Sous Vide – How Does It Work?

A sous vide machine is a piece of kitchen equipment used by professional chefs to cook meats and vegetables to exacting standards.

Sous vide is a cooking technique that uses immersion circulators to cook food in a water bath at a precise temperature.

Sous vide uses water instead of a cooking medium like oil or broth. Food is cooked low and slow in the water until the internal temperature reaches the desired temperature.

The technology has become increasingly popular in recent years as home cooks realize that they can use it to cook perfect results without all the fuss of traditional cooking methods.

What Is Sous Vide Cooking?

Sous vide (pronounced sue veed) literally means “under vacuum” or “under pressure.”

The method involves sealing ingredients in food- and temperature-safe resealable plastic bags, pushing out as much air as possible (no vacuum sealer required), and then submerging the ingredients in a pot of heated water to cook.

It sounds a little crazy — like something the Jetson family might do — but bear with me! Here’s the benefit:

When cooking sous vide, food is cooked extremely gently. It’s like poaching, except with a barrier between the food and the water.

The temperature is carefully controlled with an immersion circulator, so cooking is efficient and safe.

Sous vide cooking also requires much less oil than regular cooking, which I like because I’m both frugal and conscious about healthy eating.

Sous vide takes out a lot of the guesswork of cooking. You know exactly when your food is fully cooked and ready to eat.

Since the food never gets hotter than the temperature of the water, there’s very little risk of over-cooking!

what is sous vide cooking

What’s so Great About Cooking Sous Vide?

Cooking sous vide is another “set it and forget it” way of cooking, just like the slow cooker and the pressure cooker.

The biggest difference with cooking sous vide is the level of control you have over the temperature and the flexibility in the cooking time.

Unlike slow cookers and pressure cookers, which cook at one temperature, you get to choose and modify your cooking temperature with sous vide.

Sous vide recipes typically provide a range of cooking temperatures and times so that you can cook your food to the exact level of doneness that you prefer, like a medium-rare steak or a safely-cooked fish fillet.

Not sure what temperature your food should be or how long it should cook?

I used the Visual Cooking Guides on the Joule smartphone app or this cooking guide from the ChefSteps website whenever I wasn’t sure of how to cook something.

Both resources are great for taking the guesswork out of cooking sous vide. 

How are sous vide results better?

Sous vide provides down-to-the-degree control in the kitchen to deliver the most tender, flavorful food you’ve ever had.

With Anova, it’s super simple to get restaurant-quality results from edge to edge.

What equipment do I need to cook sous vide?

It’s actually very affordable and easy to get started with sous vide cooking thanks to the recent availability of sous vide devices built for the home cook. You’ll need a few things:

  • A sous vide precision cooking device
  • Packaging for your food, like resealable bags or canning jars
  • A sous vide container to hold the water
A sous vide cooker

Is It Safe to Cook in Plastic?

Cooking in plastic is weird. And it feels kind of wrong. I totally get that, and it’s been a big hurdle for me, as well.

In addition to the worries that many of us have about contact between food and plastic, there’s also just the oddness of cooking food in plastic.

It’s definitely not something your great-grandmother did, and it feels about as far from throwing meat on fire as you can get.

For the first concern — the safety of cooking food in plastic — I offer two thoughts:

  1. The safety of plastic has come a long way in the past decade or so, particularly when using name-brand resealable plastic freezer bags
  2. When you cook sous vide, the water never reaches the boiling point so there isn’t much of a risk that the bag will overheat and melt.

See Also: How to Clean Sous Vide Bags?

How exactly does sous vide cooking work?

The most important piece of equipment is the sous vide immersion cooker.

This device can precisely regulate water temperature and helps the water — and, in turn, your food — maintain that temperature no matter how much time passes.

“Sous vide cooking is all about cooking at precisely regulated temperatures, and the immersion cooker is the piece of equipment that makes that possible,” Shumski said.

In addition to the immersion cooker, you’ll need a large pot or a heat-proof storage container to create the water bath.

You’ll also need food-safe bags, whether that’s vacuum sealable bags (along with a vacuum sealer), resealable plastic bags like Ziploc bags or reusable silicone bags.

While the experts we spoke to noted vacuum seal bags aren’t absolutely necessary, it is a plus if you want to ensure your food stays locked in and water stays out, according to Cauthen.

Once you have all your equipment together,  the following general steps for sous vide cooking:

  • Place your food in a bag and remove the air from it.
  • Use the immersion cooker to heat the water to the specified temperature in your recipe or immersion cooker guide.
  • Drop the bag in the water.
  • Leave the bag in the water for the specified time as noted by your immersion cooker or recipe.
  • Remove the food from the bag, dry it off and do any finishing steps like searing or plating.

Sous vide cooking is best known for precisely cooking meats and fish, but you can also cook an array of other foods with a sous vide cooker as long as you have the time and the right equipment.

Experts told us you can cook everything from eggs and vegetables to desserts like creme brulee and chocolate cake.

Sous vide: Time and temperature

Because the water temperature doesn’t get higher than what you set it to with sous vide cooker, meats and other types of foods manage to cook uniformly — however, it takes a lot longer than if you were to cook it using a stove or grill, according to Cauthen.

The experts we spoke to noted the time it takes to sous vide depends on the type of food you’re cooking (fish, for example, takes considerably less time to cook than tough meats), the level of doneness  aiming for and the thickness and weight of your meat.

Typically, the guides and apps that come with the immersion cooker will suggest how long to cook your foods for.

How Do Sous Vide Immersion Circulators Work?

Inside the sticklike body of the machine are a motor, a heating coil, one or more temperature sensors, and an “impeller,” a type of propeller.

The impeller circulates water past the heating coil and throughout the vessel, while sensors monitor and adjust the heat output to maintain the desired water temperature.

The benefits of sous vide cooking are perfectly and uniformly cooked food and a process that’s quiet, neat, and mostly hands-off.

Cleanup is minimal, because you’re cooking your food in water. And because they’re not cooked directly in the water, vegetables such as carrots and asparagus come out intensely flavorful and stay brightly colored.

Sous vide cooking can also be long, slow, and gentle, turning tough cuts of meat fork-tender.

Sous vide isn’t just for steak and eggs. Check out our recipes for Sous Vide Upside-Down Cheesecake Cups, Sous Vide Sichuan Twice-Cooked Pork Belly, and more.

See Also: How Long to Sous Vide Chicken Thighs?

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between sous vide and other cooking methods?

Sous vide is very different from other cooking methods. Other cooking methods cook food quickly, but sous vide takes longer because the food is cooked slowly.

See also: Sous vide vs Instant pot

What are some foods that are good for sous vide?

Good foods for sous vide include chicken breasts, steak, pork chops, salmon, and tuna.

How does sous vide work?

Sous vide works by sealing the food inside a bag and then cooking it at a low temperature for a long time.

How long should I cook a steak sous vide?

Steaks can be cooked sous vide for up to 12 hours.

What is the best way to store sous vide cooked food?

Store your sous vide cooked food in a cooler with ice.


In conclusion, this method is great for cooking food at home because it is easy to use and does not require any special equipment.

It is also a safe way to cook food that is sensitive to heat. Sous vide is the French term for “under vacuum” and refers to the technique of cooking food in a water bath that has been vacuum sealed.

The water temperature is usually maintained between 55-65 degrees Celsius, which is the temperature range that most proteins will remain in a healthy state.

This technique is used in restaurants and is a great way to cook food without the risk of overcooking.

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