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If you’re new to the world of sous vide cooking, it’s easy to be intimidated by the whole affair. A water bath filled with expensive cuts of meat and fish and topped off with ping-pong balls for insulation sounds more like a science experiment—or an avant garde art installation—than a straightforward way to make Sunday night dinner.
Yet sous vide cooking is no more complicated than roasting, searing, or braising—in fact, the process is much gentler than most traditional ways of cooking, and thus more forgiving for inexperienced cooks who don’t want to ruin a meal by over or undercooking their star dish. It simply involves placing foods in an airtight container and submerging them in a temperature-controlled bath of circulating water, which yields incredibly tender meat and flavorful vegetables.
To help you get started on your sous vide journey, we’ve rounded up everything you’ll need to perfect this versatile and fun technique at home. Don’t worry—it comes down to a few common kitchen tools, and only one piece of essential speciality equipment.
1. Our favorite immersion circulator
Behind all sous vide cooking is a good immersion circulator, a device that simultaneously heats water to a precise temperature and circulates it throughout the vessel it’s placed in, creating the perfect environment to cook all sorts of food gently and evenly.
We tested the best immersion circulators on the market and found the Anova Bluetooth Precision Cooker to be our top choice. Polished, intuitive, and strikingly precise, this device is the perfect circulator for beginners and pros alike. And with a retail price of $149, the Bluetooth Anova isn’t just our top performer—it’s also the best value you’ll find.
If you’re dead-set on an immersion circulator that has WiFi connectivity instead of Bluetooth, we recommend the ChefSteps Joule, a sleek and impressive device that you control entirely from your smartphone.
2. Plastic Ziploc-style or sous vide bags
Although sous vide literally means “under vacuum” in French, you don’t always need vacuum-sealed bags in order to achieve the best results. When cooking most meat and fish, classic Ziploc freezer bags with a strong seal will do the trick. And no, there’s no need to worry about the plastic degrading—these bags are BPA-free, and proteins are prepared sous vide at low temperatures that won’t cause structural damage to the plastic.
You may want to turn to proper vacuum seal bags, however, when cooking vegetables and other foods that call for higher temperatures. That’s not to say the plastic itself of traditional freezer bags will degrade under these temperatures, but their seals and side-stitching aren’t quite strong enough to handle the pressure—making these popular, heavy-duty vacuum seal bags from Avid Armor the way to go.
3. A large pot or dutch oven for the bath
While professional chefs typically use large plastic bins to create their sous vide baths, any vessel deep enough to hold water and allow your immersion circulator to grip on will do just fine. At home, I like to use a large stock pot, such as the Cuisinart Multiclad Stainless Steel Pot from our roundup of the best cookware sets.
If your stock pot is being used to boil pasta or carry out other critical tasks in your kitchen, we recommend turning to a dutch oven for your sous vide needs. We found the Staub Round Cocotte to be the best dutch oven we tested, but the Lodge Dutch Oven is a great choice if you’re shopping on a budget.
4. Or a Cambro container (if you’re cooking for a crowd)
If you need to sous vide for a lot of guests—or have the room in your kitchen for some seriously chef-y tools—a classic Cambro container will help you cook easily and efficiently. These plastic storage containers are used to prep food in restaurants all over the world because they’re sanitary, stackable, and come in a range of sizes. For sous vide purposes, they also don’t suck as much heat from the bath as your metal pots do, meaning the device doesn’t have to work as hard to regulate the temperature.
While these containers aren’t a necessity for your basic sous vide cooking, they’re a smart investment for serious home chefs looking to up their sous vide game.
5. A vacuum sealer for traditional “sous vide”
While plastic freezer bags and the water displacement technique are all you need to prep meat and fish for sous vide, a proper vacuum sealer is great to have when cooking vegetables and other foods that require higher temperatures. They’re also immensely useful for storing food— sous vide style or not—in the freezer for months on end.
Although we’ve yet to test vacuum sealers at Reviewed, users adore this best-selling vacuum sealer from NutriChef, which has over 2,500 5-star Amazon reviews.
6. Bag clips to keep your food submerged
Strong, sturdy bags clips are essential for keeping your sous vide bags attached to your container’s edge and submerged in the water bath. You probably already have a bunch of bag clips lying around your house, but if you’re in the market for some new ones that won’t break, this set of 8 stainless steel clips will do the trick.
7. Or a pot lid organizer for multiple bags
If you opt for a Cambro container or other vessel to sous vide many bags at once, chip clips and wooden spoons may not be enough to keep your food organized and submerged. An adjustable pot lid organizer, like this highly-rated stainless steel organizer from Ikea, is the perfect tool to help you cook many bags at once and allow the water to flow freely around each one.
8. Ping pong balls for insulation
We learned this fun trick from the unbeatable J. Kenji Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats—if you’re cooking something sous vide over a very long period of time, cover the top of the water with ping pong balls to prevent evaporation and promote temperature regulation. Without them, you risk exposing your food bags to the open air or letting the water line get so low that you immersion circulator will shut off.
Because ping pong balls are light and conform the shape of their container, it’s also very easy to add and remove bags from the sous vide bath with the ping pong balls already in place. Plus, you’ll always have them at the ready if you ever want to re-live college.
9. A cast iron pan to get a great sear
After the sous vide process is done and you’ve cooked your meat or veggies to perfection, you’ll probably still miss the crispy outer crust you can achieve from searing and roasting. Quickly toss your food on a well-heated cast iron pan, like our favorite 12” from Lodge from our roundup of the best cast iron pans, and you’ll have the perfect sear to complement your food’s tenderly cooked interior. Viola!
Ready to sous vide?
Once you have all your tools and you’re ready to sous vide for real, check out our favorite recipes on how to sous vide chicken, eggs, steak, salmon, and more.
We love J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s guides to sous vide salmon and chicken over at Serious Eats, and this simple guide to perfect sous vide soft-boiled eggs by The Splendid Table and America’s Test Kitchen. Bon Appetit has also produced a great video and recipe on how to make simple sous vide steak.