Difference Between Sous Vide and Slow Cooker

Slow cookers and sous vide cookers are famous for set-it-and-forget-it cooking, making them incredibly convenient cooking methods for busy people who can’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. But are they the same? And which is better?

Let’s discuss if there’s a difference between sous vide and slow cookers.

instant pot slow cooker on kitchen counter

What Is a Slow Cooker?

A slow cooker (also called a crockpot) is a countertop cooking appliance. It has a cooking pot made of stainless steel, ceramic, or porcelain, surrounded by an electric heating element.

The enclosed environment, sealed lid, and constant temperature allow the food inside to heat quickly and remain hot for long periods. The design doesn’t allow evaporation.

Slow cookers retain heat well, making them perfect for tougher cuts of meat that need to be slowly cooked in a moist, low heat environment to tenderize. They are also great for soups, stews, and sauces that need to simmer for long periods of time.

What Is Cooking Sous Vide?

Sous vide cooking can be done in specialized appliances (water oven) or with devices placed in a water container (immersion circulator).

A sous vide immersion circulators heat the water to a specific temperature while also circulating it. Food is placed in tightly sealed bags inside this water bath, which cooks the food very gently and evenly over a long period.

Sous vide cookers have precise temperature settings. The water bath never exceeds the temperature setting, making it impossible to overcook foods.

Because the food is sealed inside bags, moisture in the food remains in the tissues, and foods are cooked without losing flavor, aroma, or nutrients.

Similarities Between Sous Vide and Slow Cookers

Here are some of the key similarities between sous vide and slow cooking:

Long Cooking Times

Both cooking methods use recipes that call for 6 or more hours of cooking time, making them easy for people who want to start a meal in the morning and have it ready to eat at dinner time.

instant pot slow cooker display showing cooking time

Tenderizes Meat

Due to the long period at lower temperatures, both cooking methods are ideal for tenderizing tough meat cuts. The collagen in the meat’s connective tissues softens into gelatin, which adds moisture and juiciness. The proteins are heated and softened so that the cut becomes tender and flavorful.

Reduced Energy Consumption and Heat Generation

Both cooking methods require less energy than cooking on a stovetop and can cook foods without heating up the kitchen.

Differences Between Sous Vide and Slow Cookers

Here are the most significant differences between sous vide and slow cooking.

Temperature Precision

Most slow cookers have only “high, low, warm” temperature settings. Sous vide cookers have a thermostat that can be set to a precise temperature setting and accuracy that keeps the circulating water within 1-2 degrees of the desired temperature. This accuracy makes it possible to cook foods precisely so that you can cook to your exact preferences.

Possibility of Overcooking

While slow cookers have a lid that retains moisture and reduces evaporation, it is possible to overcook foods in a slow cooker. If left too long, foods can burn or dry out.

Because sous vide cooking never exceeds the desired temperature, it is impossible to overcook foods. Suppose a sous vide cooker is left unattended for too long.

In that case, the water in the bath may evaporate and stop heating food, but food never burns, dries out, or is overdone.

slow cooker with lid

Nutrient Loss

Slow cooking is particularly destructive to the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients in vegetables. The long periods at low temperatures allows the internal enzymes in vegetables an extended time to degrade trace nutrients, making vegetables less nutritious than when cooked with other methods.

On the other hand, sous vide cooking is very good at retaining the nutrients in vegetables. Vegetables are sous vide cooked within sealed bags, without being exposed to excessive heat or immersed in water. They can be cooked enough to pasteurize them and kill bacteria without overcooking and damaging the texture, flavor, color, or nutrients.

All these differences aside, the biggest difference between most sous vide recipes and most slow cooker recipes is the meal you end up with at the end.

Most slow cooker recipes are designed to reduce evaporation, allowing the juices and liquid to remain in the pot and become part of the simmering sauce.

Slow cookers are known for one-pot meals that are hot and ready to eat, ideal for stews, roasts, chili, and other dishes that combine ingredients and seasonings and simmer them together over long periods.

Sous vide cookers create perfectly cooked meat or fish, vegetables, eggs, etc., sealed in individual bags, which can then be assembled into a meal. While some recipes will vary, the typical end result of a slow-cooked meal vs. a sous vide meal couldn’t be more different.

In Summary

So which is better? For most foods and recipes, sous vide cooking is better. Sous vide makes foods more flavorful, more nutritious, and preserves their texture without overcooking.

Sous vide is also more versatile. You can use it to pasteurize foods without cooking them, make perfect eggs, cook meats to your specific preferences, make delicate sauces (like Hollandaise), and prepare a broader range of foods.

However, a slow cooker is an excellent appliance for liquid-based, long-simmer foods like stews, chili, and meat sauces. In recipes where flavors need to combine and work together in liquid form over long periods, a slow cooker is a great choice. Also, in case you were wondering, it is actually possible to sous vide in a slow cooker. Click here to learn more.

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