Best Water Containers for Sous Vide Immersion Circulators

If you’re one of the many who prefer using immersion circulators to get your perfect sous vide meal, large containers or pots must be used to hold the water for cooking. Many people grab anything they can get their hands on, including styrofoam beer coolers and even kitchen sinks! I’ll admit… I used my kitchen sink once.

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. Let’s take a look at our most preferred methods of cooking with immersion circulators, in order.

Best Sous Vide Containers

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate water containers and vessels are without a doubt our preferred and recommended water bath for cooking with sous vide immersion circulators. Polycarbonate resists heat very well and is also very lightweight. In addition, they’re very cheap to buy on Amazon or your local retail store. 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.

BPA-Free?

One question many readers often ask is: are there any BPA-free sous vide water containers? 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.

LIPAVI Sous Vide Containers

LIPAVI is a relatively new entrant to the sous vide world and is quickly becoming popular among sous vide enthusiasts. 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. This results in knives and/or power tools to make a choppy cut through the plastic so that the immersion circulator can fit in the hole. LIPAVI understood this desire and created polycarbonate sous vide containers and lids with PRE-CUT holes for each sous vide device. You can actually pick a lid that corresponds to your sous vide machine, such as Anova, Gourmia, or Sansaire. The cost is a bit more compared to the Cambro containers, but the pre-cut holes is what makes us place LIPAVI first on our list.

LIPAVI sous vide containers
LIPAVI 12 quart sous vide container with pre-cut lid. This lid is pre-cut for an Anova precision cooker.

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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 personally have used a 12 quart Cambro round container which works great. It’s incredibly strong material, so accidentally breaking it is out of question. We used to recommend the Rubbermaid container (below) solely because Rubbermaid used to be BPA-free. This added safety measure made Rubbermaid our go-to and most recommended sous vide container. However, since they are no longer BPA-free, these Cambro containers definitely out-perform Rubbermaid. They are significantly stronger and the available lids attach much better. The only downfall is that the lids can be difficult to cut if you plan on creating a hole for your immersion circulator to fit through.

Cambro Sous Vide Container
Cambro Sous Vide container with lid (4.75 gallon).

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Rubbermaid Sous Vide Containers

One of our highest recommended water baths for immersion circulators is the Rubbermaid Commercial Space-Saving Container. This polycarbonate food storage container is BPA-free, (UPDATE: these Rubbermaid containers are no longer classified as BPA-free) dishwasher safe, and resists temperatures from -40 to 212 degrees F. What else could you ask for? This thing is perfect for cooking sous vide. The side also has clearly marked measuring lines for adding the ideal amount of water, depending on what you are cooking. 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 contain a lid. The lid is made of a very flimsy plastic which makes cutting it very easy in order to fit an immersion circulator through it. We used a small utility knife to cut a whole

Rubbermaid Sous Vide Container
Rubbermaid Sous Vide container shown in 12 quart size.

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Plastic coolers

Plastic coolers are usually a commonly owned household product which is why you may see many people using these to cook sous vide. If you plan on using plastic coolers for sous vide, ensure it is large enough. We recommend roughly 8” deep and 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. As for the major disadvantage, food safety may be a concern as the high water temperatures could pull chemicals off of the plastic liner. Because of this, we do not recommend using plastic coolers unless you can verify the safety.

Coleman 16 Quart Excursion Cooler
Coleman 16 Quart Excursion Cooler

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Pots

Everyone owns a pot. However not everyone owns one large enough! Personally, this was the first water bath method I used when using an immersion circulator. 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:

  1. Lightweight
  2. More cooking space
  3. Available lids to prevent evaporation and temperature change

One exception is if you plan on using the new ChefSteps Joule immersion circulator, since this device has a magnetic bottom. Most sous vide immersion circulators use clips to attach to the side of a container, however Joule uses a strong magnet on the base of the device which helps it stand upright in a pot.

Bayou Classic Stockpot with Lid
Bayou Classic Stockpot with Lid

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Overall, our recommendation is to purchase a polycarbonate, BPA-free, square food container WITH a lid. You’ve spent between $100-$300 on an incredible sous vide immersion circulator, don’t ruin the food by using poor containers!

41 thoughts on “Best Water Containers for Sous Vide Immersion Circulators

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  • October 28, 2016 at 9:01 pm
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    The manufacturer says the Rubbermaid containers are no longer certified as Bpa free. Do you know own of any other containers that are BPA free? Any other recommendations? TIA.

    Reply
    • October 31, 2016 at 1:33 pm
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      You are correct, thank you for the great find! We contacted them to confirm and they are in fact no longer BPA-free. We will update the article accordingly. As for BPA being present in sous vide containers, I’m not too worried about it so long as the bags you are using are BPA free. Basically, if the vacuum sealed bags (or ziplock bags) are BPA free, then no chemicals from the container should be able to affect your food.

      I, however, am not a scientist specializing in BPA! I’d recommend anyone who is still worried about the effects of BPA to use pots instead of containers.

      Reply
      • December 27, 2016 at 6:38 pm
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        I’ve tried to extensively research the rubbermaid containers and theit website and other sources indicate that as of 2010 none of their container have BPA. Could you please tell me what this updated Inormation is based on? Ive been using that container extensively for my sous vide cooking

        Reply
  • December 21, 2016 at 1:07 am
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    Overall I feel as though a large enough aluminum or stainless steel pot with a heavy bottom works very well just cover it with plastic wrap right around the handles and you’re good to go very little evaporation and virtually no heat loss.

    Reply
  • December 27, 2016 at 10:14 pm
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    Since the food is sealed in a bag and doesn’t contact the water, why does it matter if the water bath is BPA free or not?

    Reply
    • December 28, 2016 at 2:17 pm
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      Hey Shorty – you’re right. We mention this in the post:

      “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.”

      Reply
      • February 9, 2017 at 12:49 pm
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        Then why not recommend the coolers too? Do they have chemicals that are able to seep through the average bag?

        Reply
        • February 9, 2017 at 8:05 pm
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          No they do not; we do have coolers listed above as a suitable container for sous vide. The mention about chemicals in coolers is more prevalent because coolers are often used for multiple purposes. For example, if you use it for a sous vide cook and then turn around and put your picnic lunch in there.

          But I’m not in the science business.

          Reply
          • September 9, 2017 at 5:22 am
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            You wrote the type of the container is not that important because the food is sealed and whatever chemicals can not pass through. Do you have a source for this because I would like to know more about it.

            I am considering if there are any health risk when using a container made of polypropylene and if the polypropylene can wander through the plastic bag and into the subject being prepared. There has been examples of the color and smell of smoke passing through the plastic bag and into the water when preparing smoked food. Because of this, I am concerned if the opposite is possible? I am of course using sous vide approved bags.

  • January 25, 2017 at 2:19 am
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    My 850w Sous Smart circulator ($70 from Amazon) has no trouble keeping the water in an uncovered aluminum stock pot at 160°F. I doubt that it is heating continuously, but if it were, that amount of electricity would cost me slightly less than 10¢. (We pay Duke Energy 11½¢ per kilowatt-hour.) Of course cooking at lower temperatures costs less.

    The polycarb containers you discuss cost on the order of $25. Assuming they save as much as 50% of the energy costs — quite unlikely — I’d have to do 500 hours of sous vide cooking to break even. I’m an enthusiast, but that’ll take a couple of years. Will the plastic containers last that long?

    Geeking out on numbers aside, the polycarb container needs to be stored somewhere, and every kitchen in the world is short on storage space. The stock pot already has a storage place, because we use it for a lot of other things. All things considered, you haven’t made your point for me.

    Reply
    • January 25, 2017 at 2:43 am
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      Hey Bob, I’ll ask you this – how much did the stock pot cost? 🙂

      One of the important reasons for using polycarbonate containers is that you can cut the lids; sealing the water bath prevents evaporation which, during a long cook (24 – 48 hours), is very important. Stock pot lids can’t be cut for a perfect fit for your circulator.

      Reply
      • January 28, 2017 at 10:22 pm
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        “how much did the stock pot cost?”
        We’ve had it for over 25 years (and used it a thousand times; we make a lot of stock. I can smell chicken stock simmering right now). It was probably about $50 back then, would be $100 now.

        “sealing the water bath prevents evaporation which, during a long cook (24 – 48 hours), is very important.”
        OK, that’s a challenge to a former experimental physicist.

        I ran the circulator at 140°F plugged into a “kill-a-watt” power usage monitor (hate that name). The circulating blades run all the time, at a very low power level, and the heater was on 42% of the time at about 830 watts. It seems to be binary, on or off, nothing in between. Then, figuring the aluminum pot with an open top would lose more energy than the polycarb, I covered the top with saran wrap and wrapped the whole thing in dishtowels. The heater went down to a 34% duty cycle. Doing the arithmetic, the better heat-retention with the towels, assuming the polycarb would be as good, would save me 37¢ over a 48-hour cook. Note that the saran wrap would also prevent evaporation, even without the towels.

        Anyhoo, I think that the larger consideration is storage space. We designed this house and have a lot of storage in the kitchen and walk-in pantry. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t want to add a large plastic container to what we store if it’s not necessary.

        Reply
        • July 15, 2017 at 7:12 pm
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          Thank you for this post… scientists make the world go round!

          Reply
        • October 20, 2017 at 7:01 pm
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          I’ve been using the SV Supreme for years and just recently bought an Immersion circulator. I lucked out – my 5 gallon stock pot fits perfectly into a soft-side cooler I picked up on vacation one time. The lid even folds over leaving a gap for the circulator. I could add a towel if I wanted to get neurotic about it.

          Reply
  • February 5, 2017 at 7:48 pm
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    Regarding BPA:
    BPA-free is essentially meaningless. What people fail to ask is, when they remove bisphenol A, what do they replace it with? The answer is basically Bisphenol S and F (BPS or BPF). These compounds are used because they are structurally extremely similar to BPA and perform the same function in plastics; there is no reason to think they’re any safer. We just that we don’t have any long-term studies about their effects on the human body. Manufacturers switched to them so they can say “we don’t use BPA!”

    Basically, avoid plastics with the 7 symbol on them (though that number encompasses a number of different plastics). Type 2 (High-Density Polyethylene, or HDPE), Type 4 (Low-Density Polyethylene, or LDPE), Type 5 (Polypropylene) are the safer choices.

    But since the food doesn’t come into contact with the water vessels, what they’re made of isn’t relevant.

    Reply
    • September 9, 2017 at 5:26 am
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      Are you sure the sealed food is protected? There has been examples of the color and smell of smoke passing through the plastic bag and into the water when preparing smoked food. Because of this, I am concerned if the opposite is possible?

      Reply
  • December 4, 2017 at 8:30 am
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    What can you say about the possibility of using containers from polypropylene? Polypropylene is better / worse than polycarbonate?

    Reply
  • December 10, 2017 at 5:10 am
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    I use an old aluminum stock pot to sous vide with an old Sansaire. I am concerned about wasted energy so I throw in some ping pong balls to cover the water surface, add a little Saran Wrap and wrap the whole thing in kitchen towels. I bet there is all kinds of danger lurking in the ping pong balls.

    Reply

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