Think of the most perfectly cooked steak you have ever had in your life.
Now, realize that the steak was likely cooked using the sous vide method.
Sous vide cooking is a French cooking technique that entails gently heating food in a temperature-controlled water bath, in which the food is air-tight inside a vacuum-sealed bag as it comes to temperature.
This is a “secret technique” used by chefs in 5-star restaurants across the globe, but is it safe? Should you use it to feed your family?
Ultimately, the answer is “yes.” But, here is why…
What’s So Great About Sous Vide Cooking, Anyway?
Sous vide cooking is a technique that was popularized in France in the 1970s when Chef Georges Pralus discovered his foie gras had better texture and less fat secretion when cooked sous vide.
And that’s exactly right; sous vide cooking is done at such a low temperature, the fat stays in, leading to more flavor in your cooking.
The first step in sous vide cooking is to vacuum seal the food you wish to cook.
If, for example, you are cooking a steak, you would use sous vide-safe bags and a vacuum sealer to remove all the air inside the bag, leaving your steak and seasonings nicely packaged.
Next, you need an immersion circulator and a large (usually 12 quart) container filled with water.
The immersion circulator is the tool that heats the water gently to a precise temperature, but also circulates the water for perfectly even cooking.
The vacuum-sealed bag is then added to the heated water and submerged completely, cooking the food for many hours at a very low temperature.
As the food heats up, it reaches the same temperature as the water and never gets hotter than that, thus keeping in flavor and good texture.
Keeping with our steak example, once the steak reaches the correct temperature it is removed from the water bath and sealed bag.
It is then briefly seared in a screaming-hot cast iron pan or on the grill, giving the once gray, yet perfectly cooked, steak some much-needed browning.
The result is the best steak of your life, due to the fats in the meat staying intact, and the flavors inside the sous vide bag penetrate the entire steak.
Summary: Sous vide cooking is a tried and true method of cooking, using an immersion circulator and water bath to slowly heat food submerged in a sous vide container.
Is Sous Vide Cooking Healthy?
The short version of this answer is yes, sous vide cooking is healthy.
But like everything, there are some limitations.
There are many factors in cooking sous vide that must be analyzed before deep-diving into the sous vide water bath.
We all know that microplastic can leak out into food during moderate-heat cooking.
This brought on the phthalate and BPA-free movement in the plastic industry, as these are some of the more harmful chemicals found inside a lot of plastic.
Experts say that while the sous vide container does not necessarily have to be BPA-free, the vacuum-sealed bags must be.
Why is that?
Since the food is coming into direct contact with the food-safe polyethylene plastic bags, this is where the meal has the chance to absorb the plastic.
The food is never coming into direct contact with the container itself, and it has the vacuum-sealed bag as a layer of protection from the plastic.
Still, most sous vide equipment is made with food-safe materials, however, you should always check the materials list every time you buy a product to make sure you are okay with what the tool is made from.
Cooking at Low Temperatures
While some worry about food spoiling from sitting in the “temperature danger zone,” aka between 40°F and 140°F, cooking sous vide poses less of a risk than foods cooked in a more traditional method.
In truth, harmful bacteria cannot grow in temperatures higher than 130°F, and most will be destroyed after a few hours at that circulating temperature; the 10-degree difference acts as a buffer zone for complete certainty that the food reaches a hot enough temperature to safely eat.
The beautiful thing is that most sous vide devices will let you know when you are in the danger zone during your cooking process.
In the end, sous vide cooking is so reliable, hospitals even apply this cooking method when making food to control temperature and make healthier patient meals.
Summary: Sous vide cooking is healthy as long as you are using sous vide-approved plastic bags and keeping an eye on your temperature throughout the cooking process.
Why is Sous Vide Bad?
Skeptics of the sous vide method claim they are at risk for botulism, which is a disease caused by the harmful bacteria C. botulinum.
Sourcing reliable independent analysis about the health risks of sous vide proves impossible, however, this Reddit thread is quite good.
Long story short, your risk for catching botulism from sous vide is extremely low.
C. botulinum thrives in low-oxygen environments within the 40°F and 140°F temperature range for longer than two hours.
As stated before, there is a 10-degree grace period where bacteria are eliminated by the time the temperature reaches 130°F.
Just do not forget basic kitchen hygiene when cooking sous vide, and you will be fine.
What will also matter is where you are sourcing your meats from.
Commercially processed meats from factory farms will need to be cooked following strict temperature guidelines due to diseases among livestock kept in inhumane conditions.
I like to buy meat from private farmers I know, and it is a privilege to be able to do so.
More humanely kept animals have less diseases and a better quality of life, lending a better taste and healthier nutrients from the animal.
Why do you think raw steak tartare is only made with the highest quality of beef?
Again, precision temperature control is the reason sous vide is so safe, so bacteria is not an issue as long as the sous vide cooking is done according to temperature guidelines.
Summary: Sous vide cooking is perfectly safe when you keep an eye on the temperature, follow basic kitchen hygiene, and buy locally sourced natural meats.
Are Ziploc Bags Safe for Sous Vide Cooking?
Lots of experts say yes, you can use Ziploc bags for sous vide if you are in a pinch.
However, for health reasons, I advise against using anything other than specific sous vide bags.
Using Ziploc bags for sous vide is not an intended use by the manufacturer, and therefore cannot be deemed as safe.
Beware before heating a plastic bag that was not intended for cooking.
According to a Harvard University study, heating plastic Tupperware increases the chances of plastic chemicals released into the food you’re heating.
Tupperware is much thicker and sturdier than Ziploc bags, and plastic is still released into food by way of heat.
This leads me to believe that Ziploc bags are also unsafe to heat food in.
The best bags to use are vacuum-sealable bags labeled specifically for sous vide.
They can be reusable or disposable, although reusable is better for our planet.
Mason Canning Jars
Canning jars are another household item that can be used for sous vide.
Mason jars can be used for sous vide cooking due to the glass’s ability to withstand the high temperature and create an impenetrable barrier between the canning jar and the water bath.
This technique can be used to gently cook sous vide eggs, yogurt, eggnog, and pate.
Foods that set, such as custards, are fool-proof when sous vide inside a jar since they will never overheat or break.
Summary: Do not use Ziploc bags for sous vide, only vacuum-sealed bags meant for sous vide. You can also use water-tight lidded glass jars.
Do Professional Chefs Use Sous Vide?
Chefs are constantly using sous vide cooking as it makes quality control in a restaurant so much easier.
Typically, professional chefs will prepare a perfected meal ahead of time, vacuum-seal the cooked food, store it in cold storage, and then gently reheat using sous vide.
This way, the food cooks to perfection, there is less chaos during the restaurant’s busy time, and the method is food-proof.
Summary: Professional chefs love to use sous vide for prepping restaurant meals and quality control.
Does Sous Vide Make Steak More Tender?
As mentioned previously, steak is the perfect example of why sous vide cooking is so great.
Meat is comprised of muscle fibers, fat, water, and connective tissue.
The gentle heating of your immersion circulator does not break down the fats, fibers, or connective tissue, which can happen when searing a traditional steak.
Sous vide gives precision to the cooking temperature, eliminating any dried-out expensive cuts of beef you may have experienced.
It gives us the ability to cook a steak to the perfect rare, medium-rare, or medium center with no hot spots in the pan and no uneven browning.
This means you will have the same temperature all the way through the steak.
The low controlled temperature also acts as a cushion to retain moisture without melting all of the fat out of the meat, leading to a tender, rich, juicy steak.
Once removed, your sous vide steak may look slightly grey in color.
All that is left to do after your sous vide steak is cooked is sear the outside for that salty crust and picturesque sear.
Summary: Sous vide can make a steak more tender since the low cooking temperature does not break down fats in the meat, in comparison to only searing a steak.
Can You Leave Meat in Sous Vide Cooking for Too Long?
Technically, yes, you can leave your steak in your sous vide for too long.
Your meat does not have the option of overcooking due to the precise temperature regulated inside the water bath.
However, leaving your meat inside the sous vide for longer than 4 hours can cause your meat to get mushy and have an unpleasant texture.
This applies to “tender steaks” such as filet mignon, strip steak, and flank steak.
Cooking sous vide is more forgiving in comparison to grilling, since 2 minutes too long on the grill completely throws off a steak’s texture and doneness.
With sous vide meat, there is about a 4-hour window of perfect tenderness before it goes mushy, so it is still more fool-proof than grilling a steak.
Summary: For meats, 4 hours is plenty of time for a tender outcome. Still, sous vide cooking is very forgiving.
What Should I Cook in My Sous Vide?
As stated before, many consider sous vide steaks to be the best steaks in the world, so it should be at the top of your list of things to sous vide.
Chicken breasts are another great protein to sous vide.
The key to a juicy and flavorful chicken breast is temperature control, which is sous vides’ claim to fame.
Your chicken breasts will come out so tender, you cannot help but take a photo to remember the best chicken of your life.
Sous viding a chuck roast is lovely meat to cook gently to medium-rare and serve thinly sliced during a special occasion.
You can even cook an impressive risotto inside sous vide bags!
Come up with your own recipes by using any of the following foods that are great for sous vide:
- Tough cuts of beef
- Harder vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips
- Duck breast
Your shopping cart options are endless when it comes to precision cooking.
Summary: You can cook just about anything in sous vide, with meats being favored by cooks and professional chefs.
Is Sous Vide Worth It?
We know that cooking sous vide is worth it, but hearing it from others will help you make that decision.
Users on Reddit have summarized some of the many reasons why sous vide is worth the cost and effort, including:
- Adaptability – Just about anything can be cooked sous vide, aside from foods that require high levels of heat.
- Reliability – Once you find your temperature “sweet spot”, the sous vide recipe can be replicated over and over again with almost no margin of error.
- Ease of Use – Season, seal, circulate at the correct temperature. The process is repetitive and simple.
- Scalability – If you can cook one pouch of food in your sous vide, you can cook twenty meals in your sous vide all at the same time. If you are one who loves to entertain and feed people, sous vide machines are perfect for you.
- Ease of Service – Caterers and food service workers swear by sous vide to gently cook a huge amount of meals for large parties. The sous vide equipment takes care of the meal while chefs can tend to other preparations.
- Food Safety – As long as all raw products reach the perfect temperature inside the sous vide, foodborne illnesses are not an issue for both home cooks and restaurant chefs, as mentioned previously.
Summary: If you are a chef or a great home cook looking to experiment with different cooking styles, sous vide is totally worth it.
What Is the Best Sous Vide Machine?
Ever since sous vide cooking exploded in popularity, makers are quick to get these cooking devices out onto the market.
The best sous vide precision cooker will have extremely precise temperature control to ensure your results are perfect each time, circulating the right amount of pressure and heat.
We set out to find the best sous vide immersion circulators and found that the Anova AN-5000 Sous Vide WiFi Precision Cooker to be the best overall model in the category.
The device is controlled solely by your smartphone, virtually cooking on the go while maintaining perfect temperature in the water bath.
The best high-end sous vide might also be the most popular; the Breville Joule Sous Vide is a must-have within this cooking community.
This model can balance inside almost any pot of water, making sous vide setup out of any large pot you have.
It, too, is controlled by WiFi for greater cooking control from anywhere in the house.
The Joule can sync with your digital home device as well, allowing you to voice-control your cooking from any room!
Consumers on a budget can also enjoy cooking food with the affordable Instant Accu-Slim Sous Vide, made by the same company that makes the Instant Pot.
This model has a digital analog to display temperature and time, and is a reliable way for home cooks to experiment with sous vide.
Summary: We found the Anova AN-5000 to be the best sous vide machine for easy cooking.
Other Helpful Information
Although the immersion circulator is arguably the most vital part of sous vides, there are quite a few additional pieces of cooking equipment that will make cooking sous vide easier every time.
You will also need a sous vide container in which to create your water bath with your immersion circulator.
Our team researched and tested countless sous vide containers to see which were the best performing in the category.
Our favorite sous vide container by far was the Homenote Sous Vide 12-Quart Container, which comes with countless accessories to further assist in the sous vide process.
You may need more than just an immersion circulator in your online shopping cart to begin sous viding, but the purchases will be worth it.
Je t’aime, Sous Vide
We have examined the gentlest, most consistent way of cooking at low temperatures, sous viding.
With just a few simple steps, food cooks evenly inside the water bath every time.
Simply fill up your sous vide bag with your food and seasonings, vacuum sealing the flavor in.
Place inside your low-temperature sous vide cooking vessel, and watch while your food cooks slowly and evenly over time.
Most home kitchens are kicking traditional cooking to the side in favor of this simple cooking technique, which requires just a few new exciting home purchases.
With your new sous vide for home use, you will wonder how you ever ate overcooked steaks for dinner.