Sous vide has come a long way in the last ten, twenty years. It used to be prohibitively expensive for home cooks to purchase sous vide equipment, with prices in the $1,000 neighborhood. But thankfully that’s all changed and it has become extremely affordable to get started sous videing in your own kitchen. Now you can treat yourself to incredibly delicious, perfect meats like this ribeye steak that would cost big bucks at a restaurant. So let’s go over how to sous vide, including what you need to get going and how you use the method.
What is Sous Vide
If you’ve been reading about sous vide then this may be the fourth or fifth time that you’ve heard this. Sous vide means “under vacuum” in French, and being under vacuum is one of the keys to preparing food this way.
The beauty of sous vide cooking is that it allows you to cook your food to the exact temperature that you desire. Because the water cooking bath is heated to a temperature that you set precisely, such as 140 degrees F, the food you’re cooking will only ever reach that temperature and no more.
It is much, much harder to have precise control over food cooking on the stove top. You just can’t get this precise any other way. This makes it more difficult (but still not impossible) to overcook your food. However, with sous vide, most overcooking comes from you leaving it in the water bath for way, way longer than it needs. So it’s much less likely to get an overcooked steak when you’re cooking sous vide.
Sous Vide Equipment
Now for the fun part. You’ll need some equipment to get started, so let’s look at your options.
Choose a Sous Vide Machine
You need a sous vide machine. There are immersion circulators and there are water oven style sous vide machines. There are pros and cons to each type, and you can read more about types of sous vide machines here.
The short version is this: immersion circulators are smaller and easier to store, and they allow you a range of options when it comes to your cooking vessel.
Water ovens are larger, harder to find space for, usually more expensive, and they limit you to one size of cooking vessel since it is a self-contained unit.
The ChefSteps Joule is the best immersion circulator on the market right now, according to my personal experience as well as a Bon Appetit show that I was watching the other day.
- Smallest, sleekest sous vide tool available at just 11 inches tall and 1.3 pounds, with streamlined white body and solid stainless steel cap...
- Saves space: Half the size of other sous vide machines, it's small enough to slip into a top drawer. IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi compatible 2.4...
- Heats up fast: 1100 watts of power for hyper-fast water heating. System requirements: iOS 8.0 or later, Android 4.4 or later, internet...
Purchase a Vacuum Sealer or Go with ZipLocs
You can use either a vacuum sealer to make your cooking bags or you can use ZipLoc freezer bags. make sure you’re using the heavy-duty bags because otherwise they will come apart at the seams during your cook.
You’ll have to follow the water immersion technique instructions for getting the air out and sealing your bags.
If you can get a vacuum sealer, that would be ideal. The vacuum sealer bags are more durable, the food is packed better, and you don’t have to worry about limiting your cook times due to flimsier bags. Here’s a whole discussion about sous vide bags.
Vacuum sealers come in a range of price points and I’m not going to mince words here, there are some very junky ones out there and I would suggest avoiding those altogether. Yes, they’re less expensive.
But you’ll be dealing with inferior equipment. Bad seals, machines that perform poorly when vacuum packing your food, machines that completely stop working after a short amount of time…
Here’s a mid-priced vacuum sealer that I recommend.
- Double Line Seals for Added Strength
- Hands-Free Sealing with Locked Handle
- Variable Settings: Regular or Gentle
Here’s a higher-priced unit that I also recommend.
- Fan cooled motor LED light panel with Automatic mode for one touch operation and Manual mode
- 935 watts (120 volts, 60 Hz)
- Extra long, 5 mm thick seal bar seals bags up to 15"
When you’re packing multiple pieces of meat, poultry, or fish into one bag, make sure to arrange them so they are not overlapping.
Sous Vide Cooking Vessels
If you’re using an immersion circulator then you will need a cooking vessel. As mentioned above, the water oven sous vide machines are self-contained so you already have your vessel.
With an immersion circulator you can use a large stock pot or plastic Cambro containers like these. I prefer the Cambros because I like the visibility.
The beauty of the immersion circulator as I said before is the fact that you can use it with different vessels, which allows you some size flexibility depending on what you’re cooking.
Pack and Seal Your Bags
Season your food with some salt and anything else you’re using. Get your aromatics ready to pack with the food. Maybe you’re using sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary, or throwing in a couple of bay leaves. Pack these into the bags with your food.
Use your vacuum sealer or if you’re using ZipLocs then go ahead and use that immersion technique mentioned above. Basically you’re just lowering the ZipLoc into a large bowl or pot of water slowly with the zip-top open, so that the water pressure pushes the air out of the bag.
Once you have lowered it as far as you can go while still maintaining a good grip on the bag (don’t drop it in!) then go ahead a seal it. I recommend doing this in a bowl of water that is not your hot sous vide cooking water. Don’t burn yourself, seriously, I mean why even risk it.
Set Cooking Temperature
Now go ahead and get your water up to temp. You could start this process while you’re still packing up the bags since it can take a while. You can save some time by starting with water that’s already hot from the tap.
Set your temperature and when the temp is reached, go ahead and drop your food in. I would suggest using a metal clip to attach the bag to the side of the cooking vessel, especially if you’re cooking in ZipLocs.
Set temp and time your cook according to what you’re cooking.
Oh look, we have a steak cooking chart right here for you.
Check this handy chart for more cook times.
Finish it Off
When you’ve reached the end of the cook, remove the bag from the water and carefully take the food out of the bag. Let it rest for 10-20 minutes.
If you’re searing meat, dry the meat off on a couple of layers of paper towels. Sear in a hot cast iron skillet for 30-60 seconds on each side. (This is a general guideline, refer to your specific recipe for precise timing for your sear.)