Sous Vide vs Boiling: Are They the Same Thing?

To cook something sous vide, you just throw a bag of food into a hot water bath, right? Isn’t that the same as cooking it in a pot of boiling water?

These are some excellent questions. Here, I’ll discuss if you really need a fancy sous vide machine after all to cook your food in a bag in hot water.

water boiling

Is Sous Vide the Same As Boiling Food?

Let me clarify this right from the beginning. Sous vide cooking does not mean that you’re boiling food in a bag.

With sous vide, the water never reaches boiling. Instead, the contents of the bag are slowly brought up to the below-boiling temperature of the water and cooked at this “lower” temperature for a longer period of time.

With this method, you get food that is cooked perfectly throughout and is exceptionally tender and juicy. And with sous vide cooking, it’s really difficult to overcook your food. You can even leave bags in the water for an extra hour and not overcook it.

meat in sous vide bag being lowered into hot water

Throwing vacuum sealed bags into a pot of boiling water, on the other hand, is a different story. 

In sous vide cooking, the temperature of the water stays at where you set it to. But if you have a piece of meat in an airtight bag in a pot of boiling water, the temperature of the meat will continue to rise (and it’ll continue to cook) until it reaches the temperature of the boiling water (212°F [100°C]). Of course, this happens until you remove it from the boiling water.

Therefore, your chances of overcooking the meat are greatly increased.

Water that is boiling is at a much higher temperature compared to temperatures used in sous vide cooking (see my chart below). You’re more likely to get meat that is tough and dry and not succulent at all.

Take a look at my table below that highlights the key differences between sous vide vs boiling.

Sous VideBoiling
Temperature is generally between ~120-180°F (49-71°C), depending on what you’re cookingTemperature is 212°F (100°C)
Never overcooksCan overcook
Results in more natural flavorResults in less natural flavor
Produces tender, juicy textureProduces tough, dry texture

Can Sous Vide Boil Water?

Let me emphasize that the concept of sous vide cooking is to slowly cook food at a temperature that never reaches boiling.

If you’re using your sous vide cooker correctly, you should never need your water to be boiling.

But if you want to know if sous vide machines are able to heat water to boiling point (212°F [100°C]), the answer is close to it, but no.

Generally, sous vide machines heat water to temperatures of approximately 200°F (93°C). The Joule can reach 208°F (98°C), which is very close to boiling.

Given that sous vide cooking never reaches boiling and it’s done at lower temperatures, you might be wondering if this creates a favorable environment for bacteria to grow. Click here to learn more!

In Summary

Hopefully you learned that there’s a huge difference between sous vide cooking and throwing an airtight bag into a pot of boiling water.

Sous vide is about precision and perfection. Though the process takes longer, it’s well worth the wait!

Interested in how sous vide cooking compares to other “moist heat” methods of cooking, like boiling? Check out this article that compares sous vide cooking to poaching!