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With all the culinary technology out there, it can be hard to know exactly what works for what. Can you sous vide in a Crock Pot? What’s the difference between the two? Are they just different names for the same thing? Do you need to buy both, or can you get away with just one?
We’ll cover all of those questions and more in this article, which is meant to demystify the two devices and techniques! Read on to learn everything you need to know about the differences and similarities between sous vide and Crockpots.
Sous Vide vs. Crockpot: The Basics
First things first: Crockpot is a brand name that has become a generic name, like Kleenex. The actual device is simply a slow cooker. And that’s one of the main things that sous vide and Crockpots have in common: they’re all about cooking slowly.
But before we go on, let’s talk a bit about each of these devices.
A Crockpot (or slow cooker) is designed to cook foods slowly, making it ideal as a set-and-forget cooking method. You just throw your food and (usually) liquid into the pot in the morning, turn it on, and have dinner ready in the evening!
Crockpots consist of a ceramic or porcelain pot that goes into a machine that heats the pot from both the bottom and all of the sides. (Some slow cookers heat only from the bottom, or use a metal pot.)
They require liquid to use, as they’re not designed to fry or saute. (To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily always mean added liquid; some foods are wet enough on their own that you don’t need to add anything else.)
Sous vide, on the other hand, is a cooking technique rather than a tool (although you do need a specific tool for it). This technique consists of putting food into plastic bags, which are traditionally (but not necessarily) vacuum-sealed. The bags then go into a bath of water that’s held at a very precise temperature until the food has cooked through.
Because the food is cooked at a precise temperature, you don’t run the risk of overcooking it unless you leave it for way too long. This is usually measured in a matter of hours.
While immersion circulators are the most common type of sous vide device, there are also all-in-one sous vide cookers. These look very similar to slow cookers in style, and may contribute to the confusion about whether these two products are actually the same device.
The Crockpot and sous vide have several things in common:
- They’re all about cooking slowly instead of quickly
- The food isn’t seared, fried, sauteed, or otherwise exposed to hot dry heat (unless you do so separately before or after)
- Liquid is necessary to make both devices work
But they also have some important differences.
- The liquid in sous vide cooking is water outside of the bag that never touches the food. With a Crockpot, the liquid is inside the pot, meaning it’s part of the meal. If you’re having trouble visualizing the difference, compare a hard-boiled egg to a stew. One is cooked in water but doesn’t actually incorporate the liquid into the result; the other includes the liquid as part of the dish.
- Sous vide gives you ultimate control over your food, letting you put together elegant and precise creations. It was developed in a high-end restaurant for the purpose of creating gourmet food. A Crockpot, on the other hand, is more about convenience, with the results tending to be more homey and rustic. This isn’t set in stone; you can definitely make rustic food with a sous vide or elegant food in a Crockpot. But the generality holds true the vast majority of the time.
- The precision of the temperature settings are another big difference. Crockpots tend to have very few settings (maybe low, medium, high, and keep warm, for example). Sous vide devices, on the other hand, need to be extremely precise. They’re almost always adjustable by 1° F at a time, letting you choose your exact cooking temperature.
Can You Sous Vide in a Crockpot?
Not really—unless you have a slow cooker with a sous vide setting.
As mentioned above, Crockpots (and slow cookers in general) tend to have only a few temperature settings. This is nowhere near precise enough for sous vide cooking, which relies on the ability to maintain a very specific temperature throughout the cooking process.
Crockpot Brand Slow Cookers
There are no actual Crockpot-brand slow cookers with a sous vide setting or precise enough temperature control. This means that unfortunately, you can’t sous vide with a Crockpot.
Other Slow Cooker Brands
There are some slow cookers by other brands that either have a sous vide setting, or let you choose your specific temperature. If you have one of these, you may be able to sous vide in it.
But before you start cooking some fancy, expensive steaks, test the water temperature. Since these devices aren’t actually designed for that level of precision, you may find that it’s not accurate enough to use for sous vide, where even a few degrees can make a huge difference.
Using a Crockpot Pot for Sous Vide
This is a potential workaround that lets you technically sous vide in a Crockpot (although not in the way you probably meant).
If you have a sous vide immersion circulator that’s capable of attaching to the inner pot of your Crockpot, you can use that pot as your sous vide container. Take it out of the Crockpot machine and use only the inner pot for this purpose.
The immersion circulator will still be doing all of the actual work of heating the water. The Crockpot’s inner pot simply becomes the container, and might as well be any other pot.
When to Use a Crockpot vs. Sous Vide
Both of these methods require that you start your meal with plenty of time to spare, so neither is great if you’re trying to whip something up to get in on the table quickly.
As a rule of thumb, use your Crockpot when you want a casual, lazy dinner with a homey vibe. Think of things like lamb stew, chicken curry, or pulled pork.
On the other hand, use your sous vide device when you want to make something truly special. This is the perfect technique to use on a fancy steak or pork chop.
Another factor to keep in mind is that the Crockpot requires some amount of liquid in your food. This may be added (such as in soups or stews), or may be already contained in your ingredients (such as many vegetables and meats). With sous vide cooking, on the other hand, you can cook dry ingredients and keep them dry.
Is Sous Vide the Same as Slow Cooking?
In a very literal sense, generally yes, because generally sous vide cooking is slow.
But in a more practical sense, no. Cooking with a slow cooker or Crockpot is a completely different technique and process than sous vide.
As mentioned above, you cannot sous vide in a Crockpot. And similarly, a sous vide device isn’t the best choice for traditional Crockpot-style meals. Each tool and technique has its place, but they’re not interchangeable (despite the fact that sous vide cooking is also slow).
Should I Get a Crockpot or a Sous Vide Cooker?
If you can afford it, both! As you’ve learned, they work for different dishes and cooking styles, so it’s great to have both in your kitchen if you can. But if you need to choose just one, you’ll need to assess which would be more useful for you.
Do you tend to want to get dinner on the table as easily as possible, with as little attention on your part as possible, and no extra steps? A Crockpot is probably the better choice!
Are you a passionate home chef who wants to create gourmet meals, even if that means some extra work in the kitchen? If so, a sous vide circulator is probably a better fit. If this is you, we recommend the Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker.
If you’re struggling to decide, look into slow cookers with a sous vide function. This won’t technically be a Crockpot, because that brand doesn’t make any machines that qualify. But the Wolf Gourmet Programmable 6-in-1 Multi Cooker and the Black+Decker SCD7007SSD 7-Quart Digital Slow Cooker, for example, both work for slow cooking and sous vide alike.
Sous vide cooking and Crockpots have a couple of things in common, particularly that they both tend to be slow. But that doesn’t mean that sous vide is the same as slow cooking! There are major differences between these two techniques, and understanding how and when to use each is the key to getting a fantastic meal on the table every night.