10 Common Sous Vide Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Sous vide cooking has become an extremely popular method for cooking meats, vegetables, and more to precise temperatures. By cooking foods in a temperature-controlled water bath, you can achieve restaurant-quality results in the comfort of your own home. However, there are some common mistakes that many home cooks make when starting out with sous vide. Avoid these pitfalls with these helpful tips.

Sous vide utilizes precise temperature control to cook food to the perfect doneness. Meats and other foods are sealed in plastic bags or jars and then submerged in a water bath that is kept at a precise temperature. This allows the food to cook slowly and evenly, retaining moisture and resulting in tender and juicy food. 

While sous vide takes a lot of the guesswork out of cooking, it does require an understanding of proper techniques. There are some key mistakes that many home cooks learning this cooking method make. Being aware of these sous vide blunders can help you avoid ruining food or serving unsafe meals.

1. Not Sealing the Bag Properly

One of the most crucial steps in sous vide is properly sealing the food in bags or jars. You want no air inside, as this can cause oxidation and off-flavors. Bags need to be vacuum sealed, with no air pockets. Mason jars should be fully submerged with no part of the lid above water.

Check seals before cooking. Do a float test with bags to ensure no air got in. Tap jars to dislodge air bubbles and tighten lids if needed. Avoid reusable bags, which can be difficult to thoroughly seal. Invest in a quality vacuum sealer and bags designed for sous vide.

2. Overcooking or Undercooking Your Food

Dialing in the exact right temperature and cook times is key for sous vide success. Overcooked food results in dry, stringy meats while undercooked food can be unsafe to eat. 

Refer to reliable sous vide time and temperature tables. For tender cuts like steak, 135°F is medium-rare. For chicken breast, 145°F ensures safety and juiciness. Use a digital thermometer to check doneness. Remember carryover cooking will continue raising the internal temp slightly.

Don’t exceed 2 1/2 hours for chicken or 4 hours for beef to avoid bacteria growth. Defrost foods before cooking. Start with less time, check for doneness, and continue cooking if needed. Patience is required for perfect results.

3. Not Using Enough Water in the Sous Vide Container

Using the proper amount of water in your sous vide cooker is key for even heating. The water needs to fully cover the sealed bags and circulate freely. Too little water can lead to hot or cold spots. 

Follow your device’s guidelines, but generally cover bags by 1-2 inches of water. Use enough water to allow bags to float freely without touching each other. Add more hot water as needed during extended cooks. The volume of food also impacts the amount of water required.

4. Cooking at the Wrong Temperature

While sous vide allows more leeway than other cooking methods, temperature accuracy is still vitally important. Even 5 degrees can make the difference between perfection and overdone. 

Double check your machine is calibrated properly. Use accurate recipes from reputable sources. Consider the thickness of food, cooking times, and desired doneness when selecting temperatures. It’s better to start low and increase the temp if needed.

5. Not Drying Meat Before Searing

The two-step process of sous vide followed by searing gives incredible results. But searing won’t brown and caramelize properly if moisture is present. Thoroughly pat meat dry before searing.

Drying also helps form a crust quickly. Chill meat first for best results. Don’t overcrowd the pan and use very hot oil for fast searing without overcooking the interior. A blowtorch works for hard to dry areas. Drying is a quick fix for lackluster sears.

6. Using Too Much Marinade or Seasoning

The extended sous vide cook time extracts all the flavors from seasonings, so use a delicate hand. Too much salt can make food inedible. Acidic marinades can start “cooking” meat, resulting in mushiness.

Lightly season before sealing and add fresh herbs or spices after cooking. Marinate for short periods, only 1-2 hours maximum. Sear meat after marinating but before sous vide to unlock flavor. Remember, you can always add more later, but you can’t take away.

7. Not Preheating the Water Bath

Having your sous vide machine preheated before adding bags ensures food immediately starts cooking. No warm up period means no chance for bacteria growth.

Most cookers heat water rather slowly, so turn it on 30-60 minutes early. Use hot water from the tap to give it a head start. Check the temperature before adding food to avoid starting too low. Getting the bath to temp ahead of time removes variables.

8. Overcrowding the Sous Vide Bag

It can be tempting to try to maximize each bag when cooking sous vide. But overfilling means food won’t cook evenly. Density affects how heat penetrates.

Stick to 1-2 inch thick portions per bag. Avoid stacking or overlapping pieces. Use multiple smaller bags for larger quantities. Leave space for water circulation. With care, you can gently flip bags mid-cook. Give food plenty of room for ideal results.

9. Ignoring Food Safety Guidelines

While sous vide offers more flexibility, it’s still critical to follow safe food handling. Starting with fresh, properly handled ingredients is key. 

Avoid overloading bags, which can lead to anaerobic bacteria growth. Chill food quickly after cooking if not serving immediately. Don’t reuse bags. Use pasteurized eggs for custards and other recipes with raw eggs. Follow all guidelines for storage temps and times.

10. Not Resting Meat After Cooking

Letting meat rest after sous vide is just as important as with other cooking methods. Resting allows juices to redistribute evenly throughout.

Leave thicker cuts to rest for 5-10 minutes after searing. Tent with foil to retain heat. The lower temperature from sous vide means less juices are forced out, but resting still completes the cooking process. Don’t skip this crucial step or meat may seem dry or stringy.

Sous vide offers benefits you can’t achieve with other cooking techniques. It gives restaurant-quality results with minimal effort. Juices and moisture are retained for tender texture. Flavors are concentrated with no overcooking.

You have much more control over doneness, even with challenging foods like chicken breast. It’s almost impossible to over- or undercook food. Hands-off cooking makes it easy for busy home cooks with hectic schedules. Sous vide also allows safely cooking at lower temperatures, preserving nutrients.

How to Choose a Good Sous Vide Machine?

Look for sous vide circulators or water ovens that allow setting precise temperatures. Accuracy within a degree is ideal. Wi-Fi connectivity offers monitoring convenience. Powerful circulation ensures even heating.

Quality insulation maintains bath temps and saves energy. An adjustable clamp securely attaches the circulator. A minimum 800 watts provides enough power for most cooking. Useful features include timers, alarms, and integrated apps. Cost can range from under $100 for basic models to over $500 for higher-end versions.

What Foods Can You Cook with a Sous Vide Machine?

Tender meats like steak, pork chops, lamb, and chicken come out amazingly juicy and flavorful with sous vide. It also excels at cooking fattier cuts like short ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket by slowly breaking down connective tissue.

Seafood, vegetables, eggs, custards, and more all benefit from the precise control of sous vide. Cooking at lower temperatures preserves texture in delicate foods. You can also reheat leftovers or meal prep components without overcooking. There’s a wide range of possibilities.

How to Properly Seal a Sous Vide Bag?

  • Use high-quality, food-grade vacuum sealer bags designed for sous vide. Avoid reusable options.
  • Carefully lower food into bags, trying to exclude as much air as possible. 
  • Slowly lower bag into water to push out any remaining air before sealing.
  • Seal the open edge using a vacuum sealer or water immersion technique. 
  • Double check the seal has no air pockets or openings. Do a float test.
  • Carefully lower sealed bags into preheated water, letting air escape.

Proper sealing keeps air and contaminants out and moisture and flavor in. Taking the time to properly seal bags is worth it for best results. Invest in the right supplies for an airtight, air-free seal.


Mastering sous vide does require avoiding some common pitfalls, especially when first starting out. But a little knowledge of proper techniques goes a long way. Now that you know what mistakes to avoid, you can look forward to serving up restaurant-caliber dishes easily at home. Sous vide makes cooking foolproof dishes to perfection simple and satisfying.