Sous Vide vs Slow Cookers – What’s Worth the Money?

Researched & Written by Craig

Some people love to cook and don’t mind whatever time or complications may be involved. Others love kitchen appliances that simplify their lives and concern themselves with questions like in the sous vide vs slow cooker comparison, which is better?

If this is a question that’s been weighing on your mind, read on. I’ll outline the different characteristics of each, and why one might be ultimately better than the other, depending on your needs.

Typical slow cookers cook at low, medium, or high. Your food may still taste juicy, but it’s often overcooked. In contrast, sous vide always cooks your food to the exact desired temperature, often lower than the temps a slow cooker is capable of. Your food is never overcooked.

Did that whet your appetite for more information? Then let’s get cookin’.

What is Sous Vide?

Steak being used in a sous vide machine

Perhaps what you really want to know first is how to pronounce it. No one likes to sound like a dork when they’re talking to a salesperson.

It’s pronounced soo veed.

As I hinted at above, this is a cooking technique that uses exact temperature control. It’s not just used by chefs who work in expensive restaurants like it once was.

The advantage of precise temps means that food is never over or undercooked. Have you ever been to a restaurant and had to explain how you liked your beef? That has to translate into a temperature that your meat needs to cook too. With sous vide, your cooking results are always consistent.

The direct translation of sous vide is under vacuum, and if you have ever seen the process, you’ll know why. Food is vacuum packed before cooking. Does that mean you need to buy a vacuum sealer as well as a sous vide cooker?

You certainly have that option if it’s your preference, but Ziploc bags will work just as well. However, you’ll need to use the water displacement method to remove all the air from the bags.

Water displacement method steps:

  • Put your food in the bag
  • Zip the bag but leave a one inch opening in the middle
  • Slowly submerge the closed bag in a sink or pot of water
  • As the bag lowers into the water, the air is pushed up and out or displaced
  • When the water level reaches just below the zipper and all the air is out, seal the bag

Just a word of warning here on food bags. If you are looking for a cheap brand, please make sure they are heat safe not just freezer safe. You don’t want the heat of the cooking process leaching harmful chemicals into your food.

Once your food is vacuum-sealed it’s placed in a pot of water that has reached your precise, desired temperature to cook.

After your food is cooked you can finish it by searing or grilling it.

Steak after sous-vide
You just can’t get color like this through grilling alone.

To recap, sous vide follows these three basic steps:

  • Vacuum seal your food in a bag
  • Place the bag in a pot of water set to your desired time and temperature
  • Grill or sear if desired

And that will net you a perfect meal, every time.

Benefits of Sous Vide

Unlike some cooking methods where you are unable to precisely control temperatures, sous vide lets you do exactly that. With a lack of control of heat, food is often unevenly cooked, overcooked, dry and chewy, or flavorless.

Cooking sous vide means:

  • Expected results—every time. Your cooking will always be consistent.
  • Flexibility. No need to watch the pot. You’re free to do something else. Your food is cooked to the desired temperature and then held there.
  • Lots of flavor. You don’t need to worry about the flavor leaching out of your food because it’s all sealed in while cooking.
  • Waste Reduction. Traditional cooking methods lead to volume loss. For example, a steak will lose close to 40% of its volume since it’s drying out while cooking. In contrast, no volume is lost when cooked sous vide.

Sous Vide Pricing

A quick browse through Amazon shows you’re going to spend about $80 at the low end and all the way up to close to $1,000 at the high end for a sous vide machine.

Most mid-range machines are about 1000 watts, with the more expensive at 1500 watts. But does wattage really matter?

If you have a small family and you’re only using small pots of water, the lower wattage is fine. If you are heating huge tubs of water to cook meat before throwing it on the grill for a big family BBQ, then you might want that 1500-watt model mentioned above.

For the most part, anything in the 1000-watt range is just fine for most families.

Sous Vide Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Always cooked to desired tempsCan take a long time to heat
Food is evenly cookedPan gravy is impossible
Larger yield / less volume lossTemperature can fluctuate
Set and forgetSome foods float to the top
Enhanced flavorFlavors can be too pronounced
 Very low heat doesn’t kill pathogens

Okay, enough about sous vide. What about the slow cooker part of the sous vide vs slow cooker debate?

What is a Slow Cooker?

Slow cookers are uncomplicated cooking appliances that do exactly what they say. Cook your food slowly.

The inner pots of slow cookers are usually made of porcelain, ceramic, or stainless steel. These pots sit within an outer housing that contains the heating element. Some have an element that completely surrounds the inner pot on all sides, others just heat the bottom of it. All slow cookers are covered with a lid to keep moisture from escaping.

Most slow cooker recipes call for cooking at the lowest temperature for the longest time. Part of the problem here, unless you have a slow cooker that has an actual temperature gauge, you have no idea what temperature low really is.

Slow cookers are great for tougher, inexpensive cuts of meat as the slow cooking process tenderizes them.

Benefits of a Slow Cookers

  1. Easy to cook with. These are simple appliances. You layer in your ingredients, turn it on, and walk away
  2. Time-Saving. Because you can set and forget, you can prepare your meal before you leave for work in the morning and leave it to cook all day. And come home to the smell of dinner already cooked.
  3. Nutritious, one-pot meals. Many slow cooker recipes call for a lot of vegetables, so your meals are easy to prepare and well-rounded.
  4. Food safety. Slow cookers generally have a low heat of around 170 degrees which is above the 140 degrees necessary to kill pathogens.
  5. Energy-efficient. Most slow cookers use very little electricity.
  6. Easy cleanup. Instead of having several pots and pans to clean you have one inner pot that is often nonstick so it’s easy to clean.

Slow Cooker Pricing

Slow cookers come in a variety of sizes, typically from 4 quarts to 10 quarts. More expensive models can be up to around $300, but you can buy a very good programmable model for under $100.

Slow cooker features to look for:

  • Glass lids that allow you to see in without having to lift it and release heat and moisture
  • A pot that will accommodate your favorite cuts of meat
  • Capacity. If you have a large family, you don’t want a small pot
  • Temperature probes for large cuts of meat

Slow Cooker Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Energy efficientAdvanced planning is necessary
ConvenientNo quick meals
Food safetyYou can’t use canned food
It’s impossible to burn your mealUneven results
Tender meatNutrient loss due to long cooking times
Full of flavorBeans need to be boiled first

Conclusion

So, sous vide vs slow cooker.  Which is better for you?

You should choose sous vide if:

  • You want your food cooked to an exact temperature
  • You want your food to always be evenly cooked
  • You want less volume loss

You should choose a slow cooker if:

  • You want your meal ready when you get home
  • You’re concerned about pathogens and food safety
  • You’re a thrifty shopper who often buys less expensive cuts of meat

And now that you’ve read all of that, I’m going to tell you a secret. But don’t tell anyone you heard it from me.

You can buy an Instant Pot that has functions and can handle both slow cooking and sous vide. Two appliances for the price of one!

Hopefully, you’ve found the info you’re looking for! Why not check out below to see if there’s anything else we can help you with?