Making the Most of Your Sous Vide Container or Vessel – Part 1
One of the most basic and important pieces of information regularly sought in the world of precision cooking is what type of sous vide container or vessel to use. There are so many options to choose from! Over the next few weeks, we are going to explore the ins and outs of this integral piece of equipment, culminating with a step-by-step guide of how to build your own Anova Frankencooler. This home-cooked cooler hack is the ultimate and most efficient large sous vide cooking vessel you can make at home, just in time for the holidays!
First, let’s go over the most important product specifications that govern the kinds of containers we can use:
- Minimum water depth is 2.5 inches or 6.35 centimeters. You cannot use a sous vide container that is shallower than this.
- The Anova Precision Cooker can accommodate up to 5 gallons of water, which is equivalent to 20 quarts or 18.927 liters. Whatever size container you choose, this is the maximum amount of water that will be supported without proper insulation.
- The clamp for Anova is height-adjustable. You can move it up or down to best fit your container’s height.
- The clamp is also adjustable to accommodate different container widths. This being said, the maximum width the clamp can accommodate is 1.25 inches, or 3.175 centimeters.
Now that we have the key specs covered, it is time to start considering common sous vide containers!
What kinds of vessels can I cook in?
The most popular containers, which you will frequently see featured in our, are the common stockpot and saucepan!
In case you are wondering what the difference is, sauce pans tend to be smaller, ranging from 1 quart/0.946 liters to around 6 quarts/5.678 liters, generally have one long handle. Stock pots tend to be deeper, only start out at 6 quarts/5.678 liters and reaching up to 150+ quarts/141.9 liters. You don’t usually see anything larger than 16 quarts/15.14 liters with stock pots. They usually have two small handles on either side to make for easier lifting of heavier pots.
Both of these options work wonderfully, and most people already have them around the house. Of course, you must match the volume of the quantity you’re cooking to the size of the container. A single chicken breast will cook quite efficiently in a smaller container and need less water! A rack of lamb will require both a larger pot and more water.
Oftentimes, we see people use polycarbonate tubs. They are those fancy-looking clear tubs that you imagine a restaurant’s kitchen must be full of – and you wouldn’t be far off! They are available online as well as at restaurant supply stores. There is typically a full range of sizes from 1 – 22 quarts/1 – 20 liter. These are the most useful range of sizes for at-home sous vide style cooking. Polycarbonate tubs do require an additional purchase, but you get to watch your food cooking!
The last of the traditional household containers we tend to find our consumers using is the insulated cooler. I myself have resorted to Dutch ovens, deeper stainless hotel pans, large mixing bowls, Rubbermaid tubs, and plastic storage boxes from Costco, no lie. If it holds water and has a side you can clamp onto, you can likely use your Anova in it. It’s seriously only a matter of time before I give my 5-gallon bucket from the hardware store and the kitchen sink a try!
Are there any vessels I should avoid for sous vide cooking?
This is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a question I have legitimately been asked. The bathtub is not an appropriate sous vide cooking vessel, for so many reasons that it would require an entirely different blog entry. Share your ideas about it in the comments and I’ll bet we could put together a really funny community-generated post!
What can I do to bring out the best in my cooking container?
One word – INSULATION. Apart from the already-insulated cooler, one quality that all of the aforementioned containers share is that they are poorly insulated. Heat escapes both from the surface of the exposed water and through conduction via the vessel sides. Luckily, there are simple tricks and methods you can employ with items you likely already have in your household to fight this heat loss and increase the maximum capacity your Anova can handle.
Cover your sous vide container.
Any cover at all will help stop the evaporation and heat loss from the surface. It can be as simple as Saran Wrap/cling film, or aluminum foil for higher temperatures. To further insulate here, I honestly like to put a clean folded bath towel on top of the wrap or foil. You can tell with your hand that the heat is being preserved without even looking at the device interface; the top of the towel will be cool while the bottom will be warm.
One very photo-friendly and evidently effective method is covering the surface with ping-pong balls, or the very special “sous vide balls” from the Sous Vide Guys. Not everybody has 50 – 250 ping pong balls laying around, so this may not be the most convenient. Also, you have to dry and keep them somewhere, but it’s an option.
Many of the plastic and polycarbonate sous vide container options we mentioned have optional lids that you can easily cut a hole into along the edge to accommodate your Precision Cooker. The polycarbonate version does require some finesse, as it cracks easily. I have seen it done many times in restaurant kitchens and food-nerdy home kitchens. Visit our community to find out the amazing wealth of techniques to do just this that Anova users have shared.
The last option to maintain surface heat integrity–which is currently more theoretical until I find a disposable foam cooler of the right size–is to make a custom-fit foam lid in the size of the opening of your container. I promise to add this process when we make a Frankencooler!
Wrap your sous vide container.
My go-to recommendation is to swaddle the pan or other container in a bath towel or towels to keep that precious heat from dissipating through the sides, especially at higher temperatures. Even the pros ask this; just yesterday, a private chef friend of mine was having trouble getting her stainless pan to stay at 193ºF/89.4ºC and this is the exact advice I gave her. There are also cases where we have heard of success using reflective barrier or denim insulation, both options found at home improvement or hardware stores.
Finally, and this is HUGELY important – make sure that your container is on a heat safe surface. I’ll bet you’re thinking I am going to recommend a bath towel again – and you wouldn’t be far off. That could definitely be an option for lower heat ranges. Better choices would be trivets and thick wooden or plastic cutting boards, and I would still put that famous bath towel underneath.
NEVER put your container directly onto a stone (marble, granite, Silestone, quartz, etc) or Corian counter. These counters tend to already have resin-filled microfissures that are invisible to the naked eye. Add heat, the resin expands, your counter cracks. And I mean CRACKS. I have heard Corian manufacturers and installers will actually not honor warranty claims where there is heat damage.
I don’t recommend putting the sous vide container onto the stovetop, either. Primarily because of the chance that the flame may get turned on. That being said, the metal grate that holds the pan would be a great option to put onto your counter and place the vessel on top of that.
We have now covered the basics of potential cooking vessels, including a variety of types and some of the easiest ways to insulate to get the best, most effective, and safest, results. Next week, we’ll explore more fantastic little hacks to get even MORE from your sous vide container!
In the meantime, beloved #anovafoodnerd family, do you have any other tips to share about this topic? I would love to hear them in the comments! This is how we know what kinds of content you are craving, so please feel free.