Do Sous Vide Containers Need a Lid?

One of the beauties of sous vide cooking is that it doesn’t require many tools, pots, or pans. Aside from your sous vide immersion circulator, you just need plastic bags to hold the food and the right size container for the water bath.

Since sous vide cooking is all done in the water bath, a common concern is water evaporation. Without water (or with too low levels of water), you can’t sous vide. It’s as simple as that! Also, sous vide is all about cooking at the exact right temperature, so another common concern is escaping from the water bath.

Lids are a common solution for preventing water from evaporating out of the container and also insulation, but not everyone uses them, making many people wonder—do sous vide containers need a lid?

If you’re one of them, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll find out if and what kind of lid you need for sous vide cooking. Moreover, you’ll discover if there are any benefits of cooking with a lid or if it’s just a way for manufacturers to make more money.

women lowering sous vide bag with piece of meat into container with ping pong balls

Why Use a Lid for My Sous Vide Container?

If you’ve checked some videos on sous vide cooking or read books on the topic, you’ve probably noticed that not all sous vide containers have lids. You might have prepared some meals this way, but does that mean there’s no need to use a lid? Well, not quite.

Tender chicken, puree, or even eggs don’t require much time to cook. Before you know it, you’ll have a nutritious meal. So if sous vide cooking in your home doesn’t take more than three hours, you don’t need to use a lid. During this time, water and heat won’t escape the container to the point of leaving meat raw or partially cooked on the inside.

However, most people don’t adopt sous vide techniques to prepare fast-cooking dishes. They want to enjoy chuck roast that has been slow cooked for 36 hours or indulge in 72-hour sous vide short ribs. If you’re one of them, I strongly suggest using a lid for the sous vide containers. Here’s why.

Even Temperature

When you put a lid on the sous vide container, it helps maintain an even temperature. The consistency allows you to prepare juicy and tender meat. If the temperature fluctuates, the meat won’t be evenly and perfectly cooked.

No Evaporation

Sous vide cooking entails preparing food in a water bath. But what if the water evaporates? Well, you’ll wake up in the morning excited to have a ready prepared dinner, only to find out the meat is still cold or half-cooked. Luckily, the lid can prevent this from happening. Because there’s no room for water to escape, a cover slows down evaporation and ensures properly cooked dishes.

Immersion Circulator Doesn’t Turn Off

When water and heat escape the container, the immersion circulators can’t measure anything. If that happens, it merely turns off, meaning food doesn’t cook. This won’t happen if the food requires one or two hours of cooking. But if you’re going to slow-cook meat, there’s no need to risk the immersion circulator shutting off.

Better Flavors

Sous vide cooking enhances the natural flavors of the food you’re preparing. Put a lid on a container to improve the taste even more and prevent smells and aromas from escaping. The end result will be food rich in vitamins, nutrients, and flavors.

Nothing Falls In

It may sound silly, but there’s a high chance of something falling in the water bath if the container doesn’t have a lid. Just imagine a fly or a bug slow-cooking with the dish you’ve been meaning to try for ages.

Nobody Gets Hurt

What happens if guests unfamiliar with sous vide cooking come over? They might accidentally touch the water and burn themselves. With a lid on, there’s no risk of that happening.

Here are my favorite sous vide containers with lids:

If you want to use a container or pot that you already have, you can just get a specialized sous vide lid:

Sous Vide Container Lid Alternatives

Purchasing lids or containers with lids can be an investment. Now that you know the benefits of cooking with one, you’re probably considering a purchase yourself. Before you spend money, think about the alternatives.

Ping Pong Balls (Sous Vide Water Balls)

Do ping pong balls serve any other purpose aside from being used to play ping pong? Apparently, they do. As it turns out, ping pong balls, sometimes referred to as sous vide water balls, are great insulators. When you pop them in the water bath, they prevent water from evaporating. They also help trap the heat so that the food cooks nicely.

On top of that all, cleaning them is as easy as it can get. Simply drain the balls, wipe them with a clean cloth, and they’re ready for the next dish.

women lowering sous vide bag with piece of meat into container with ping pong balls

Aluminum Foil

Another neat trick is using aluminum foil, found in almost any kitchen or pantry. If you wrap the container in aluminum foil, it’ll help with water evaporation. Keep in mind that aluminum foil won’t maintain the heat well, and it might block your view of the dish.

Although aluminum foil is relatively cheap, you can’t reuse it. Unfortunately, you’ll have to use a new piece every time you cook.

Plastic Wrap

Plastic wrap is another efficient way of covering the sous vide container. Unlike aluminum foil, it’s transparent, allowing you to see the dish. It also retains heat much better. But cling film isn’t reusable. Therefore, you’d have to use new layers every time you cook.

Cut a Hole in a Container Cover

If you already have a lid for the sous vide container you use or plan to use, you can cut out a hole in the lid to accommodate your sous vide immersion circulator. To provide even better insulation, wrap the container with some cloths or towels. Doing so will prevent water and heat from escaping.

In Summary

The cover isn’t necessary if you don’t plan on using the sous vide cooker much or for long periods. However, it absolutely matters for slow-cooking dishes. A lid will prevent water from evaporating and heat from escaping. In turn, the machine won’t turn off, leaving you with cold meat a few hours before a big holiday lunch. On top of that, a lid helps the food retain its flavors, enhancing its taste.

While a dedicated lid is the best way to go, it isn’t the only solution. Instead, you could opt for alternatives that give good results. If you’ve got aluminum or plastic foil, wrap the container in it or just use it to cover the top. Are there ping pong balls lying in the drawer somewhere? Wash them and use them as an insulator. Or, cut out a hole in the container cover and swaddle it with cloths.

The need for a sous vide container lid really all depends on what you’re cooking!