When it comes to cooking, one problem you can encounter is over or undercooking your food. Sous vide cooking (pronounced soo-veed) allows you to maintain precise control over your dishes. Because crock pots are such a convenient way to cook, you may wonder, can you cook sous vide in a Crock-Pot?
The short answer is yes, although you won’t get the same kind of precision you would with a sous vide cooker. You will need a pot with a manual controller, as well as a temperature sensor. The sensor ensures that your water is at the right temperature. Otherwise, you could put your food in too early.
Because sous vide cooking requires precision, you need to follow specific steps, which we’ll outline in this article.
Table of Contents
What is Sous Vide Cooking?
The term sous vide means “under vacuum” in French, and it involves hot water, vacuum-sealed bags, and moderately low temperatures. The purpose of sous vide cooking is to ensure consistent results every time. So, many restaurants and chefs will use this method since it’s so reliable and repeatable.
All you have to do is place your food in a vacuum-seal bag and remove the air. Then, you put the bag in hot water that holds at a specific temperature (i.e., 135 degrees Fahrenheit) for as long as necessary until the dish is ready.
One of the primary benefits of sous vide cooking is that it’s hard to overcook your dishes. Since the food stays at a constant temperature, it doesn’t burn or become chewy. That said, some ingredients can break down or get tough when sitting in a hot water bath for too long. However, “too long” typically refers to hours, not minutes or seconds.
How to Cook Sous Vide in a Crock-Pot
First, you’ll need a Crock-Pot with a manual control knob. The reason for this is that digital machines will shut off automatically after a certain point. Manual slow cookers, however, will remain at the same temperature until you turn them off. So, if you’re trying to sous vide a dish for a long period (i.e., 12 hours or more), you don’t have to worry about the pot shutting off.
Another item you’ll need is a food thermometer with a digital readout so that you can be as precise as possible.
Here are the steps to turn your slow cooker into a sous vide machine.
Step One: Turn the Knob to Set the Temperature
Unfortunately, Crock-Pots don’t offer precision cooking options, so you’ll have to do some guesswork. If you plan on cooking sous vide dishes regularly, find a way to mark the knob setting once you reach the proper temperature for sous vide. This way, you can simply turn the knob to that measurement and be ready to go much faster.
Step Two: Check the Temperature
The Crock-Pot could take a little while (sometimes, as much as two hours) to reach and stabilize at the right temperature. If it’s too high or low, you’ll need to adjust the knob and recheck the temp. Do this as many times as necessary until you get to the correct setting.
Step Three: Vacuum Seal Your Food
If you don’t have a vacuum sealer already, you’ll need to get one. Unfortunately, there’s no “hack” to remove all the air from the bag. That said, you can find reusable vacuum bags to make it easier to cook this way more often.
Step Four: Measure and Weigh Your Food
Adding food to your Crock-Pot will affect the temperature. So, you want to make sure that your pot weighs the same after you add the food as it did before. For example, if your pot weighs 20 pounds with just water inside, it should weigh that much once you add the food.
Since your ingredients are in a vacuum bag, they should be easy to weigh with a digital or analog scale. You can convert one millimeter of water to one gram. If you’re using the imperial system, one dry ounce equals 0.958 fluid ounces. So, if your food weighs 10 ounces, you’ll have to remove 9.58 fluid ounces. Two tablespoons equal one fluid ounce.
Step Five: Cook
Once you’ve placed your food into the heated Crock-Pot, you can cook for as long as your recipe states. Keep checking the temperature periodically to ensure that it hasn’t changed too much. If necessary, you might have to adjust your dial slightly during the cooking process.
Pro Tip: Switch to a Rice Cooker
If you don’t want to wait hours for your Crock-Pot to reach the correct temperature, you can use an analog rice cooker instead. These machines get hot much faster while staying at the same heat level the whole time. Some sous vide enthusiasts use rice cookers instead of an official sous vide cooker.
What are the Benefits of Sous Vide Cooking?
As you can see, you need to be patient when cooking your food in the sous vide style. So, is it worth all the effort? Well, here are the top benefits you can expect from this type of food preparation.
- Consistent Results – Even though you’re not making food for a restaurant, you don’t want to have to worry about overcooking or burning your favorite dishes. Sous vide takes much of the guesswork out of meal preparation since you can simply set it and forget it.
- Low Energy Usage – Your slow cooker will use far less electricity than a standard oven or stovetop. Even if you have a natural gas stove or oven, they use more energy to deliver the same results.
- Overnight Cooking – Since you don’t have to worry about burning your meal, you can leave it cooking overnight. Ideally, you can prepare multiple meals in the same pot for added convenience.
- Improve Low-Quality Foods – Sous vide doesn’t dry out meats and other ingredients. So, you can use low-quality meats and dishes and make them shine. Get a five-star steak dinner at two or three-star prices.
Overall, while you can use a Crock-Pot for sous vide cooking, it might be easier to buy a proper sous vide cooker instead. However, if your machine is reliable and you can mark the correct temperature settings, you’ll be able to cook with a Crock-Pot much more efficiently over time.
FAQs About Sous Vide Cooking in a Crock-Pot
Is Sous Vide Cooking Different Than Slow Cooking?
Yes, it is. A slow cooker doesn’t necessarily use water to prepare food, while sous vide cooking requires a hot water bath to work correctly. Another critical difference is that you can toss ingredients into a slow cooker before reaching the right temperature. You have to wait until the water is hot enough before starting your dish with sous vide cooking.
Is Sous Vide Cooking Safe?
If you’re preparing meats at an “unsafe” temperature (i.e., less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit), bacteria can grow and multiply inside your food. Even though the air is gone, bacteria are already inside the meat, and they can thrive under these conditions.
Instead, it’s much better to heat all dishes to 140 degrees or higher.
How Long Can I Sous Vide in a Crock-Pot?
Technically, you can cook your dish for as long as you want without ruining it. That said, the upper time limit should be 12 to 15 hours, although some recipes may call for longer periods.