Sous vide makes us think of fancy chefs in high-end restaurants cooking the most expensive dishes. In reality, sous vide is not that different from a slow cooker. So, what’s the real comparison of sous vide vs slow cooker.
Sous vide machines are more complicated to use than slow cookers and they require extra materials. But they offer cooking methods that slow cookers do not. Sous vide machines are best suited for cooking fish, meat cooked rare, and eggs. Slow cookers are best suited for soups and stews, pot roasts, and tough cuts of meat.
That’s the brief overview of sous vide vs slow cooker, but there are definitely more details to go over. Let’s first talk about what sous vide actually means.
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What is Sous Vide Cooking?
Cooking with the sous vide method is when you put something (usually a piece of meat) in a plastic vacuum-sealed bag and cook it in a water bath.
It’s called sous vide because of the vacuum-sealed bag: sous vide translates from French to ‘in vacuum’.
A heating element heats a tub of water and that water bath is what cooks the food that is sealed inside the vacuum sealed bag.
The food to be cooked is usually placed into the vacuum bag with sauces, herbs, or spices. When the bag gets sealed, the flavors from the add-ins are pressed into the food through the vacuum process.
A sous vide machine is also called an immersion circulator or a sous vide immersion circulator. It’s called an immersion circulator because you immerse your food in a water bath and the machine circulates the water through the machine.
This circulation ensures that the water bath has a consistent temperature throughout the whole bath without any hot or cold spots which cooks the food evenly.
When cooking with a sous vide cooker, the temperature of the water bath can be set to an exact temperature and the food cooked in the water bath will reach that temperature over an extended period of time but it will not exceed it.
The food in the sous vide bag will cook until it reaches that previously set desired internal temperature.
This makes it a great tool for getting the perfect amount of rareness when cooking a steak.
Now that you know what sous vide cooking is, let’s talk a little bit about slow cooking.
What is Slow Cooking?
The most common brand of slow cooker is crock pot, these two terms are often used interchangeably when talking about slow cookers.
Slow cookers are devices that have an electrical base with a pot that sits inside it. The electrical base heats up the pot which cooks the food inside slowly.
When cooking with a crock pot, the crock pot will get the contents to a maximum temperature, usually close to the boiling point of water.
Slow cookers have three temperature settings, low, high, and warm. The difference between these settings is how quickly the contents of the crock pot will reach that maximum temperature.
Cooking meat at a low temperature for a long time in a slow cooker is great for making tender roasts or cooking meats that you want to shred.
Sous Vide Vs Slow Cooker
Now that you’ve got some background information on the cooking process of both these devices, let’s do a side-by-side comparison.
First, we’re going to talk about the similarities between sous vide cookers and crock pots.
1. Low and Slow
Both sous vide machines and slow cookers are capable of cooking food at low heat over long periods of time.
Sous vide circulators allow precise temperature control while slow cookers will reach the same temperature every time.
Once you have your ingredients prepared and ready, you can put your food in either a slow cooker or an immersion circulator and it will cook the food automatically.
Some modern slow cookers have extra settings that let you set delays or have it switch to the warm setting after a certain amount of time.
Because of the temperature control allowed by immersion circulators, your food won’t overcook because it will never exceed the previously set temperature of the water bath.
There is a huge range of prices when it comes to both sous vide cookers and slow cookers.
You can get both machines as low as $50 or as high as $300.
The more expensive they are the more settings or programmable features they will have. The quality of the device will also increase with price.
The fact that you can buy a sous vide cooker for that cheap means home cooks can create restaurant-quality results in their own kitchens.
But, sous vide machines have additional things you have to buy in order to use them such as vacuum bags and a vacuum sealer.
And, a cheap slow cooker is a great option if you’re super busy and don’t have time to stand around the stove to cook a meal.
Now let’s take a look at the main differences that separate slow cookers and sous vide.
Both sous vide machines and slow cookers are versatile, but they are versatile in different ways.
You can cook a variety of things in a crock pot, but crock pots are limited to cooking dishes where you want all the flavors of the ingredients to blend together such as in a pot roast or soup.
On the other hand, sous vide machines have everything separate but you can add sauces and flavors to the bag which will be incorporated into whatever is in the bag. This opens up a lot of possibilities for different dishes.
2. Materials Needed
Other than the crock pot and the ingredients to put in it, you don’t need any additional materials to use a slow cooker. However, some people like to use slow cooker liners or a liner substitute to make cleaning easy.
An immersion circulator requires quite a few additional materials in order to work.
Those materials are:
- Vacuum seal bags
- Vacuum sealer
- Magnets or weights to keep the bags in the water bath
Without these extras, you won’t be able to use a sous vide machine but once you get them, you’ll be able to make all the fancy dishes you want.
3. Ease of Use
In general, slow cookers are easier to use. You just have to dump all your ingredients in the pot and cook it for the appropriate amount of time.
Sous vide machines require more prep work and a higher understanding of the cooking process. Specifically, you need to know the exact temperatures to cook your food so you know how to set the machine.
This is extremely important for food safety when cooking meat sous vide because you need the meat to reach the safe cooking temperature.
Also, cooking meat in a sous vide machine will make it soft with no crunch or texture, it will also turn red meat a dull grey color which is not very appetizing.
After the meat is cooked in the water bath, you’ll then have to grill it or sear it in a pan to get that delicious color and texture.
When to Use Sous Vide
We talked about this briefly in one of the previous sections, but let’s talk quickly about some of the things that are best cooked sous vide.
In general, sous vide is best suited for delicate foods and dishes that need to be cooked gently.
These types of dishes are:
- Fish or seafood
- Meats cooked rare
- Any precise temperature cooking
If you cook these things often, then investing in a sous-vide cooker is a great option.
When to Use a Slow Cooker
Slow cookers are pretty versatile, but they are best suited for dishes where you want to blend all the flavors of the ingredients together or if you’re cooking tougher cuts of meat.
These are dishes such as:
- Soups and stews
- Pot roast
- Meat to shred
- Tough cuts of meat
If you make these types of dishes most often, then a slow cooker is the best choice for you.
Can You Use a Slow Cooker to Sous Vide?
Yes, you can do sous vide in a slow cooker but you will have to get additional equipment and possibly “hack” your crock pot. You’ll need a super-accurate thermometer to monitor the temperature of the water in the crock pot. Alternatively, you can “hack” your slow cooker and install a temperature controller so you have full control over your slow cooker. if you don’t know much about wiring, I’d recommend just getting a sous vide machine.
Is Sous Vide Healthier than Slow Cooking?
Sous vide can be healthier than slow cooking. Food nutrients break down if they reach higher temperatures or are cooked more aggressively. Sous vide cooks food gently and at a lower temperature than slow cookers, so, less food nutrients break down. This makes sous vide healthier than slow cooking.
Can You Boil Water in a Slow Cooker?
You can boil water in a slow cooker or a crock pot, but it will take about two hours to get the water to boil if your slow cooker is on the high setting. To learn more about it, check out our post about it here.