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Although it looks like something you’d encounter in chemistry class—in fact, it was first used in scientific laboratories—sous vide is a relatively simple appliance enjoyed by professional chefs and home cooks alike.
With its French name translating to “under vacuum,” sous vide cooking entails just that—cooking foods inside a plastic, vacuum-sealed pouch within a temperature-controlled, circulating water bath.
There are myriad benefits to sous vide cooking, including increased precision, consistency, and a hands-off approach—but many people wonder if the sous vide method is best reserved for restaurant kitchens.
The short answer? With dramatic reductions in price points and increased accessibility in recent years, sous vide cooking has many advantages that make it a worthwhile—and impressive—appliance to add to your cooking repertoire.
In this article, learn more about how sous vide works, the pros and cons of this method, and some answers to FAQs about the nitty-gritty of sous vide cooking.
How Does Sous Vide Work?
The sous vide method entails placing raw or partially cooked foods in a plastic pouch or bag, vacuum sealing it, and cooking it slowly in a hot water bath for several hours.
The temperature and time used will vary based on what you are cooking, but typically ranges from 135-200 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) and 1-12 hours.
For example, it’s recommended to cook sous vide chicken breasts at 145°F for one hour, while pork ribs require 12 hours of cooking at 165°F.
Some foods, like brisket or chuck roast, can take 48 hours or longer, allowing the meat to retain natural juiciness without the fear of overcooking or drying it out.
Sous Vide Pros and Cons
As many kitchen-related snafus involve overcooking a protein, there are many benefits to using precision cooking techniques like sous vide, including a straightforward and hands-off way of creating juicy, flavorful, consistent meals every time.
However, there is some debate about some of the pros and cons of sous vide cooking, including food safety concerns, plastic usage, and an inability to get that perfect sear or char.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and downsides of sous vide cooking.
The Pros: Top 5 Sous Vide Benefits
1. Juicy and Flavorful Food
One of the most celebrated advantages of the sous vide method is the concentrated flavor and retained juiciness—even after hours or days of cooking.
Because sous vide uses a highly precise temperature bath—precision cookers like Anova stay within 0.2°F of the desired temperature—there is no risk of overcooking your food.
This is in high contrast to conventional ovens, which can vary in accuracy by up to 60°F.
Sous vide also allows expensive cuts of meat to stay tender while they cook, and cheaper cuts to gain tenderness.
In a traditional stovetop cooking method, the muscle fibers of something notoriously tough—like tri-tip or chuck—would rapidly contract, forcing moisture out.
Conversely, sous vide cooking allows those otherwise-tough muscle fibers to contract slowly, retaining the juices inside the meat and boosting flavor.
2. Reliable and Reproducible
If you’ve ever thought you mastered a recipe, but the next time, it fell flat and you didn’t know why—sous vide cooking might be for you.
Once you learn the correct times and temperatures for each food, the results are reliable and reproducible, consistently turning out refreshingly the same.
3. Easy To Use
Although it may take some time to become comfortable with sous vide cooking, it couldn’t be simpler once you get the hang of it.
The quick, broken-down process involves seasoning your food, sealing it, circulating it in the water bath for the correct amount of time, and searing if desired afterward.
Another benefit is that you don’t have to sit in the kitchen watching your food cook—once you set the temperature and it’s in the bath, feel free to go take a bath yourself.
This benefit may not apply to everybody, but people who throw dinner parties often will be overjoyed with sous vide cooking.
If you have ten people coming over—and ten pork chops to cook—you can cook them sous vide style ahead of time and simply sear them right before dinner.
5. Food Safety
Sous vide technology was actually first invented for sealing and pasteurizing industrially prepared foods to extend their shelf life.
This ability to keep foods at a specific temperature made sterilizing easier for hospitals and large-scale commercial food companies.
When executed properly, sous vide has better food safety than traditional cooking methods—but the key phrase is “executed properly,” which we’ll explain within the “cons” section.
Cons of Sous Vide Cooking
1. Long Cook Times
If you’re in a hurry, sous vide is likely not the method for you.
With cook times ranging from one hour to two days, sous vide is a practice steeped in patience—although many agree that sous vide meat is worth the wait.
2. No Browning or Caramelization
As sous vide foods are simply cooked in water, there is no ability to char, brown, or caramelize the outside of the food.
A simple solution is to sous vide first, then have a pan or grill ready to sear the food quickly after it cooks in the water bath.
Compared to not buying any new appliance at all, sous vide will come with a cost—especially if you purchase any additional accessories.
But, as sous vide cooking has become much more popular in recent years, the price point for sous vide technology has dropped dramatically, making it much more accessible for any kitchen.
4. Attention to Food Safety
Some people think that sous vide cooking introduces unsafe food practices—but only if you do it incorrectly, just like any form of cooking.
The risk is leaving food in the “danger zone” for more than two hours—a temperature range between 40-140°F—which increases the risk of food-borne bacteria growing.
But, as sous vide temperatures typically start at 135°F or higher, there is a low risk of food being in the danger zone for two hours.
5. Potential Plastic Use and Waste
If you use your sous vide cooker often and don’t utilize reusable bags, this can generate a significant amount of plastic waste.
Further, some people are a little worried about plastic leaching into the food.
While there aren’t any published studies looking at the migration of plastic-based chemicals into sous vide-cooked food, many experts agree that using non-BPA plastic bags (whether food-grade or Ziploc-style, as we’ll see below) are safe to cook with and eat from.
FAQs About Sous Vide
If you’re like us, you probably have a lot of questions about sous vide cooking—we’ll try our best to answer them for you here.
Does Sous Vide Make Food Taste Better?
Many agree that sous vide cooking increases flavor and makes for a juicy end product—especially with meat that is not ordinarily juicy.
However, some critics voice that sous vide creates too-soft food that can be bland, which is why sous vide enthusiasts recommend liberal seasoning and a quick sear after the meat is cooked.
Keep in mind there is more to cook in sous vide than just meat—soft-boiled eggs, fish, vegetables, and even desserts can all be made in sous vide cookers.
Are There Different Types of Sous Vide Machines?
Yes, there are sous vide tubs that are essentially large stand-alone water ovens, and there are “wands” called immersion circulators that you insert into a pot or large tub of water.
The standalone water ovens take up a lot of space, are difficult to fill and empty, and are much less portable than the wand-style circulators.
However, if you plan to cook sous vide often—or have plenty of counter space—you may want to consider a combination oven.
Is Sous Vide Worth It? How Much Does Sous Vide Cost?
While professional sous vide devices can cost over $1,000, recent years have seen an expansion of sous vide appliances designed for the home cook, starting at about $100.
There are also some sous vide accessories to consider, which could put your sous vide investment in the $400-600 range.
Although not entirely necessary, sous vide accessories include a vacuum sealer, food-grade sous vide bags, large food-safe plastic tubs, weights to submerge the bags, and waterproof gloves to handle the hot bags.
However, most people do not need these extra accessories and simply use the sous vide wand circulator and a large pot.
Can You Use Ziploc Bags With Sous Vide?
The world is divided on this issue, but the general answer is that you can use Ziploc bags with sous vide cooking—you don’t have to purchase special vacuum bags.
However, you’ll need to use high-quality bags, like Ziploc or Glad, which are resistant to the sub-boiling temperatures involved in sous vide cooking—flimsy store-brand plastic bags won’t do.
Home sous vide enthusiasts recommend Ziploc Brand Freezer Bag with Easy Open Tabs, which are BPA-free and made with low-density polyethylene.
One caveat is that you shouldn’t use a single Ziploc bag when cooking in temperatures above 158°F.
This is because the heat can cause the bag to burst at the seams and expose your food to the water—an easy solution to this problem is doubling up the bags.
Conversely, some people strongly advise only using food-grade vacuum-seal bags because they believe Ziploc-style bags will leach into the water and cause changes in taste.
All in all, it’s up to you whether you use Ziploc bags or purchase food-grade vacuum sealant bags.
Is Sous Vide Just a Fad?
As sous vide cooking has a decades-long history, it’s likely not just a fad.
Ever since its first purported culinary use in France in the 1970s, European chefs have been utilizing sous vide cooking in their restaurants.
However, sous vide didn’t quite catch on in America until the early 2000s, with its first on-screen debut on Iron Chef America in 2006 piquing restauranteurs’ interest in the gadget.
In the past ten years, sous vide cooking has increased in popularity in tandem with the price decreases, making it more available to the average home cook.
Do Many Restaurants Use Sous Vide?
Yes, restaurant chefs tend to love sous vide cooking for its scalability, ease of use, precise and consistent outcomes, and ability to work on other things while the food cooks.
Many famed restaurants and chefs reportedly utilize sous vide techniques, including Napa’s French Laundry, where chef Thomas Keller uses sous vide to create his signature dish, the butter-poached lobster.
Other sous vide supporters include Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, and even Chipotle—the popular fast-casual Mexican chain cooks all of its meats sous vide style before being marinated and seared.
Key Takeaways: Is Sous Vide Worth It?
- Sous vide is a cooking style originating from France that cooks vacuum-sealed food in a temperature-controlled water bath over several hours.
- Advantages of sous vide include consistent and precise cooking, juicy and flavorful food, and ease of use.
- There are also some drawbacks, including moderate cost, long cook times, an inability to char or sear foods, and potential food safety concerns if not executed properly.
- As sous vide has been used for decades and has become much more accessible for home cooking in recent years, sous vide is likely here to stay.