sous vide bags

Using Ziplocs as Sous Vide Bags, Plus Alternatives to Consider

When you’re using the sous vide method, bags are a very important part of the equation. There is much debate about whether it’s OK to use Ziplocs as sous vide bags, and the bottom line is that in some ways they are not ideal — however, they are still totally fine to use as long as you understand their limitations.

What Are Your Options?

Sous vide cooking pouches can be special vacuum sealer bags, reusable silicone bags, reusable BPA-free plastic bags, or they can be heavy duty Ziplocs.

In this article we’ll talk about the pros and cons of Ziplocs and take a look at the other sous vide bags you can use.

These Bags Are Recommended For Sous Vide

Using Ziplocs vs Vacuum Sealer Bags

Any bags used for sous vide will need to be strong enough to hold up during the method’s long cooking times. In addition, you need to make sure you’re using BPA-free plastic so that your food does not contain leached chemicals. Important!

Choosing The Right Ziplocs

Durable, high-quality plastic bags are one of the keys to sous vide cooking.

With any kind of plastic used in cooking, one of the main concerns is the presence of BPA chemicals. BPA chemicals are linked to serious health issues such as neurological and reproductive (and many other) problems and increased risk for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, and others.

All of the different types of Ziploc food storage bags are BPA-free. This means that there are none of the harmful chemicals in the plastic that could possibly contaminate your food.

While the regular Ziplocs are BPA free, they’re not sturdy enough for this cooking process. Ziploc freezer bags are the only zip top bags suitable for sous vide cooking. Don’t use inexpensive brands, and make sure you get the freezer bags since they’re the heavy duty ones.

Know The Limitations

Unfortunately, there is one thing that we have seen from Ziploc bags, and that is the fact that they lack the durability of vacuum sealed bags.

When cooking at temperatures above approximately 158 degrees (F) you can start to run into some trouble with the bag construction — it can literally come apart at the seams during the cook time.

Obviously that’s not good. You don’t want to ruin a delicious recipe like this sous vide ribeye steak by having everything suddenly open up and spill out into the water bath.

Some users report that you may see Ziploc bags deteriorate after about 8 hours of cook time. It could also happen sooner than that, like 6 hours, according to other stories I’ve heard. I’m happy to say that it never happened to me.

Still, I stopped using Ziplocs after my fist few months of starting out with this cooking method because I was tired of having to be concerned about whether the recipe I wanted to make was going to work with the limitations of the bags.

So basically, to be on the safe side,  Ziplocs are just fine for shorter cooking times and temperatures below 158 degrees. 

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There Are Significant Benefits to Using a Vacuum Sealer

Ideally you will be purchasing a vacuum sealer to ensure that you get the best use out of your sous vide machine. When I decided I was finished with Ziplocs, I moved on because it seemed like it was time to get a vacuum sealer. It gave me peace of mind about the integrity of my bags during long cook times, and the vacuum sealer also turned into something I use all the time in my kitchen, not just for sous vide.

Here are some of the benefits of using vacuum sealer bags:

Vacuum-sealed packages of food can stay fresher longer because of the absence of air in the bags.

When using vacuum-sealed pouches of food for sous viding, you won’t have to worry about the seams coming apart during a long cook.

Vacuum-sealed cooking pouches give you the option of creating nice neat packages of pre-cooked food that you can reheat later. And in my opinion this is one of the great benefits of this cooking method.

Investing in a vacuum sealer also allows you to purchase bulk packages of meat and portion them for storage in your freezer. I do this all the time in my kitchen because Costco has quality meat and it’s a super cost effective way to go. The savings in food costs probably paid for my vacuum sealer within the first year. (Family of five who eat an average amount of meat.) So if you’re deciding whether to spend the money on a vacuum sealer for this cooking method, consider the other uses and ways you can recoup the purchase amount.

Plus, the vacuum-sealed bags look so appealing when they’re full of delicious food. Yum!

Recommended Vacuum Sealers For Sous Vide Cooking

As you can see, you can find good vacuum sealers that aren’t expensive.

Sale
NESCO VS-12, Deluxe Vacuum Sealer with Bag Starter Kit and...
  • Double Line Seals for Added Strength
  • Hands-Free Sealing with Locked Handle
  • Variable Settings: Regular or Gentle
Sale
KitchenBoss Vacuum Sealer Machine for Preservation Automatic...
  • FIRE & HEAT RESISTANT HOUSING: This product’s housing is made from V0 level ABS-PC material which provides several advantages, including...
  • HIGH ENDURANCE BODY COATING: The coating of the G200 housing uses piano mirror coating craftsmanship. It is completely smooth and does not...
  • MULTI SEALING MODE FOR ALL FRESHNESS: Our multi-function vacuum sealer machine provides the best preservation for your food: "INCHING" for...

If you’re going to be buying a vacuum sealer then you’ll be using special bags that work with your machine and you won’t need Ziplocs for your cooking. Make sure you get bags that are compatible with your machine.

Some sealers use rolls of bags that you cut to size as you use them and some sealers take pre-sized bags. Some use both types. Vacuum sealers usually come with a small assortment of bags to get you started.

Here’s one product to check out:

Nutri-Lock Vacuum Sealer Bags. 100 Quart Bags 8x12 Inch....

 

What About Using Vacuum Bags Without The Sealer?

I’m addressing this because I’ve gotten this question a few times. Using vacuum sealer bags without the machine seems like a possibility, since the bags are durable and don’t have the cooking limitations of Ziplocs.

However, this is not my preferred way to go because your bag won’t have a proper seal. You can use the water immersion method for getting the air out of your bag, then just close and clip the top of the bag to the side of your cooking vessel. It’s an option that will work, but I don’t like doing it this way just because of the lack of a real seal.

My reservation about this has to do with my immersion circulator being a pretty vigorous little machine, so there’s a lot of water movement and it makes me nervous that the clips will eventually let the bag go a couple of hours into the cooking process.

Other Alternatives

These are some good options that you may want to consider before you start using Ziplocs as sous vide bags.

Reusable BPA-Free Plastic Bags

There are reusable plastic sous vide cooking bags that you can use. This way, you don’t have to purchase a vacuum sealer but you can enjoy more durable bags that won’t have the limits on cook time and temperature that Ziploc bags have.

These bags are made of BPA-free plastic and this kit comes with a hand pump that you can use for manual vacuum sealing. These manual pumps actually work really well.


This is an affordable option that will allow you to avoid purchasing a vacuum sealer.

These reusable bags cost more than Ziplocs but since they’re designed for this type of cooking they’re a lot more versatile and durable. And it’s always good to purchase items that are reusable.

Reusable Silicone Sous Vide Bags

Here is another option, on the expensive side but it gives you the benefit of being plastic-free (they’re made of silicone) and it’s also reusable.

Using Ziplocs As Sous Vide Bags is The Lowest Cost Option

But if you’re just getting started and learning how to use this method, and you want to spread out the initial expenses over time (you may want to see our sous vide machine top picks), see how you like the method, and get more involved with it gradually, which is what I did, you can definitely get by with using Ziplocs for sous vide cooking as long as your cooking times are on the shorter side.

No more than several hours is a safe rule of thumb. And not in water temperatures hotter than 158 degrees F.

If you do decide to use Ziploc bags, make sure you buy the brand name Ziploc as these are BPA-free, and BPA-free bags are the only ones you should be using… no exceptions to that rule if you are even remotely health conscious.

Also, again, be sure to get the freezer bags. These work best since they’re thicker and they’re tougher, and you can find good deals when you buy a bunch at a time on Amazon.

Ziploc Freezer Bags with New Grip 'n Seal Technology,...
  • Get unbeatable freezer protection with new Grip ‘n Seal technology
  • Our triple system seal features an extended tab, new, easy grip texture and a double zipper
  • Grip ‘n Seal technology provides unbeatable freezer protection from freezer burn, which helps reduce food waste

Using The Water Immersion Method For Ziplocs

You’ll need to use the water immersion method when placing your bagged foods into the water if they are not vacuum sealed.

This sounds like a big deal but really all it is is you just submerge the bag into the water in stages, letting the water pressure actually push all of the air out of the bag until you have almost all of the air gone and the top of the bag is just above the water line. Just lower the bag slowly and hold on to enough of the top so that you can seal it up.

Once you seal the bag, carefully, you’re in business. All you need to do is securely clip the bag to the side of your cooking vessel.

We have a detailed explanation of how to do the water immersion technique.

Have fun with it!

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