wrist and as long as a loaf of bread. (Mine is an Anova model with a Bluetooth feature that I never use. About $130.) You clip it to a tall pot of water, and the device heats the water to a preset temperature and circulates the water gently around the pot. You place a cut of meat inside a vacuum-sealed or zippered plastic baggie and drop it in. Whatever is inside that bag—a thick steak, a wild turkey breast, a whole chicken, eggs, potatoes, a stack of salmon fillets, an entire deer leg if your pot is big enough—will come to that preset temp in a few hours and never go past it. You could cook a ten-inch-thick steak medium rare and it will be medium rare all ten inches through. The slow cooking keeps tough meat parts from contracting under intense heat and mellows out flavors. After a quick sear on a grill or stove top, you’ll be gifted with a perfectly cooked cut of meat time after time for time immemorial.

Honestly, it’s just about unbelievable. Let’s say you have a freezer full of a few ducks and a deer steak or three. Or perhaps there’s a spare backstrap tucked into a corner. Or maybe you’re not a hunter at all, but you’re wondering what to do with a monstrous ribeye that’s landed in your care. You don’t even need much inspiration. Consider yesterday.

8 a.m.
I crack open the wild freezer and ferret through racks of venison, ducks, doves, jackrabbits, moose, bear, and the turkey feet I forgot all about. I have no idea what I want for dinner. All I know is that I am tired of cooking, and double tired of cooking in summer heat. I settle on a hand-cut frozen whitetail steak from last year’s 9-pointer.

8:12 a.m.
I toss the frozen steak in a bowl of cold water and head to the basement office. 

1:00 p.m.
Whoo, a full day of work! Time to clock out! Just kidding. Time to crank up the sous vide machine. I fill a pot with water, clamp on the machine, and set it for 122 degrees. I coat the steak with a coffee, cumin, and brown-sugar rub, place it in a zippered baggie, add three shakes of Worcestershire sauce, seal it up, and drop it into the sous vide bath. All of this takes four minutes. I do not think about it again for hours. 

6:30 p.m.
Thunder outside. Crud. No grilling for me. I take the steak out of its spa bath, drain off the juice, pat it dry, and pull out a cast-iron skillet. I add a teaspoon of butter and a dollop of vegetable oil to the pan, and heat it till it threatens to smoke. I brown the steak for maybe a minute on each side, just enough for a bit of caramelized crust but not long enough to raise the interior temp past medium rare. 

photo: T. Edward Nickens

And sweet mother of pearl, the old buck is tender as a green pea.

I’ve cooked venison, duck, moose, beef, chicken, and pork with the sous vide. I’ve used cuts as small as a steak for one or a moose backstrap for six. The results have been consistently excellent. There’s very little prep work, limitless creativity, and virtually no cleanup of the sous vide machine itself. And it cooks wild game tender as a paper bag of butter.

Be-vide me.

Follow T. Edward Nickens on Instagram @enickens