Can You Leave a Sous Vide Unattended?

Have you come across a sous vide recipe that has a cooking time of 12, 24, or even 48 hours? Clearly cooking something for this long can be extremely hard to pull off if you have other things to do like go to work, take your kids to school, or get a proper night’s sleep.

Also, having to stop and start sous vide cooking compromises the perfect results of sous vide and is more of a hassle. This is where you might start wondering if you can safely leave your sous vide machine to cook your dinner while you’re not around for a while.

And the answer is that you can. You can leave a sous vide unattended, so you can get all of your other stuff done while your food cooks. You can do this safely by following my tips below, and you can leave it running all day if you have to. Read on to learn more.

teal kitchen timer

Can You Really “Set and Forget” in Sous Vide Cooking?

It mostly depends on what you’re cooking. For some recipes (like short ribs or brisket), you can leave your sous vide running for 48 hours. This is usually for cases when you want to slow cook a protein to get that succulent meat falling off the bone.

One common fear with leaving your sous vide machine running unattended for long periods of time is that, if any of your sous vide bags break open, fat or small bits from the bag can damage the coils of your immersion circulator or get sucked into it and cause a blockage.

To avoid mishaps like this, be sure to follow my tips below if you’re going to leave your sous vide unattended for a long period of time.

What Happens if You Leave Food in Sous Vide for Too Long?

A common question is, if you leave your food to cook sous vide for extended periods of time, and you’re not there to take it out when the cooking time is up, can the food overcook?

The answer, which shows one of the beauties of sous vide cooking, is no. For more details, see my section in this article here on if you can overcook food with sous vide.

steak in vacuum sealed bag in steel pot with immersion circulator

Tips for Leaving Sous Vide Unattended

sous vide bag being lowered into sous vide container with ping pong balls and immersion circulator
  • Add insulation to your sous vide container (for example, you can get a sous vide insulation sleeve) to maintain a steady level of heat throughout the entire extended cooking process. This also helps prevent the water from losing too much heat, prevents water from evaporating, saves energy, and saves your immersion circulator from having to work in overdrive.
  • Since sous vide bags can tear, and the contents can get caught in the immersion circulator and cause damage, try clipping the bags to the side of the container or using a sous vide rack to hold the bags in place. Also make sure you’re using sturdy bags (like silicone bags or freezer bags), or you can double-seal your bags.
  • Use weights, a sous vide rack, or clips to keep your sous vide bags fully submerged throughout the long cooking process.
  • Make sure your sous vide machine is plugged into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interpreter) outlet. Most kitchen outlets are GFCI outlets. They prevent deadly shocks and turn off the power to prevent shocks caused by dangerous ground faults. To learn more about the electrical usage of sous vide machines, click here.
  • Avoid using a plastic cooler in case any material or lining (which can have chemicals in it to aid in cooling) overheats and melts.

What Is the Best Sous Vide Immersion Cooker That You Can Leave Unattended?

There are many different types of sous vide immersion circulators out there. But are they all equipped and have the right features to cook for long periods of time?

There are three immersion circulators that come to mind that I think are the best for this purpose:

polycarbonate breville joule sous vide
Joule CS10001

Here are my reasons for recommending these three awesome sous vide cookers:

  • They’re very powerful, ranging from 1000-1200 Watts.
  • They’re designed for continuous cooking and can be run for hundreds to thousands of hours.
  • They all have WiFI capability, so as long as it’s on, running and connected to your home WiFi, you can control it (adjust the timer and temperature or tun it on or off) from work or anywhere remote!
anova precision cooker pro
Anova Precision Cooker Pro

As you might have noticed, the Joule comes in two different models. You can read about my comparison of these two Joule models here. I’ve also done an extensively researched comparison of these two Anova models, which you can read about here.

If you want to dive even further into sous vide cookers, check out this comparison I did of the third Anova model (not mentioned here) with Instant Pot’s popular model.

anova precision cooker wifi
Anova Precision Cooker (WiFi)

Finally, if you’re looking for something in a lower price range, check out my article on the best budget sous vide cooker here.

In Summary

One of the really cool things about sous vide cooking is that you can set up your sous vide machine to cook for half a day or even two days and leave the whole thing unattended.

That being said, there are quite a few things that you can and should do to prevent anything from going wrong. Follow my safety tips and tricks above, and you shouldn’t have a problem!