Sous Vide vs. Slow Cooking: How Are They Different?

Sous vide and slow cooking are two methods that you can use to make flavorful meals with minimal effort. With both of these techniques, you can expect tender, juicy results, and it’s all about cooking your ingredients slowly and evenly, at a steady temperature, over a longer span of time. But what are the main differences between sous vide and slow cooking?

The Tools That You Need for Sous Vide vs. Slow Cooking

Sous vide and slow cooking don’t require the use of many different tools, which is certainly helpful. But you do need to invest in some products to get started.

For slow cooking, you need to buy a high-quality slow cooker. This will be a unit that you simply plug in. Your ingredients are placed in a large ceramic pot that sits inside the cooker. Then, all you have to do is adjust your settings and let the cooker take care of the rest. When the timer runs out, your food will be ready to serve.

With sous vide, you can buy an immersion circulator that sits in a water bath or you can go with a sous vide oven that has everything you need, from the container that you fill up with water to the lid that prevents heat from escaping. You’ll need to place your ingredients in plastic bags first, and then immerse them in the water. Setting the cook time and temperature on your sous vide machine is fast and easy. Then, once your timer runs out, you can either serve the food the way it is or finish preparing it by using another cooking method, such as searing.

Slow Cooker Limitations and Drawbacks

Both of these methods let you set everything up so the machine can do all of the work. This means you don’t have to spend hours prepping and cooking to make dinner for your family. But there are some limitations that come with slow cooking.

As you shop for a slow cooker, you’ll notice that many don’t let you set a specific temperature. Instead, you might only be able to choose between heat settings like low, medium, and high, and these might dictate how long the cook time is, rather than the actual temperature. This gives you less control than you’d have with sous vide.

If you like the idea of combining a variety of ingredients in a large pot and letting all of the flavors mingle, a slow cooker would be a great choice. However, if you want individual ingredients to retain their juices, it’s better to go with sous vide, which requires that you place your ingredients in bags (which can be vacuum sealed) to help keep all of the flavor locked in.

Another thing to consider is that the risk of overcooking could be higher when you use a slow cooker. If you leave ingredients in for too long, they might not come out as good as you’d hoped. And, when cooking meats, in particular, a slow cooker is more likely to give you a stringy texture than sous vide would.

Finally, when it comes to cleanup, a sous vide machine would be much easier to clean because, again, the ingredients are sealed in bags. So, provided the bags remain sealed throughout the cooking process, there’s no mess. Just empty the water from the container, wipe everything down and dry it, and you’re all set to store it away until you need it again. With a slow cooker that cooks ingredients in a large pot, you need to thoroughly wash the pot after every use, so that can be more time-consuming.

Several Differences and Similarities to Consider

Overall, both of these methods can cook food for longer periods of time, producing tender results that are packed with flavor and nutrition. Sous vide machines tend to use lower temperatures than slow cookers do, and sous vide doesn’t let you mix all of your ingredients together like you would in a slow cooker. But, with both of these techniques, your meal can be set to cook for hours while you take care of other things, so that’s definitely beneficial for busy people.

Photo credit: Pere Rubi/Shutterstock

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