What Is Sous Vide (& How to Do It without Plastic)

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What is Sous Vide and How to Do It Without Plastic
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I first heard of sous vide years ago and my initial thought process went something like this:

Me: Hmm… sounds French. Must be fancy… I wonder how it works.

Also me (upon researching it): The appliance to cook sous vide costs over $500 and takes hours to cook food!? I’m out. And you cook the food in plastic bags!? I’m double out!

Having never tried it, it appeared that this cooking method was simply a way to spend eight times as long cooking food in a super-expensive machine while increasing plastic exposure. Given my objections to using plastic, and my objections to spending hundreds of dollars on a non-essential appliance, I figure this was one cooking method I’d never try.

What Is Sous Vide?

If you aren’t familiar with it, there is more to sous vide than my initial assessment, and it was worth a second look.

How Do You Say “Sous Vide”?

Sous vide (pronounced soo-veed) means “under vacuum” in French. This relatively new cooking method gained popularity in the 1970s and typically involves vacuum sealing food in a plastic bag (see why I don’t like it) before cooking in a circulating water bath at a consistent temperature.

How It Works

This unique method developed in France allows consistent cooking that is difficult to get in most other cooking methods. By sealing the food off from the water, it produces a much different result than boiling or steaming. While the particular method is new, the idea of cooking food in sealed bags, parchment paper, or even leaves is age-old.

The first thing I ever cooked using the sous vide method was a steak … and it was incredible. But I’m getting ahead of myself… I’ll explain how I got around the plastic issue in a minute.

Advantages of Sous Vide

The main advantage of sous vide is the ability to have precise temperature control over a period of time. This cooks food to perfect internal temperature and texture without the room for error in other types of cooking.

Think about this…

In pan cooking, grilling, and other regular cooking methods, the pan or cooking device is much hotter than you want the food to be when it is done. This means that outside parts of the food are more done than they need to be and if you don’t remove the food at the precise time, it can be overcooked. Of course, this may be the goal with some foods, like roasted sweet potatoes, but it makes meats and seafood tricky.

With sous vide, the food slowly comes up to the perfect temperature and it can hang out there until it’s ready to be eaten. High-end restaurants have been using sous vide for years because of its ability to consistently produce perfect results and its time flexibility.

Disadvantages of Sous Vide

I know, I know… there’s always a downside. In this case, you can probably already guess them:


Call me frugal, but I’m not up for spending over $500 on a single-use cooking appliance. That’s how much most of the original models cost, and restaurant models can cost many times that much. Sure, I’ll dish out the money for a great blender but I use it multiple times a day. I just couldn’t justify this for something like a sous vide.

The Plastic

On top of the cost, I wasn’t up for spending more money on a vacuum sealer and I certainly wasn’t up for cooking food in plastic. I’ve gone to great lengths to ditch all the plastic in our kitchen and I wasn’t bringing it back… even for some amazing perfectly cooked steaks and seafood.

How to Sous Vide without Plastic

A year or so ago, I decided to give sous vide a second look and figured out a way to solve both of my main problems with it. Spoiler alert: I now use this method all the time in our home and wanted to share why we love it so much!

Cinder Grill “Sous Vide”

If exceptional food is a priority and the budget allows, we did discover this appliance that gives the results of a sous vide without the plastic or boiling. It looks like a giant panini press with ceramic plates and you can use it indoors to cook meat, fish, veggies, or anything that needs that perfect sear. It is also temperature controlled so you can’t overcook food.

It is a pricey appliance (we got ours on Amazon) but since it can be used for everything from eggs to pancakes to grilling it’s much more versatile than other sous vide methods and earns its keep.

Less Expensive Sous Vide

Thankfully, price is no longer as much an issue, as there are now smaller models that attach to a pot or pan you already have and cost under $100. This is the one I have.

Without the Plastic

The bigger hurdle was figuring out how to get rid of the plastic. Keeping the food from touching the water is vital to this method working, but I wasn’t giving in on my pledge to avoid plastic.

After some failed experimentation, I’ve settled on two methods that work well:

  1. Mason Jar Cooking – I’ve found that small (4-8 ounce size) mason jars are perfect for cooking foods like eggs, creme brûlée, and other space variable foods.
  2. Cooking in Silicone Bags – For meats and seafood that don’t fit well in jars, I’ve found that silicone food storage bags work really well without the need for plastic.

Supplies You’ll Need

There are dozens of ways you can try sous vide cooking at home. I use a bare-bones method with the least expensive equipment I could find and it works really well. This is the equipment I use:

  1. Sous Vide Immersion Circulator –  This easy to store immersion circulator is the least expensive option I’ve found and it works really well. It can be used with the stainless steel insert from an Instant Pot or with any other adequately sized pot.
  2. Silicone Food Storage Bags – I use these silicone bags for smaller items and these for bigger items.
  3. Large pot that is deep enough to submerge the food you are cooking.

What to Do:

  1. Fill a pot with water and attach the immersion circulator to the side. Set the temperature for the food you want to cook (the manual has a reference chart for this).
  2. Let it come up to temperature. In the meantime, place the food you plan to cook in a glass jar or silicone food bag (preferred). If using a silicone bag, remove as much air as possible. To do this: slowly lower the bag with the top unsealed into the pot of heating water. Be careful not to let any spill into the bag. This pushes the air out and creates a similar air-tightness to vacuum sealing.
  3. Seal the bag with an airtight clip.
  4. When water comes up to temperature, place the bag with the food into the pot and leave for the correct amount of time.
  5. Once cooked, you can leave the food in the water for up to an hour at temperature without overcooking it.
  6. For meats and seafood, I like to create a sear on each side right before serving. I bring a cast iron skillet to high heat and sear for 1-2 minutes per side.

Sous Vide Recipes

Almost any recipe can be easily adapted for sous vide cooking. I find the most noticeable difference with meats, eggs, and seafood. These egg bites are one of our current favorites, but I’ll be posting more soon!

Sous Vide Cooking: Bottom Line

Do you need another kitchen appliance that gently cooks your food in a water bath? Nope.

Is it worth trying if you love restaurant quality food without eating out? Absolutely.

The original method had some problems like cost and plastic use. Newer models and silicone food bags make sous vide cooking at home healthier and easier.

I wouldn’t prioritize an immersion cooker as a must-have kitchen appliance. I received it as a gift and use it much more than I expected. It does make better food that we find in restaurants and may save us money over time. I’d put this on my wedding registry if I had it to do over again … but it won’t replace our blender or food processor as a core kitchen appliance.

Ever tried sous vide? How did you like it? Will you give it a shot? 

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


70 responses to “What Is Sous Vide (& How to Do It without Plastic)”

  1. Mary Hannahan Avatar
    Mary Hannahan

    Hi, I just wanted to say thanks for an amazing website. I have been searching for 3 or 4 years now for items I want to make or find in a cleaner version, and all roads lead to your website, so just a huge thank you. I have been a health coach for a decade, but am giving it up for a new venture. I will still be back often. I love Sous Vide. I just made Pacific Cod Loins, wild caught. Just wanted to see your advice on the silicone bags. Just bought one. Thanks again, Mary

  2. Alexandre Avatar

    Silicone bags contains also additives, just like plastic. Just saying, your not safer with silicone bags, i’d stick to the glass jars.

  3. debbie Avatar

    Hi Katie,
    The Sous Vide immersion circulator that you link to, doesn’t seem to be available right now (actually it IS available for $184.99 -which seems to be a bit much). HOWEVER, what looks to be a very similar one is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Instant-Pot-SSV800-Accu-Circulator/dp/B07898VZN9/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=ll1&tag=wellnessmama-20&linkId=ddd1cf861bfb2c047c39d8b853652670&language=en_US
    Do you have any knowledge/info/know what’s different? I DID notice that it’s smaller, but it doesn’t specify if it replaces the one you linked to. Don’t want to purchase a cheapy version, but it’s evidently by the same manufacturer.

  4. Melanie Avatar

    I make yogurt sous vide all the time! It’s sooooo easy. First I scald the milk on the stove, cool it and mix in the culture, then pour it into a mason jar and let it go for about 8 hours at 110F. I love that I can make it right in the mason jar I store it in. I’ve been sous viding for several years now. Got it originally for steaks but now use it for many, many other things. (It’s a great way to do lean meats because it retains the juices.) I’ve been working on ways to reduce plastic use and plan to write a post on that on my blog soon. Anyway, I love doing yogurt because it doesn’t involve using plastic. Same goes for mason jar cheesecake and creme brulee. Sous vide has definitely become a standard in my kitchen.

  5. Amy Goldman Avatar
    Amy Goldman


    Your blog is an invaluable resource. Thank you so much!

    Chris Kresser has also wrestled wth the issue of sous vide and silicone safety, and eventually conveyed the below:
    “Dr. Stuart Yaniger, a scientist who has sounded the alarm about estrogenic compounds in plastics, tested silicon and found that it leaches chemicals with EA as well. I was sad to learn that because I was considering using silicon bags in my Sous Vide cookers.”

    Below is an excerpt from an article on the Weston Price site, in which the author juxtaposes info from, variously, Dr Yaniger (above), a pro-silicone bag blogger, and Chris Kresser (https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/environmental-toxins/sous-vide-popular-way-put-plastic-straight-food/). Here is an excerpt (sorry for the length):

    When concerns over plastics and sous vide cooking first emerged, the response among wellness folks was mixed. Some sought to find safer alternatives, such as other types of plastics or silicone-based cooking bags. Once a big proponent of sous vide cooking, Chris Kresser had this to say about the safety concerns raised in the Environmental Health Perspectives study [authored in part by Dr. Stuart Yaniger]:
    ‘Special note for Sous Vide users…I love cooking with the Sous Vide. But in light of the evidence that even BPA-free plastics bags leach chemicals with EA even without added stress like a hot water bath, I think erring on the side of caution is probably wise.’

    “Dr. Stuart Yaniger…responded both to Chris Kresser’s post and to a post at another website (which argued for the safety of…silicone bags for sous vide). Dr. Yaniger’s response was instructive:
    ‘I am one of the authors of the study on EA in plastics that you cited…as well as an avid amateur chef…Silicone is no relief—although silicones can be formulated to be free of leachable endocrine disruptors, most aren’t, including most medical grades.’

    “For Dr. Yaniger, the bottom line is this: Unless a manufacturer has developed the product specifically to be free of EA and can provide valid test data to confirm this (not a generic ?this passes FDA standards’—FDA allows the use of BPA!), consumers should assume that the plastic is likely leaching endocrine-disrupting chemicals…

    “Again, what we clearly see is that there is no such thing as safe plastics or silicones when it comes to food preparation… Silicone, while touted as safe, shows incredible problems under normal use, with leaching and contamination into food…Silicone bags, in fact, are even more troubling than silicone baking molds and other silicone cookware because of the various additives and other chemicals needed to manufacture such materials.”

    The above is not uplifting info, I know. But it does suggest that as consumers we may have the power to change the situation by demanding, as Dr. Yaniger suggests, silicone products authoritatively and demonstrably free of EA.

  6. Dawn Avatar

    Hello Katie! I just came across your website through Pinterest looking up Sous Vide without using plastic. It looks like you have a lot of great info on your site that I look forward to reading about. I felt compelled to share about my own recent knowledge and experience with silicone, specifically my breast implants, and how they made me extremely sick. I discovered the website healing breast implant illness which also has a link to a Facebook group of women who have been severally harmed by silicone and share their experiences. I encourage you to research this information for yourself. I just had my implants removed and got rid of anything I own, especially in my kitchen, that is made of silicone which is made of up of several toxic chemicals and heavy metals that leach out. I hope this helps you so you in turn can help others through your site.

  7. Jerry Avatar

    The description on Amazon of your choice of bag states that the constituent material contains polyethylene, the same polymer as grocery store food bags. Have you researched the composition of silicone bags?

    High Grade Quality: The bag is made from food grade safe BPA-free silicone and PE, durable and stable to use.”

  8. Dana Avatar

    Hi. I’m new to Sous Vide. I got an amazing deal on it but I’m nervous about cooking with plastic. That’s how I found your post. ?
    Now I have a new question. How do we know silicone is safe???

  9. Aleš Medvešek Avatar
    Aleš Medvešek

    Why is it so important thad water and meat does not come in contact?

  10. Robert Powell Avatar
    Robert Powell

    Sous vide appliances cost well under $500. Online, budget models go for around $175. There is no need for the temperature precision of the $500 models.

  11. Elizabeth Avatar

    I’ve been avoiding this method of cooking for years because of the plastic. Thanks for showing some alternatives. It’s such an old process — I knew there must be a way. Think I’ll stick to glass, I’m wary of silicone for the same reasons as plastic.

  12. Alicia Avatar

    Always nice to learn a cheaper version of fancy gourmet cooking! Looks similar to canning.
    My question is in regards to silicone use. I have seen an influx of silicone products over the years and of course tried one item myself but I could smell and taste the ‘plastic’ on my baked muffins. Blech! I do have a couple spatulas and a pot holder but of course they are not in constant contact with my food such as a insert or bag. The bags look really convenient though!
    Now, this was approx 8? yrs ago so maybe things have changed, but from my experience it appeared to be as harmful (or more) to cook with silicone than it is plastic in the microwave…no? What silicone products have you found that are ‘safe’ and free of cancer causing chemicals?
    Having a difficult time finding alternative freezer options without spending copious amounts of $$$ on glass tupperware. That stuff ain’t cheap! TIA 🙂

  13. Chris Avatar

    What would happen if I used seasoned broth rather than water and just left the meat in it for the prescribed period of time???

  14. nix Avatar

    You’re not gonna like this, but silicone isn’t any better when it comes to xenoestrogens.

  15. James Avatar

    Amazing article thanks Katie! I started using these slower cooking, low temperature techniques after reading that some food elements can become carcinogenic if heated too quickly, at high temperatures, or in contact with a direct flame. Have you heard of this before? My egg cooking techniques is what is worrying me the most. I got the same silicone bags as you but with colour and I absolutely love them. I added another tool to my kitchen toolbox Katie thanks to your recommendation about mason jars. I can’t wait to try those out.

    Look forward to hearing back.

  16. Cody Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    Thanks for the article, I’m looking for ways to avoid the plastic and will do some reading on silicone as an alternative.

    Just wanted to point out that immersion circulators like the Anova cost under $150 and the price is expected to come down even more if they ever release the Nano ($99). The $500 figure quoted is a little unfair… (yeah, you can buy the stand alone crazy expensive machine, but I’m pretty sure the majority of people buying these for home use are opting for the sticks – either the anova, the joule or something similar).

  17. Karen Avatar

    I like the mason jar idea you’ve added! I avoid the silicone as much as the plastic. Not any safer.

  18. Ginny Avatar

    Would this be a good method of making tempeh ?? I’m having a terrible time trying to find a way to keep consistent temperature so I’ve wasted most of the batches I tried to make.

  19. Kim Avatar

    I recently discovered using a foodsaver jar sealer. I can take all the air out of my mason jars to store things like dehydrated herbs. I am going to try this method of cooking in order to avoid plastic. I still feel apprehensive about cooking in silicone so it will put some quickly seared meat in a mason jar, vacuum seal it and then sous vide.

  20. Ivy Avatar

    Is silicone bag safer for cooking as opposed to plastic bag? I am still quite skeptical about both – that is the only reason that is still stopping me from getting a sous vide product.

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