Sous vide circulators have an image problem. They were originally perceived to be a tool for the culinary bourgeoisie. Years later, many cooks view them as one-trick ponies used to make killer steaks. (Of course, their true application reaches far wider.)
Part of the issue is the gear associated with the circulator. Do you need a vacuum sealer and special, vacuum-sealable bags to go with it? According to Lauren Savoie of America’s Test Kitchen, you don’t need either.
Though sous vide translates to “under vacuum,” Savoie, a senior editor with hundreds of hours of sous vide gear testing under her belt, says vacuum sealing is unnecessary. It was adopted because heat transfer through water is more efficient than heat transfer through air (so large pockets of air can promote uneven cooking).
But there’s an easy — and much cheaper — workaround: Ziploc bags. For almost any sous vide job, Savoie recommends Ziploc Freezer Bags (the ones with Easy Open Tabs, not the sliding close) in whatever size the task requires.
The trick then is to rid the bag of as much air as possible before dropping it in the bath. “We like to put food in zip-top bags and then remove the air by partially sealing the bag, submerging all but the unsealed corner in the water bath, and then sealing the last corner,” Savoie says. Though not necessary, she also recommends using a binder clip to further solve the floating bag problem.
“Plastic bags filled with food tend to float around in a bath of circulating water, which can create cold spots if the food pushes up against another bag or the side of the immersion circulator,” Savoie says. “I like to clip the bags to the side of the pot with ye olde binder clips to keep them anchored.”
Do you need a vacuum seal to cook sous vide? Nope.
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