4 Types of Containers You Can Use for Sous Vide Cooking

Have you recently purchased a sous vide immersion circulator or maybe decided that it’s your preferred type of sous vide cooker? Are you now trying to figure out which container to get so you can get started with sous vide cooking at home?

There are a lot of options out there for containers you can use for sous vide cooking, and it can definitely be overwhelming. But no need to worry, because I’ve done the research for you and have highlighted 4 types of containers you can use for sous vide cooking below.

steel pots with glass lids on shelf

What Kinds of Containers Can Be Used for Water Baths for Sous Vide Cooking?

One thing I love about sous vide immersion circulators is how compact and portable they are, especially compared to sous vide water ovens. You can use them anywhere, but one key thing you also need is a container for the water bath.

What’s great is that you have a lot of options for what you can use as your sous vide container. One thing to keep in mind (and that I’ll address for each of the types of containers I highlight below), is whether or not the container has a lid. This is important because having a lid keeps water from evaporating out of the container. Also, lids help with insulation, which means they help to prevent heat loss and keep the water bath at the temperature that you set it to (as you know, when cooking sous vide, keeping the water bath at the right temperature consistently throughout the container is crucial for getting the best results). Click here to learn more about the need for lids with sous vide containers.

So what kind of container can you use for a sous vide water bath? Your choices range from pots to plastic containers, and even your cooler! Keep reading for more details.

Pots

This includes your regular saucepan, stock pot, pasta pot, crock pot, dutch oven, any medium or large size pot you have in your kitchen as long as it can hold the quantity of food you want to cook in one go.

While most sous vide immersion circulators clamp to the side of pretty much any pot, the Joule Sous Vide has a magnetic base that holds to the bottom of metal pots to keep it in place (it has a clamp too for versatile use with all types of containers).

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Low cost optionsNo lid for insulation and to prevent water evaporation
You most likely already have one in your kitchenMay not be large enough for cooking in bulk or large batches
Not too large or bulky, don’t take up too much spaceMetal pots can transfer heat, so heat in the water bath can be lost and your sous vide cooker will have to use more power and work harder to keep the temperature up
Don’t need to worry about counter space, you can put it on your stove while cooking

Polycarbonate Containers

clear cambro polycarbonate container 12 quarts

Polycarbonate containers, from manufacturers such as Cambro, Rubbermaid, or Lipavi, are extremely popular for sous vide cooking.

What’s great about these containers is that there are a number of sizes you can choose from, from 1 to 22 quarts or 1 to 20 liters. The most commonly used size of container for sous vide cooking is 12 quarts. 12 quarts is just the right size for cooking in small batches without taking up too much space on your countertop.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Come with a lidLid does not accommodate for clamping a sous vide cooker over the side; you’d have to cut a hole through the lid for this
Clear so you can see your food cookingNot as durable compared to metal pots or dutch ovens
Polycarbonate holds heat better compared to metal, so you don’t have to worry about overworking your sous vide cookerRequire counter space and storage space
Lightweight and stackableNot as commonly found in your kitchen as pots are; you may have to purchase one
Low cost optionsNot BPA-free
Variety of size options

Here are my 3 favorite polycarbonate containers for sous vide cooking:

Coolers

Home cooks often turn to coolers if they want to cook something very large (a turkey or a whole suckling pig for example). That being said, you can use smaller coolers (at least 12 quarts) for sous vide cooking too.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
You most likely already have one in your garage or basement somewherePlastic lining may contain chemicals, heating water in coolers can be safety hazard
Have a lidHave to cut a hole in the lid to fit the sous vide immersion circulator
Made to be insulated so you don’t have to worry about heat loss and the water heats up fastBulky, require counter space and storage space
Low cost optionsSides of coolers can be too thick to clamp your sous vide cooker securely
Variety of size options
Good for cooking large food items or cooking in large batches

Sous Vide Containers With Lids

sous vide container with insulation sleeve and lid

Finally, there are the containers that are specifically designed for sous vide cooking. These are containers that come with lids with a hole made to fit your sous vide immersion circulator.

These can also come with a sous vide rack, which are used to keep sous vide bags submerged and prevent them from floating so your food cooks evenly. Click here for more details on sous vide racks.

Another cool accessory you may find with the purchase of one of these types of containers is an insulated sleeve. These sleeves fit snugly around the outside of the container to keep heat in and prevent heat from escaping. They help to maintain the exact water temperature you need for perfect results.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Specifically designed for sous vide cookingRequire counter space and storage space
Comes with lid with hole to fit sous vide cookerRequires a separate purchase, you probably don’t already have one at home
BPA-free options
Low cost options
Some include a sous vide rack with purchase

Here are my 3 favorite sous vide containers that come with a lid, a sous vide rack, and some with an insulation sleeve:

In Summary

As you can see, you have quite a few options when it comes to selecting a container for your sous vide immersion circulator.

Having a lid is an important factor to consider, as this helps you get the perfect cook on your food while preserving the life of your immersion circulator. That being said, there are tips and tricks around this, if you prefer a container without a lid.

I’d recommend a polycarbonate container or one of the specially designed sous vide containers with lids (most of which are polycarbonate containers). They’re food safe (though not always BPA-free), affordable, the perfect shape for sous vide cooking, and come in a variety of sizes (so you can cook in large quantities if you’d like). Though they can be large and require more counter space, you can put your polycarbonate container in your kitchen sink while sous vide cooking to save on counter space.

Pots are great, mostly because you probably already have one in your kitchen. You can always experiment with a pot first and see how you like the results. Since metal pots can lose heat faster (making your immersion circulator work even harder), something cast iron like a dutch oven is probably a better way to go. If you find you don’t like the results you’re getting with a pot, upgrade to a polycarbonate container or sous vide container with a lid.

The type of container I’d least recommend is a cooler. Mostly because these are designed for cold temperatures, and there could be safety risks with applying heat to the plastic lining.

My 3 favorite polycarbonate containers for sous vide cooking:

My 3 favorite specially designed sous vide containers that come with a lid, a sous vide rack, and some with an insulation sleeve: