1. Set up your rig
Attach your immersion circulator to a container that is heat-safe to at least 212 degrees (boiling). Fill with water to about 1 inch above the machine’s minimum water level line.
You can sous vide in:
The size of your vessel depends on how much food you’re cooking, how big the food is, and how much water your circulator needs to operate properly. Whatever vessel you choose, make sure there’s enough room for the water to circulate freely on all sides of the food.
Tip: Since the food will raise the water level when added, avoid filling to the maximum water line.
Tip: Choose a sous vide machine that has both a clip and a magnetic bottom, like our favorite, the Joule ($199.00). This makes the machine more versatile.
2. Choose your temp
With sous vide cooking, you typically set the bath to the final internal temperature of the food. The food sits in the bath and slowly comes up to its ideal temperature without any danger of overcooking. Though there are some exceptions (eggs and delicate fish fillets are often cooked at a higher-than-desired internal temperature for a shorter time to better control the texture of the cooked food), choose a cooking temperature that matches your ideal serving temperature.
Some recommended temperatures for sous vide cooking:
- Chicken, turkey, and other poultry—white meat: 160 degrees
- Chicken, turkey, and other poultry—dark meat: 175 degrees
- Pork: 140 degrees
- Beef: 120–125 degrees (rare), 135–140 degrees (medium)
Tip: Worried about safety? One big benefit of sous vide is that you can cook meat at a lower-than-normal temperature (so it’s juicier and more tender) and hold it at that temperature long enough to kill harmful bacteria. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, chicken breasts that are cooked sous vide to an internal temperature of 155 degrees and kept at that temperature for 50 seconds are just as safe as chicken breasts cooked to 165 degrees and held at that temperature for 10 seconds. In testing we did for our book Cook’s Science, we liked the texture of the 155-degree chicken best.
3. Preheat the bath
Turn on the machine. Set the machine’s temperature to your desired cooking temperature. Letting the bath preheat helps ensure even cooking. Depending on your machine and target temperature, preheating will take 20 to 30 minutes.
Tip: Cover the bath with plastic wrap to speed up the preheating process.
4. Season & seal
Season your food with salt, pepper, and any other aromatics. Add the food to a zipper-lock plastic bag (we recommend adding a small amount of olive or vegetable oil for meats and fish), remove as much air as you can, and seal the bag until just 1 inch of the lock is still open. Once the bath is up to temperature, dunk the bag into the bath until all but the unsealed corner is submerged in water, and then complete the seal. If you have a vacuum sealer, you can also use that to remove all the air. This step is important because air is a poor conductor of heat and too much of it insulates the food from the hot water bath. Removing air gives the food direct contact with the heated water, so it cooks more quickly and evenly.
Tip: When vacuum-sealing juicy foods such as meat, let the bag and its contents hang off the counter a bit to prevent juices from being pulled into the vacuum sealer.
Tip: To ensure that all food finishes at the same time, make sure the pieces are cut to about the same size and thickness, lay the food as flat as possible in the bag, and seal only one piece of meat per bag.
5. Place food in the bath
Once the bath is up to temperature, place the sealed bags in the water bath until the food is completely submerged. Cover the bath with plastic wrap to slow evaporation and help retain heat.
Tip: To prevent cold spots on the food, make sure the bags aren’t pressed up against each other or touching the sous vide machine or cooking vessel.
Tip: To help keep the food fully separated and submerged, use a binder clip to secure the tops of the bags to the side of the pot.
6. Relax until time is up
Though timing isn’t always as important for sous vide as it is with traditional cooking methods, it’s still important to keep a passive eye on the time, since the texture of meat can suffer with too much time in the bath. Most common cuts of pork, beef, and poultry will be fully cooked in about 1 hour and can stay in the bath for about 4 hours without much change to texture. When cooking delicate foods such as eggs or fish, which are often cooked at higher temperatures for less time, you’ll want to be extra-vigilant. Too much time for a poached egg can spell disaster.
Tip: One advantage of using a zipper-lock bag is that you can open the bag to take the temperature of the food with an instant-read thermometer and then quickly reseal it.
7. Finishing touches
Remove your food from the bath. Open the bags and pat the food dry with paper towels. Though some foods, such as fish fillets, eggs, vegetables, and pulled pork, are ready to enjoy straight out of the bath, most cuts of meat benefit from a quick sear to give the food a crisp crust. How you sear depends on the size and cut of the meat, but whatever method you choose, the goal is to get the searing done as quickly as possible to avoid raising the temperature of the meat further. Make sure you use high heat and dry the food as much as possible before searing.
Tip: If you’re not using the food right away, plunge the still-sealed bags into an ice bath to stop the cooking, and then store for later.
8. Enjoy your sous vide meal
Sous vide has the potential to make traditional cooking easier and more foolproof, taking away all the guesswork and giving you back some free time. Plus, with precise, consistent cooking, it can even make food taste better.
Looking for some sous vide inspiration? Try our recipes: