Are Container Lids Necessary for Sous Vide?

I’ll cut right to the chase. Yes. There, I’ll let you get on with your day.

But really, having a lid on your container when using sous vide immersion circulators is highly recommended for a few main reasons:

  1. Helps keep an even water temperature by holding in the heat
  2. Reduces how hard the immersion circulator has to work to heat the water
  3. Prevents water from evaporating. This may not be too large of a concern when only cooking 1-2 hours. However, when cooking a large roast, evaporation becomes a factor.
  4. Prevents contaminants from getting inside.
  5. Prevents people from getting burned. “Ooh! What’s this?” (reaches hand in water after never hearing of sous vide)

Polycarbonate Lid

Now that we’ve identified the concerns and reasoning behind using water bath container lids, let’s look at our options. First off, most polycarbonate containers, which is our recommended sous vide container, are sold with lids. If you own one of these and do not have the associated lid, check out Amazon as they most likely sell it. Polycarbonate lids are also pretty easy to cut a whole large enough to fit the immersion circulator through it, since they stick out over the top of the container. If you are all out of options and cannot get your hands on the lid to your container, or you are using a MacGyver container such as your kitchen sink or beer cooler, you’re not out of luck just yet.

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

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Aluminum Foil or Plastic Wrap

Wrap your container in aluminum foil to help prevent evaporation, among the other concerns noted above. However aluminum foil does not hold in the heat very well at all. You can still cook sous vide using this, its just that your immersion circulator will have to work a little harder.

Plastic wrap can be placed over the top of your pot or cooler to help hold in some of the heat. The translucent plastic also allows you to keep an eye on the cooking status by checking out your food.

Ping Pong Balls…

Yep, this is a weird one. People have placed ping pong balls on top of the water in their container to cover the entire surface. I really can’t think of a real advantage, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

Sous Vide Ping Pong Balls
Ping Pong balls used as a “lid” for sous vide

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Overall, buy a proper polycarbonate container with a lid on it, if possible. If not, you can still float by with using aluminum foil or plastic wrap as a temporary lid.

4 thoughts on “Are Container Lids Necessary for Sous Vide?

  • December 16, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Chefsteps also developed a sous vide machine for the home cook. It’s called Joule!

  • January 23, 2018 at 7:03 pm

    The balls are a good idea and in theory should work because they are insulated and any condensation will return to the chamber, the mould round and objects well and you don’t have the problem of when you lift a lid all the condensation build up runs onto the counter top…..

  • June 10, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    The ping pong balls work really well at holding in heat and preventing evaporation. This comes from experience actually using them on 24 hour cooks, without having to add any water. I’ve tried plastic wrap and the cooler lid (I use a coleman stacker cooler for a cooking vessel), and both are more messy than the ping pong balls, because the evaporation wants to run all over the place when you take them off.

  • April 7, 2022 at 12:37 am

    did not work for a 48 hour cook. Short ribs. I still had to add water twice. I used my bbq thermometer to get the water to the correct temp, then added it


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