What the Heck is Sous Vide Cooking?

Updated: Dec. 01, 2023

Is sous vide cooking an up-and-coming trend or a flash in the pan? Read on to discover what the fuss is all about.

“Sous vide” used to be a foreign word to me. I knew it was a cooking term and I thought it had something to do with cooking meat in water. And there was a vacuum-sealer involved somehow. And it cooked really fast. Or was it really slow? Clearly, I didn’t know much about this new trend and I needed to dig deeper. Keep reading to learn what sous vide is really all about.

What Is Sous Vide Cooking?

Sous vide is a cooking technique that heats food with water. Here’s how it works. Food is placed in a vacuum-sealed bag and cooked in a temperature-regulated water bath. The food cooks evenly because it is surrounded by water, not air. Because the water doesn’t go above a certain temperature, you never have to worry about overcooked food. It simply doesn’t happen when you cook sous vide-style, which translates to “under vacuum” in French.

What Equipment Do You Need?

There are two basic types of sous vide setups. The first uses an immersion circulator. Just place this device in a pot filled with water and voila, you’re ready to start. It’s compact, so it won’t take up much space.

The second setup is a full-on water oven, also known as a countertop water bath. It’s the size of a microwave and is much more expensive than the immersion circulator, so this product is for the professional sous vide-er or someone with a lot of extra counter space (Learn how to get more counter space in your own kitchen.).

The average home cook is better off with the smaller immersion circulator, in my opinion. But, no matter which type of sous vide device you own, you’ll need to put your food in a vacuum-sealed bag. You can purchase a vacuum sealer (we recommend these vacuum sealer picks!), which will do an excellent job of removing all air from the bag, but it’s more money to shell out. Luckily, there’s another option that doesn’t cost a thing. Just put your food in a bag and seal it almost completely, leaving an inch or so unsealed. Slowly drop the bag in a pot of water and let the water push out all the air. When you get to the top of the bag, seal it up. How cool is that?!

What Are the Pros?

The biggest benefit to sous vide cooking by far is the food quality. Cooking a steak perfectly every single time is something I thought only Iron Chefs and wizards could do. But no. With a sous vide machine, you will never, ever overcook your meat. No longer will you ruin an expensive cut of steak or power through an overcooked, rubbery chicken breast that you wish you could just throw in the garbage.

Another benefit of the sous vide machine is that it can cook more than just meat. Sure, it does wonders to steak, chicken breasts and pork shoulders, but it can also cook eggs, veggies, shrimp, lobster and more. I love that versatility!

What Are the Cons?

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to sous vide cooking. First, it takes longer to cook. Because the water doesn’t go above a certain temperature, the food needs to cook for a longer period of time before it’s safe to consume.

Second, you usually need to finish off your meats in a pan. Though it’s fully cooked, there’s no crust when you use a water bath. So, you need to sear it in a pan at the end. So long, one-dish dinners.

Third, it ain’t cheap. An immersion circulator will cost you $100-$200 dollars. A water oven is even more expensive, selling for over $300. Maybe I’ll just stick to using my $32 cast-iron pan…

Should You Buy a Sous Vide Machine?

Truthfully, I probably won’t go out and buy one for myself. I love meal planning with my slow cooker, and I’m starting to experiment with ultra-hot Instant Pot recipes, so I don’t want to add yet another kitchen appliance to the mix. But I can understand why others would want to.

A sous vide machine is an excellent kitchen appliance for the home cook who would do anything to achieve a perfectly cooked piece of meat. If you feel like your steak, chicken and pork are already delicious and don’t feel like spending more money on kitchen appliances, then you’re good without one.

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