The right sous vide accessories will enhance your sous vide cooks without adding a great deal more to either your budget or your shelf space. As with anything, you can really go nuts, but you don't have to. Here we recommend the wisest places to invest your money, and also show you where you can save without sacrificing any performance.
If you follow these recommendations, you'll find that you have a superb sous vide setup you can use for just about anything.
At a Glance: What to Buy, What to Skip (Tables)
These tables summarize what to buy, what to skip, plus a few "maybes," depending on your circumstances and preferences. For more details on each, scroll down, or use the links in the table of contents above.
Great not just for sous vide--it will save you thousands a year on your food budget! Learn why every kitchen should have one!
There are a lot of ways to brown meat after the sous vide cook is complete: you can pan-sear, grill, or even deep fry. Grilling on a super hot grill is the best method, but if you don't have a grill, a super hot cast iron pan is the next best thing; some people even prefer it.
Great for reaching into that hot sous vide water to adjust bags--and for any other hot surface, too.
If you're big on brining, go for it. But a vacuum-sealed marinade will produce just-as-tasty results, without the risk of "rubberizing" the meat.
Cooking container (there are dozens of options; this links to just one of them)
You don't need a dedicated container for sous vide. If you own a Dutch oven, stock pot, cooler, or Rubbermaid tub, you're covered.
Cover (again, there are dozens of options; this one fits the container linked to above)
For long cooks, you DO need to cover to slow evaporation. (If too much water evaporates, the circulator can shut off.) Aluminum foil works pretty well.
If you decide to invest in a container and lid, make sure the lid will work with your circulator, as many of them are designed for use with specific circulators. You can also just get a storage container (preferably BPA-free) that comes with a lid and cut a hole in it to fit your circulator.
Ping Pong Balls (BPA free)
Ping pong balls are an effective anti-evaporation tool and are now even marketed for sous vide use. But they're a bit of a pain. Where do you dry them when finished? Where do you store a big bag of ping pong balls?
As essential as a meat thermometer is for other types of cooking, it is that un-essential for sous vide, which works by using a precise temperature. Yes, you should own a probe thermometer, just not for sous vide.
When to Buy:
Buy if you hate the thought of throwing out a lot of plastic. Otherwise, skip. These aren't ideal for sous vide because they're stiff; air remains (a sous vide no-no) no matter how carefully you displace it.
Buy if you don't own a trivet or other heavy object to help keep bags submerged. (I.e., you may sometimes need a weight for sous vide, but you probably own something you can use.)
Buy if you don't own one. Use to protect your counter OR to weigh bags down.
Buy if you have a water oven (not an immersion circulator). Water ovens use natural convection and thus are more prone to uneven temps, so bags need to be evenly spaced.
* In an ideal world, your sous vide bags should never float because they should never have air in them. You should try to reseal or displace the air before you resort to weighting down a bag. Air is an insulator, and causes the cook to be less precise. If your temperature is near the danger zone (130F), this could even potentially mean dangerous bacterial growth inside the bag.
What to Buy
Somewhat ironically, both of our essential accessories aren't truly necessary. But because they provide the most optimal sous vide experience, as well as the potential for many other uses, we enthusiastically recommend the vacuum sealer and the torch (or Searzall) as essentials for your sous vide cooking.
The big trend in sous vide these days is using food storage bags and the "water displacement method" to remove air from the bag. (See this short youtube video from Serious Eats if you're not familiar with it.) With this method, you submerge the filled bag in the water bath slowly, letting the water pressure push the air to the surface, then seal the bag. Yes, this works, and it saves you the cost of a vacuum sealer. But it's a sub-optimal method, and here's why:
- You'll never remove as much air with the displacement method as you will using a quality vacuum sealer, so your results won't be as predictable. (Sous vide works best when there is no air in the bag to insulate food.)
- Because it's hard to get all the air out, storage bags are more prone to float in the water bath. Floating bags are a no-no with sous vide because food won't cook evenly (which is the whole point!). Air pockets can even result in dangerous bacterial growth if you're cooking near the danger zone (130F).
- Storage bags aren't as durable as vacuum bags, so they're more prone to punctures and seam breakage while in the water bath. This is especially true for long cooks (more than a couple of hours).
- You can't trust the seal on storage bags like you can on a vacuum-sealed bag, so you often have to clip the bag to the rim of the sous vide container to prevent it from leaking.
Additionally, with a vacuum sealer you can save time and money and make your life easier. Here's how:
- Buy meat in bulk and store in your freezer. Vacuum-sealed food can last up to 5 times as long as non-vacuum sealed food. And no freezer burn!
- If you add seasoning to meat before you vacuum seal, it's ready to pop into your sous vide machine straight from the freezer. This makes dinner prep easy and reduces packaging waste, as well.
- Uses for a vacuum sealer extend way beyond sous vide--for that matter, they even go beyond the kitchen. Vacuum seal meat for a fast marinade; vacuum seal dry goods for longer shelf life; vacuum seal medical supplies to keep them sterile; vacuum seal clothes to maximize storage space--you'll be amazed at the uses you find for your vacuum sealer!
Or check out our favorites:
Buy the VacMaster VP200 Chamber Sealer on Amazon:
Buy the avid armor usv32 chamber vacuum sealer on amazon:
See the Weston Pro 2300 edge sealer on Amazon: Extra long sealing bar, super heavy duty construction, and replaceable parts make this our favorite overall edge sealer. Gets rave reviews on Amazon, too.
Buy the Weston Pro 2300 Vacuum sealer on Amazon:
See the FoodSaver FM2345 entry level vacuum sealer on Amazon: This vacuum sealer comes with assorted bags and an accessory hose you can use to seal jars and marinade containers (other accessories required).
Buy the foodsaver fm-2000 vacuum Sealer on Amazon:
Cast Iron Skillet for Searing
We used to promote the Searzall torch for browning, but we have changed our minds on this. It's pretty much impossible to get a nice, deep sear. You can't render the fat, and it's hard to get the whole surface of the steak exactly how you want it.
If you have a grill you can get to 500F or hotter, that's the best way to sear. It can be a chore to get the coals that hot, but you have no dishes to wash afterwards, so other than firing up the grill, the work is minimal.
If you don't have a grill, then a super hot cast iron skillet is the next best way to sear. Put the skillet in a preheated 500F oven for several minutes to get it smoking hot, then no more than about 45 seconds per side, or the steak will get overcooked.
Buy the lodge cast iron skillet on Amazon:
Deep Frying Steaks
You can also deep fry steaks: this is a lesser known method, and perhaps should be saved for special occasions, but it's a great way to get a crispy, crunchy sear. If you've already got the deep fryer out for French fries, you can just pop your steaks in there (you'll have to get the oil hotter, but other than that, it's super easy).
How to Deep Fry a Steak
1. Get your deep fryer as hot as it will go: preferably around 450F. Any mild-flavored frying oil will work.
2. Remove steak from sous vide bag and pat until surface is completely dry.
3. Submerge steak in deep fryer for 30-90 seconds, depending on oil temp and how crispy you want the surface.
4. Enjoy in moderation.
What to Skip
In the "what to skip" category, we include tools that don't enhance the sous vide experience. For example, while a vacuum sealer is going to result in a superior steak, a dedicated sous vide container makes no difference whatsoever. These are all things you may enjoy having and using, but they won't result in better food or flavor from your sous vide machine.
Cooking Container and Lid
You'll see a lot of "sous vide" containers now that sous vide has hit the big time. You can buy generic ones or one designed to fit your brand of immersion circulator. Here's the amazon listing for them--more than 30 pages long.
See cooking container on Amazon: This is a nice option because it's narrow, deep, and graduated (has fill markings on it). Having a dedicated sous vide container isn't going to enhance your sous vide food in the slightest, but if you want one--maybe a pretty setup is important to you, and that's fine--this is a good choice.
Buy the LIPAVi container on Amazon:
See matching lid on Amazon: The cutout is large enough to fit a few different immersion circulator models.
Buy the matching lipavi lid on Amazon:
Cooks are generally divided into two camps: the briners and the non-briners. Those who brine swear by the flavor and juiciness that can be added to meats. Those who don't brine find that it can adversely affect the texture of meat, creating an unpleasant rubbery-like experience and/or a "watered down" flavor to the meat.
We lie in the non-brining camp. This may be because we are avid marinators--and if you own a vacuum sealer, marinades can achieve optimal results in record times. With no adverse results to the texture of the meat.
If you fall in the pro-brine camp, this is one of the best, most affordable options on Amazon.
Buy the flavor injector on Amazon:
Ping Pong Balls
Ping pong balls are an effective way to minimize evaporation during long cooks, and they're kind of fun to use. However, they present a few inconveniences: they need to be dried after use, and where do you do that? Also, they take up a fair amount of shelf space. Aluminum foil or plastic wrap is just as effective, and much easier to use.
If you want the ping pong balls, though, no judgments:
Buy the bpa-free ping pong balls on Amazon:
If you don't have a meat probe/instant read thermometer, you need one. You just don't need it for sous vide.
Buy this meat thermometer on Amazon:
Silicone bags are the latest fad in sous vide. They're dishwasher safe and reusable, so they can really cut down on your plastic use. However, they are not ideal for sous vide. They're thick, so they don't conform well to the shape of food and tend to leave air in the bag.
If you're concerned about plastic use, this may be a viable trade-off. But you will get better results from a vacuum sealer, no doubt about it.
See our article on 5 Ways to Minimize Plastic Use With Sous Vide
If you want to try reusable bags, there are many options. Many of them are sealable, however, these are designed to hang over the edge of a vessel and clip to the side. Since it's hard to suck all the air out of these stiff, silicone bags, this is probably the most elegant solution for sous vide.
Buy reusable silicone sous vide bags on Amazon:
Ideally, you shouldn't need weights. Air in bags is what makes them float, and air can produce uneven results--not good for sous vide. However, sometimes no matter how many times you try, you can't get all the air out of a bag. Oddly shaped food sometimes just doesn't seal very well. In those cases, you may have to resort to weights to keep bags submerged.
Buy these sous vide weights on Amazon:
A trivet is a useful kitchen gadget. So much so, you probably already own one. For sous vide, you can use it for a couple of things: to protect your counter from the hot cooking pot, and to weight down bags if they have too much air and are floating.
If you don't already own a trivet, this is a nice one.
Buy cast iron trivet on Amazon:
Sous Vide Rack
Sous vide racks ensure uniform circulation by keeping bags separated. This is most important for water ovens, which depend on natural convection to distribute temperature evenly (no circulators). So if you have an immersion circulator, a rack isn't necessary. But if you have a water oven, a rack is essential equipment--so much so, that your water oven probably came with one. But if it didn't, this is a nice one--it goes with the LIPAVI container linked to above.
Buy this sous vide rack on Amazon:
You can get into sous vide for about the cost of buying a new All-Clad roasting pan or stock pot. The only things you really need--besides the circulator, of course--are bags, a vessel to "cook" the food in, and a way to brown it before plating.
Thus, you don't actually need a vacuum sealer or a torch, either. But the vacuum sealer and the torch are going to vastly improve your sous vide experience, while the other accessories--thermometer, sous vide vessel, rack, ping pong balls, etc.--add to the expense without improving the quality of the food.
Some people may disagree. Do you have a favorite sous vide accessory, one you couldn't do without? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading!
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