Sous vide cooking only seems intimidating from the outside. When you’re only tasting the final result and seeing the seemingly complicated cooking equipment without any actual hands on experience. As any home Sous Vide Chef can tell you, it’s really not as difficult as it seems. That said, while you might not need to be a trained expert to get perfect results with sous vide cooking, you certainly need the right set of tools. If you’re one of the people who prefer using immersion circulators over sous vide ovens to get your perfect sous vide meal, then you’ll need a large container as well. This is a decision that few give the attention that it deserves.
Many people grab anything they can get their hands on to be their sous vide container, including Styrofoam beer coolers and even kitchen sinks! I have to admit that even I used my kitchen sink once. However, improvisation is not always the best solution- there is such a thing as an optimal water containers for sous vide immersion circulators. This is something worthy of the time and consideration that you put into any tool in your kitchen.
Why is that? Well, in addition to often getting you subpar results, there’s the question of safety when using questionable containers for sous vide cooking. For instance, certain types of material may pose a health risk when cooking at high temperatures, so be sure to check the heat and safety ratings of the material in question. It’s not wise to boil water within any old container that you have lying around the kitchen after all. Not everything was meant to be a sous vide immersion circulator.
To make sure you’re really getting the best results with your immersion circulator method, you need to get a sous vide container that’ll do it justice. We’ve done the research and tried all of the finest options available (quite literally including the kitchen sink!). Here are our recommendations.
Best Sous Vide Containers
While there are plenty of items that we have chosen to recommend, only one can come out on top. That’s right. There is no doubt about it: polycarbonate water containers and vessels are our absolute favorite. When it comes to water bath vessels, we just can’t recommend these enough! The main reason for this is their affordable price tag paired with great quality (what more could you want?!). Polycarbonate resists heat very well but it’s surprisingly lightweight. In addition to all that, they’re very cheap to buy on Amazon or your local retail store. Finding one is easy. The tick is finding the right one. So, how should you decide which polycarbonate container to get? One of the other main features to look for in polycarbonate water baths are lids, which help keep even water temperature and prevent water evaporation. As long as you have one of those, you’re in good shape.
One question many readers often ask is: are there any BPA-free sous vide water containers? This is something that’s worth delving into before we inch further down our list. BPA is always a concern when handling food in plastic, especially when using high temperatures. Years ago, Rubbermaid sold a polycarbonate container on Amazon and claimed it was BPA-free directly in the listing. A few years later, customers noticed the “BPA-free” sticker was no longer on the box or container. After reaching out, Rubbermaid confirmed the containers are NOT BPA-free. Were they ever free of BPA chemicals? I’m not entirely sure… but no need to panic.
BPA is only an issue if it comes in contact with the food you are cooking. With sous vide, our food is wrapped in a vacuum sealed bag or ziplock bag, preventing any BPA chemicals in the container from touching your food. In summary, as long as you are using BPA-free bags to hold your sous vide food, you are absolutely fine! Get whatever container your heart desires. We’ll dive through our favorites below.
1. Anova Culinary ANTCO1 Sous Vide Cooking Container
Anova is one of the biggest names in sous vide and their line of sous vide cooking containers are an excellent match for your favourite Anova immersion circulator. Sitting at 16 litres, this unit features food grade polycarbonate with a high-quality silicon seal – no need for the infamous ping-pong ball method. The Anova ANTCO1 also includes an integrated wire rack to keep your bags below water level. With a two-year manufacturer’s warranty this is an easy product to recommend for sous vide cooks of all stripes.
2. LIPAVI Sous Vide Containers
LIPAVI is a relatively new entrant to the sous vide world but it’s quickly becoming popular among sous vide enthusiasts. That’s not an accident, in fact we can barely contain our enthusiasm about this remarkable products! Their intelligent design and quality materials ensure that your sous vide cooking experience is flawless. And it’s all about the lid, funnily enough! When using polycarbonate containers for sous vide, many people want to use the lids that usually come with them to help prevent evaporation and temperature loss. However, to do so, they need to get crafty: get ready to pull our your knives and power tools and put them to work in order to create makeshift holes. Suffice it to say, not only that this can be dangerous, it gives you crappy results. LIPAVI understood this desire and created polycarbonate sous vide containers and lids with PRE-CUT holes for each sous vide device. This is an absolute game changer. You can actually pick a lid that corresponds to your sous vide machine, such as Anova, Gourmia, or Sansaire. The price tag is slightly higher than that of Cambro containers, but the pre-cut holes is what makes us place LIPAVI first on our list.
3. Cambro Sous Vide Containers
Cambro has long been a leading manufacturer of culinary food storage containers, and their polycarbonate containers are perfect for sous vide water baths. We’ve had the chance to use a 12-quart Cambro round container for one of our sous vide cooking reviews, and it worked perfectly. The material used to make this vessel is remarkably robust, and there’s no way you’d be able to break it by accident. Prior to this, we used to recommend the Rubbermaid container (see below), but the main reason for this was their BPA-free certificate. It ensured a peace of mind for many who are concerned about the harmfulness of chemicals in plastic, so it made Rubbermaid go-to and most recommended sous vide container.
So everything was going well for them and we were prepared to give them an easy high ranking. However, that has changed and now an asterix is necessary. Since they are no longer BPA-free, their rank definitely dropped in our reviews. In comparison, these Cambro containers definitely out-perform them in various aspects. The material is significantly stronger and seems way more resilient to accidental drops, and the lids that come with it attach more securely. The only potential downside is that the toughness of the material makes is difficult to cut through the lids. If you were planning to fit an immersion circulator with a lid, it might not be viable. However, if a lid isn’t necessary for you to achieve an optimal sous vide cooking experience, then Cambro is definitely the way to go!
4. Rubbermaid Sous Vide Containers
Up until they switched to material that is not classified as BPA-free, the Rubbermaid Commercial Space-Saving Container was one of our highest recommended water baths for immersion circulators. While it’s currently outperformed by a few better options, this container is still a good choice if you’re not concerned about BPA. (And with sous vide, there’s not much reason to be, as outlined above). This water bath is dishwasher safe, and resists temperatures from -40 to 212 degrees F. This lends itself well to the needs of sous vide cooks. The side also has clearly marked measuring lines for adding the ideal amount of water, which will make the process easier. The measurements of the 12 quart container (which we use) come in at roughly 11 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 8 inches deep, providing ample space for multiple vacuum-packed bags. These containers also have multiple sizing options from 2 quarts all the way up to 22 quarts, and come with a lid included. Granted, the lid is made of a very flimsy plastic which makes it look and feel very cheap. On the other hand, they’re quite easy to cut through. We were able to cut a hole to fit an immersion circulator through with a small utility knife.
5. Plastic Coolers
Most people have at least one old plastic cooler laying around somewhere. Plastic coolers are usually a commonly owned household product- we all like our beer nice and cold. However, a with a few modifications, a plastic cooler can become a perfect vessel for your immersion circulator sous vide cooking. Inexpensive, easy to come around by, and fully functional- what more could anybody ask for?
Naturally, there are a few guidelines you need to follow if you want to transform a cooler into a water container for sous vide. If you plan on using plastic coolers for sous vide, first thing you need to do is make sure it is large enough. We recommend roughly 8” deep and that will hold at least 12 quarts of water. Since these coolers are made to be insulated, heat is held very well, so temperature will rise quickly with little power required from the cooker.
The most significant downside of using a plastic cooler as a container for sous vide is the questionable safety. The high temperatures of cooking water could pull chemicals off of the plastic liner and contaminate it. Because of this, we do not recommend using plastic coolers unless you can be sure that this alternative method won’t cause any harm.
Even if you don’t have a plastic cooler, you definitely have a pot in your kitchen. But, while everyone owns a pot, not everyone has one that will be large enough for sous vide cooking!
Personally, this was the first water bath method I used when using an immersion circulator. I believe that everyone tries using the immersion circulator with a pot before deciding to upgrade to a high-quality sous vide water container. And everybody decides that, because a pot can only be a temporary solution. The downfall of using pots is that you can’t use the lid to hold in heat and prevent water evaporation, which requires more power from the cooker. We definitely recommend using a Cambro container over traditional pots because they are lightweight, offer more cooking space and come with sturdy lids that prevent evaporation and temperature change.
There is one exception, though. If you plan on using the new ChefSteps Joule immersion circulator, you’d find it more practical to use a pot over a plastic sous vide container. This innovative sous vide device has a magnetic bottom. Unlike most sous vide immersion circulators which use clips to attach to the side of a container, Joule uses a strong magnet on the base of the device which helps it stand upright in a pot.
Overall, our honest recommendation is to purchase a polycarbonate, BPA-free, square food container WITH a lid. Ideally, if you want to skip the hassle of cutting out holes by yourself and potentially ruining the sous vide container, you’d opt for a container with pre-cut lids, such as the LIPAVI. After all, you’ve already spent between $100-$300 on an incredible sous vide immersion circulator- so why would you ruin the food by using inadequate containers?
Sous Vide Frequently Asked Questions
How do you use a Sous Vide immersion circulator?
Every Sous Vide immersion circulator is different. Even so, the general workflow is that you; (1) set the desired temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius, (2) set the desired cooking window, (3) confirm your selection and begin heating. When the unit has reached its target temperature it will, typically, release a chime or a ding to let you know that you’re good to go.
Can you Sous Vide in any container?
Generally speaking we suggest either using a large stock pot or a purpose built water bath. There are plenty of these for sale online. Some of them even come with lids that allow for sneaky immersion circulator access through a hatch near the rim. Make sure to look for that BPA free badge. We can’t recommended anything that isn’t certified and chef-tested
How much water do I fill up in the container?
This depends on what you’re cooking, but as a general rule make sure to pay attention to the low minimum and maximum fill lines on your immersion circulator. Don’t forget that adding your vacuum-sealed food will displace water and increase your water level!
Can I use my kitchen sink as a “container” to Sous Vide?
We wouldn’t recommend this. Not only will this use a lot of water, but it’ll take a long time to heat up. Kitchen sinks are also, scientifically, 3-4 times more likely to be grosser than a pot you washed yesterday (research pending).
Can you Sous Vide in a 5 gallon bucket?
Although I’ve managed to make this work in the past, it’s a truly tricky prospect. It’s better to have a larger container and not need all of it than a smaller container that can’t keep a steady water level.
Are all Sous Vide containers BPA free?
If something is being marketed as a Sous Vide container it should, in an ideal world, be BPA free and safe at Sous Vide temperatures. With that said, we always recommend that you do your due diligence. It never hurts to be careful, especially when it comes to food.
Does Sous Vide need a lid?
Lids in Sous Vide are extremely useful for long cooks, such as those at the 24 hour and beyond mark. These cooking windows mean more water evaporation, which mean an increased chance of your machine auto-shutting off because the water levels got too low. For those interested in Sous Vide barbeque lids are particularly important.