As any good chef will tell you, having the right equipment is critical for getting high quality food. This is true regardless of the cooking technique that you’re using or the specific meal that you’re making.
So then, it should be no surprise that sous vide cooking comes down to the equipment too. Still, this doesn’t have to be a complicated topic.
Instead, there are only a few pieces of absolutely essential equipment and most of them are easy to acquire. With that in mind, this post is going to take a look at the best sous vide equipment for home use – including the things you actually need and other equipment that may simply help.
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Sous vide cooking may sound complicated but it doesn’t have to be. For that matter, there is only one key piece of equipment that poses any challenge. So, let’s start there.
Sous Vide Device
Unless you’re trying for an ad hoc setup (which I don’t recommend), sous vide cooking relies on having a device to heat water and control its temperature. There are two options for doing so. One is an immersion circulator and the other is a water bath.
For most people, an immersion circulator will make much more sense. In particular, these are much smaller than water baths, are more portable and are also less expensive. A good one will also be just as powerful as a water bath, unless you’re planning to cook for a dozen people at a time.
Immersion circulators work by clipping onto the edge of a container. They then circulate the water and heat it up, based on the settings you have chosen.
The device is able to keep the water at a constant temperature safely for as long as you need it to. This means that you can set it up to cook and then just leave it be – even if your dish takes 24 hours or longer to complete.
A water bath has the same function but operates differently. For one thing, this is an all-in-one option, so the container for water is a part of it. The device also doesn’t tend to rely on circulation and often uses a heating element instead. This can make it slower to heat initially but water baths do tend to have fewer issues with evaporation.
Personally, I find water baths to be frustrating. They are simply too large for most kitchens and are hard to maneuver as well. They would only really be worth it if you had a lot of space and specifically wanted something that would stay on your counter.
But, either will work just fine for sous vide cooking. So, you can choose based on your own needs and preferences.
A Container To Cook In
If you’re going with an immersion circulator, you’ll also need a container to cook in. You can use pretty much anything, as long as it is deep enough and can handle the heat. So, any large cooking pot would work just fine. For that matter, many people just rely on stock pots, which are perfect.
Another option is a polycarbonate container. These are great because you can actually see what’s going on throughout the cooking process. You don’t really need to – but being able to watch your food cook is part of the fun of sous vide. Plastic is also a better insulator than metal, so it tends to be a more practical choice for cooking as well.
You can also get containers like this that come with lids and some are even specially designed for sous vide. This can be useful, as the lid can help prevent evaporation. There may even be a hole in the lid that allows you to mostly cover the container while the immersion circulator is in place.
A Way To Sear Meat
The nature of sous vide means that it won’t ever be able to sear or brown your meat. Instead, you have to do this as a finishing step. So, you need some option sear your meat effectively.
The simplest solution here is to rely on a frying pan. If you did this, you would simply heat up the pan with whatever fat you like and sear your meat that way. The process is similar to actually cooking it in the pan, although you don’t want to leave the meat in there any longer than necessary.
For a better outcome, you can also rely on a cast iron pan, as these have a strong reputation for producing amazing food.
But, regardless of the type of pan, you do have to be careful. It’s incredibly easy to overcook meat while you are trying to sear it and I’ve done that myself a number of times.
One alternative is to use a blowtorch and there are some specifically designed for exactly this purpose. This type of product gives you much greater control over the searing process and makes it faster. As a result, there is less risk of overcooking your meat.
The approach does take some getting used to and won’t be suitable for everybody. But, it is an option if you want something a little bit different.
Oh – and if you are going to use a blowtorch to sear your meat, you’ll need a wire rack and a baking sheet as well, to make sure you don’t burn anything in the process.
Items That Are Often Overlooked
When it comes down to it, sous vide cooking is fairly straightforward. So, once you have the basic equipment and tools, you can get started. But, as with other types of cooking, there are some tools that you may not realize you need until you are well underway.
Most of the time, sous vide cooking is done in bags but that isn’t the only option. Instead, some recipes call for mason jars like these Manchego egg bites or this blueberry saffron crème brûlée. Tthis idea is often used to make desserts, breakfasts, snack bites, and even some full dinners.
Not all recipes work this way, but many do. Likewise, you can find specific recipes for jars with a little digging around.
Using jars to cook in is worth trying out and some recipes do actually work better when you use a jar rather than a bag (imagine cooking crème brûlée in a bag). Additionally, jars are a good alternative if you’re at all worried about cooking in plastic – although the plastic bags are completely safe.
Jars may not work for every person or every meal but it is worth grabbing a few and playing around with the idea. If nothing else, you may find some amazing recipes that you wouldn’t have even attempted otherwise.
Using clips on your bags isn’t an essential approach but it can really help. The idea is that these clips help to make sure the bag actually stays sealed and remains in place.
This can be particularly important for zip locked bags, as the bag will sometimes come open during cooking. And, there’s little worse than coming home to find your dinner for the night is completely ruined.
The clips are also relevant for vacuum sealed bags because they help keep the food where you want it to be. For example, many people clip the bags to the side of the container. This means that they won’t move around and aren’t likely to float to the surface.
You can actually use items like binder clips or clothespins to achieve this, although there are specialized clips for sous vide out there as well. There are also multiple styles and these tend to be suitable for different people and situations.
It may take a little trial and error to figure out which exact type of clip is going to work for you and which size makes the most sense. Still, the clips are easy to find and fairly inexpensive, so this shouldn’t be a major issue.
You probably already have tongs in your kitchen. But, if you don’t, you will need some for sous vide. After all, you are cooking food in warm water for an extended period of time, so the water and the food will be hot.
Granted, sous vide does use a relatively low temperature when compared to most other cooking methods. But, even with that, you don’t really want to be sticking your hand into the water.
Tongs can be particularly relevant if you’re not cooking in bags. For example, eggs tend to be cooked in the shell. Likewise, getting mason jars out of the water without tongs would be much harder than retrieving bags.
A Trivet Or Something Similar
Sous vide involves keeping a container of water hot for an extended period of time. The end result isn’t as hot as if you were boiling water but it is still significant. As a result, keeping the container on the countertop could easily cause considerable damage.
One way around this is to just place it on the stovetop but this may not be practical in all cases. Plus, keeping your sous vide container on the stove would be frustrating if you wanted to do conventional cooking.
Using a trivet is a simple way to protect your countertop. At the same time, it helps to keep the heat from escaping.
There is no shortage of different options for what you can use here. But, you generally want something that is going to be fine with heat for an extended period of time. Likewise, it has to be large enough for the container that you’re using and should be stable.
Recipes And Guides
Regardless of whether you’re new to sous vide or an old hand at the process, using recipe books and temperature guides does make sense. Often, you’ll find that these offer new insights and inspiration. They can also help you figure out the timing and temperature that works for the precise outcome you’re looking for.
Besides that, there are some fantastic recipes out there that are too good to ignore. I looked at a number of these in the past, with my list of the best sous vide cookbooks.
You can also take a look at some of the apps out there, such as the one that is associated with the ChefSteps Joule. That app is the best that I’ve seen and it is the most comprehensive way to figure out exactly how to cook your food.
That app is a particularly good option for beginners but I imagine that even experienced sous vide chefs turn to it regularly.