Vacuum sealer or ziploc bags for sous vide cooking?

sous vide bags

Sous Vide Bags – What are your options?

Sous vide cooking involves placing vacuum-sealed food into a plastic pouch before immersing the pouch (called a food pouch or bag) in a water bath. The ingredients are then cooked at low heat for longer than normal cooking times. Over time, restaurant chefs and home cooks have experimented with ziploc bags for sous vide cooking in place of vacuum sealer bags. Look at any sous vide cooking forum and you will see varied points of view on which is best. Here we explore each option so you can make an educated decision about which will work best for you.

The table below explores the various bagging and container options for your sous vide cooking. Sous vide bags come in a few different forms:

Regardless of whether you use vacuum sealer bags, ziploc bags, reusable silicone bags or glass jars, you MUST choose products that clearly state they are BPA free. If you plan to freeze sous vide food in any type of bag or jar, that item must also be suitable and safe for freezing.

Sous vide specific vacuum sealer bags 

As the table above suggests, vacuum sealer bags do the best job of removing ALL air from your food pouches. And we know that sous vide cooking actually means “under vacuum”. So vacuum sealing your food into pouches is definitely the optimal solution when you are cooking sous vide.

Good quality vacuum sealer bags have seals that resist breaking in high temperatures. That means no spoiled food and no dirty sous vide water bath that needs a big clean up job! (although we have tips for when cleaning your sous vide machine in the event of a bag malfunction! Click here to see the tips.)

There are 2 types of vacuum sealers bags:

  1. Bags that are vacuum sealed with a vacuum sealing machine
  2. Bags that vacuum seal close manually (that is, you do not need a vacuum sealing machine to seal them)

There are plenty of vacuum sealer bags on offer. But finding quality sealer bags is most certainly the key. FoodSaver, Weston Vac Fresh and Seal-a-meal are all brands that have an excellent reputation for using when you are sous vide cooking. Bag sizes differ, so make sure you know what bag sizes will work best for your sous vide cooking. For example, cooking single steaks will obviously require far smaller bags than if you are looking to cook large tomahawk steaks in your sous vide water bath.

Related article: The best vacuum sealer bags for your sous vide cooking

Ziploc bags for sous vide cooking 

Can you sous vide in a ziplock bag? Yes you can. Many sous vide home cooks are very happy to use ziploc bags for sous vide cooking in place of vacuum sealer plastic bags. As with vacuum sealer bags, ziploc bag quality also differs. Any ziploc bag you choose should be BPA free with  an effective ziploc seal. The most reputable ziploc bags for sous vide cooking are from reputable companies such as Ziploc.

Many sous vide home cooks use the water displacement method when cooking with ziploc bags. This method produces an exceptional sous vide cook result. Here is how it works. After putting the food item in the ziploc bag, slowly immerse the bag in water to allow the air bubbles to escape out of the top. As you get closer to submerging the entire bag, slowly zip the bag up. Be careful not to get any water INSIDE the bag. This method allows you to zip up the bag with minimal or no air inside the bag. You won’t get exactly the same result as a vacuum sealer bag but it should come close.

When is using ziploc bags for sous vide cooking a bad idea?

Whilst sous vide cooking involves cooking your ingredients at a very low temperature, there are temperature limits above which ziploc bags can lose their effectiveness. Depending on the ziploc bags you buy, the seams of the bag may fail at a particular temperature point. Check the specific instructions given by each ziplock manufacturer to see if they communicate a temperature point at which their ziploc bags may no longer a safe option.

A quick sous vider tip: some home cooks “double bag” their ziplock bags for their sous vide cooking. That way, they have added protection against a “ziploc fail” during their cook.

Related article: What to look for in a vacuum sealer 

Worried chemicals from a ziploc bag or vacuum sealer bag will leach into your food?

It goes without saying that you do not want any chemicals to leach into your food via your plastic sous vide food pouch. Reputable brands of both vacuum sealer bags and ziploc bags are BPA free and dioxin-free as well. These are the two most common chemicals people worry about when it comes to cooking with plastic in their kitchens.

There is certainly a temptation to purchase plastic bags that are inexpensive. After all, sous vide cooking requires you to use food pouches every time you cook. But before you reach for the nearest, cheapest plastic bag, make sure you investigate exactly what the bags are made with first. Make sure that the ziploc and vacuum sealer bags you are looking to buy are made with high density polyethylene, low density polyethylene and polypropylene. These are the safest plastics to use.

If all this talk of plastic and sous vide cooking is worrying you slightly, there are a couple of other options for you to consider – reusable bags and canning/mason jars.

More options. What about reusable bags?

Reuseable bags are becoming very popular for a number of reasons. For one, they are sustainable and are a lot better for our environment than vacuum sealer and ziploc plastic alternatives. Product development in this space seems to be in its infancy, but there is one product getting really decent reviews. Stasher Reusable Silicone food bags are being used in sous vide cooking with some success. Here is what the Stasher bag looks like:

resuable sous vide bag

Credit: Stasher silicone bags via Amazon

Stasher bags are great because they are 100% pure platinum food-grade silicone which is safe for the freezer, microwave, dishwasher and boiling water. Unlike plastic bags, Stasher bags contain no petroleum, no PVC, and no latex. At this point they are only available in one size which may make them difficult for larger sous vide cooks but they are worth keeping in mind.

You can use canning jars for your sous vide cooking too 

Canning jars are used very effectively by sous vide home cooks as another option. The jars are used mostly for sous vide desserts and sous vide egg based dishes. Using glass is a great option if you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint. Of course, using less plastic also reduces landfill.

Sous Vide Canning Jars

PC; Sous Vide Canning/Mason jars

There are 4 tips to note when using canning jars in your sous vide cook:

Tip 1. Don’t tighten the lids too much until the water is hot otherwise the air cannot escape and you may find yourself with an explosion!

Tip 2. Be careful not to burn yourself when putting the jars into or getting the jars out of your sous vide water bath.

Tip 3. In sous vide cooking, the time it takes to heat a canning jar can be different to the time it takes to heat a plastic bag. It is best to use sous vide recipes that specifically reference using canning jars to get best results.

Tip 4. Only use a lid once for canning. After the first use, the lid will no longer seal effectively. Use a fresh lid every sous vide cook to ensure your jars seal properly, safely preserving your food.

There are quite literally thousands of canning jars on the market. A commonly used and reputable brand that is used by many successful sous vide home cooks include any of the canning jars from Ball.  They are BPA free and are made in the USA. Reputable canning jar lids include Ball and Kerr brand lids. They are also BPA-free and offer the most reliable results of any lids on the market.

Related article: Sous Vide Cheesecake in Mason Jars

Your turn. Picking the right sous vide bags for your sous vide cooking

So there you have it. Four different options to consider for your sous vide cooking; vacuum sealer bags, ziploc bags, resuable silicone bags or canning/mason jars. The great news is that sous vide home cooks use all of these options and produce tasty, succulent sous vide meals. So you can use any of the bagging options in this article with confidence and know that you will produce delicious food for your family and friends as well.

Products mentioned in this article

FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer bags

Weston Vacuum sealer bags

Seal-A-Meal Vacuum bags

Ziploc Double zipper bags

Stasher Reusable Silicone food bag

Ball Canning Jars

Further reading and other resources

A Complete Guide to Sous Vide packaging, safety, sustainability and sourcing

Reddit forum thread – Vacuum sealer vs Ziploc bags

Serious Eats – How to seal foods airtight without a vacuum sealer

Water Displacement Method for Sous Vide Cooking

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