The 3 Best Coolers for Sous Vide: Insulation is Key
If you’re new to the world of sous vide cooking it may seem a bit intimidating at first, but it’s actually a surprisingly simple cooking method. All you need to do is simply place the item in a cooler and wait for it to cook, much like a slow cooker.
What are the Best Coolers to Sous Vide in?
- Coleman 24-Can Party Stacker Portable Cooler–This large, shallow cooler has ideal dimensions for sous vide.
- Igloo 24 Can Cooler–This narrower cooler is the perfect size to fit upright gallon-size bags in a neat row.
- YETI Tundra 45 Cooler–Though expensive, YETI is the premium brand on the market when it comes to heavy-duty coolers.
These coolers are all top-rated insulators and are appropriately sized to fit most sous vide cooking needs. However, there are other considerations for sous vide containers and instances where you might require different dimensions. Read on to find out more about your options.
Do I Need a Special Container for Sous Vide?
A common misconception about sous vide cooking is that you need a special type of container to use with the circulator—this is certainly not the case. You need a container that is tall enough to fit the circulator suspended in the water, without it touching the bottom of the container. To fit most sous vide cooking needs, you are typically looking for a fairly large container—a good rule of thumb is at least 8 inches deep (depending on the model of your circulator) and a minimum capacity of about 12 quarts.
Another consideration for sous vide is that you’ll need to cover the container if using over a lengthy period of time, as many recipes require, to avoid dropping water levels due to evaporation. You can make your own specialized sous vide container by drilling a hole into the lid of a lidded container that will perfectly fit the sous vide machine. Personally, I’ve successfully used a large sauce pot covered with plastic wrap on several occasions. Depending on what type of sous vide circulator you have, many of them have attached clips making it easy to fit to a variety of containers.
Although these clips can be quite useful, they tend to be fairly small and aren’t always large enough to accommodate the type of container you may want to use. Some brands sell a larger clip attachment—the Big Clamp attachment from Joule, for example, accommodates containers up to 2.6 inches thick, giving you a lot more options. You could also always attach your own clamping mechanism in DIY fashion.
Can You Use a Cooler for Sous Vide?
Coolers are a great option to use for sous vide cooking—they are great insulators which makes for a more energy efficient choice. The idea of sous vide cooking is to provide a water bath of a consistent temperature so that the food being cooked reaches that exact temperature resulting in a perfectly even cook. Choosing a container that insulates well helps to avoid large fluctuations of temperature within different parts water bath. So not only are coolers more efficient from an energy standpoint, they also help to ensure a properly cooked end product.
One major benefit of sous vide is seamlessly cooking large quantities of food including large cuts of meats. The larger the container, the more important good insultation is. You can probably cook a steak in a poorly insulated stock pot with great success, but if you’re looking to slow cook a large roast overnight, you’ll want a better container to guarantee even cooking.
When it comes to sous vide cooking, the shape of the container is important, and the best option may differ depending on what it is you’re trying to cook. For example, there are sous vide racks that are very useful for holding zip top bags upright when you’re making portioned out items like individual steaks. These racks help to organize and evenly separate the food items which in turn helps them cook more evenly. The size container you use needs to match the size and shape of the rack if you wish to utilize this type of rack. Coolers of course come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, but it’s likely the cooler you happen to have will work better for some sous vide needs than others.
Styrofoam coolers are a common choice for sous vide. This is due to the fact that they are lightweight, disposable and relatively inexpensive, so you can purchase a size that fits your specific needs. Styrofoam is an excellent insulator and most coolers on the market contain a type of Styrofoam on the interior walls. With Styrofoam, you’re also able to easily cut a hole in the lid to fit your sous vide circulator. It would not be my first choice because of the adverse environmental impacts, but if you need a large container and don’t want to invest in a cooler, it will work, nonetheless.
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What is the Best Container to Sous Vide in?
There are several considerations as to what makes the best sous vide container. Large food storage boxes are a cost-effective solution with an ideal shape and size. They tend to be available in various size and shape similar to coolers but without the same insultation properties. I recommend Cambro for a durable solution.
There are also specialized sous vide containers on the market that are specifically made to fit racks and circulators. Usually made out of plastic, they come with lids that have a space carved out to perfectly fit your sous vide circulator. Look for models that are insulated like this one from VÄESKE which also happens to come with a rack. These special types of containers are probably the best overall choice, but they can take up a lot of space and are not really a necessary purchase unless you sous vide frequently.
Another consideration with plastic containers and coolers is whether or not they contain chemicals that may potentially leach into food, especially when heating water at relatively high temperatures for prolonged periods of time. Although the risk of this is seemingly small since the food doesn’t come into direct contact with the container, I recommend containers that are labeled BPA-free for peace of mind.
What is the Best Sous Vide Cooker for Beginners?
I recommend the Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker as the most user-friendly model for beginners. All you have to do to get started is plug it in, set up your container, and set the desired temperature on the interface.
Joule is another big name in sous vide cooking—the Joule Sous Vide Circulator is praised for its slimness and accuracy but comes with a much larger price tag and requires Bluetooth Wi-Fi connection. It’s a bit more intimidating for beginners due to the fact that there aren’t any controls on the circulator itself but rather controlled through an app on your smartphone. The Anova model also has the ability to connect to Wi-Fi but does not require it to function.
What is the Best Food to Sous Vide?
You can sous vide almost anything—I recommend trying large cuts of meat that are otherwise difficult to cook evenly. Thick steaks are a good choice to get that perfect medium rare throughout and then require just a quick sear after. The sous vide method is great for foods that are prone to overcooking, like fish or eggs. You can also cook a lot of things you wouldn’t expect with a sous vide machine—even crème brulee!