Minnow Bucket Steaks

Insulated minnow buckets are ideal for keeping minnows lively on a fishing trip. They also make a great sous vide, no aerator required.

Minnow Bucket Steaks

If you didn't score a smoking deal on a sous vide cooker on Black Friday, you can still enjoy perfectly cooked steaks. You just need a minnow bucket. I've cooked steaks in a cooler before and it worked well, but it was a pain to warm up the amount of water necessary to submerge the steaks, and there wasn't a convenient way of keeping tabs on the water temperature as it cooked. So when I was setting up my new Engel Live Bait Dry Box/Cooler and saw the hole in the top for the aerator hose, I knew I had to try cooking some steaks in it. Naturally.

Sous vide is a cooking technique that relies on a warm water bath to cook submerged foods. Professional sous vide cookers maintain a steady temperature automatically. Here I used the inherent insulating qualities of a sealed cooler to achieve the same result. The result is a steak cooked perfectly from edge to edge without any guesswork. No need to compare the cooking steak to the firmness of your palm, or cut into your beautiful steaks and check their pinkness, or poke them with a meat thermometer. 

The first thing you need to do is get your meat to room temperature and your minnow bucket warmed up. Because sous vide relies on maintaining a specified temperature, making sure you're not starting with a cold minnow bucket or frozen steaks will ensure your water doesn't cool too quickly. Seal your steaks in either a vacuum sealer bag or a quality zipper-top bag. It keeps the good juices in and the minnow flavor out.

You control the doneness and tenderness of the meat with the temperature of the water and the length of cooking time. The longer they cook, the more tender they will be, but they won't ever get overcooked. For these venison tenderloins, I shot for a cooking temperature between 129 and 134 degrees Fahrenheit, so I started with water at the top of that range to account for some minimal heat loss. At those temperatures, the steaks should've been cooked through after about 45 minutes, but I left mine in for an hour to be sure. In that time, the temperature dropped 4 degrees from 134 down to 130. Thicker cuts of meat that require longer cook times may need a boost of hot water midway through. For cooking temperatures and times, I used the guide at the Anova Culinary website

The whole process is relatively easy. I simply heated the water on the stove to the desired temperature, put it in the minnow bucket, dropped in my sealed up steaks and closed the lid. The probe for my meat thermometer fit nicely in the hole in the lid and confirmed my water was at the correct temperature. You can check the thermometer periodically to make sure the cooking bath stays in the correct temperature range, but a pre-heated, quality dry box or cooler with a good seal shouldn't lose that much heat during the relatively short cooking time. You can of course add some hot water if you need to, but refrain from opening the lid to check on the steaks. They're doing just fine, I promise. 

Once the steaks are done bathing in the sous vide, they need to be seared. Though they're fully cooked, the sear gives them a better presentation and seals in the juices. The keys to a good sear are a hot pan and dry meat. Pat the steaks dry, apply your seasoning and drop them in a piping hot pan or a preheated grill on high. A minute or two on each side is all that's needed. 

As I mentioned earlier, this technique can also be replicated in a hard-sided cooler. Smaller is better here, unless you want to heat up gallons of water. Though you may get some funny looks when you tell your buddies you cooked steak in a cooler, you may not get any RSPVs if you tell them you cooked steaks in a minnow bucket. That is, until they try them. 

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