Crock-pots suck.

I made that pretty clear when I called them “the most despicable appliance in culinary history,” and I stand by the sentiment today.

Thing is, I received some significant blowback for that post. You crock-pot clingers just couldn’t accept that your beloved plug-and-go appliance might actually make you a bad person. Which it does. And that’s OK. Because there’s an alternative. A better way. And, holy crap, it even sounds fancy.

Sous vide. 

Say it with me: Sous vide (“Sue veed”). 

You felt that, right? That was your brain literally expanding. Like the pretentious culinary grinch, your mind just grew three sizes simply by speaking its name.

Sous vide cooking is literally magic. It’s everything your crock-pot wants to be, but it moved out after high school, set goals, smashed them, and evolved as an appliance.

I’ve been spreading the good word of sous vide for quite a few years now, even getting my parents, my in-laws, and several friends hooked on the process. A friend hooked me on the process to start, so it’s only fair I do the same.1

SO, WHAT IS IT? 

“Sous vide” translates from French to “under vacuum,” and it’s a culinary method which involves cooking food in an airtight container/pouch at precisely regulated temperatures for extended periods of time.

Wait … so it’s a crock-pot? 

Yeah, I knew you were gonna say that.

Hell, a lot of you already did say that. In fact, Pittsburgh-based journalist Alan Saunders nailed it with this reply on Twitter:

So good I stole it for the title of this post. Thanks, Alan2

This is valid, though. The concept of sous-vide cooking is extremely similar to that of a crock-pot … with a few crucial differences.

HOW IT WORKS

You need some basic equipment to get started with your sous vide dreams. At a minimum, you will need:

Here’s my setup, all ready to roll:

Sous-vide-setup-pic

WHAT YOU DO

You have the equipment. Now you wanna make something. Here’s how:

  1. Fill your container with water.
  2. Attach the circulator, turn it on, and set your temperature.
  3. Vacuum seal your food.
  4. Once the water is heated to your desired temperature, drop the food into the heated water bath.
  5. Wait.

EXAMPLE: 

The internal temperature of a perfect, medium-rare steak is between 130 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Set your sous-vide circulator to 131.5 degrees, vacuum seal the steak, drop it into the bath, and let it roll.

You can literally let the steak cook for days, and it will not overcook. The internal temperature of the steak will never surpass 131.5 degrees due to it being vacuum-sealed in a precisely controlled water bath.

Monday night, I cooked a ribeye at 131.5 degrees for 30 hours just for shits ‘n’ gigs:

SCIENCE!

Even after a 30-hour cook, the steak has a perfect, medium-rare interior, and I can cut it with my fork with ease. That’s how sous vide does it.

WHY SOUS VIDE CRUSHES A CROCK-POT 

I mean, look at it. Say “sous vide” again.

Way cooler, right?

Also, a sous-vide circulator did not kill Jack Pearson. A crock-pot did. What a dick.

The true separation here, though, is two-fold:

  1. A sous-vide circulator is more precise, allowing for a wider range of preparation/outcomes. (Try to cook a steak for 30 hours in a crock-pot and let me know how that medium-rare worked out for you.)
  2. The fun does not end when the food comes out of the water bath.

With sous vide, you still have to finish the food after it comes out of the water.

If you just wanna pull a lump of mushy chuck roast and some potatoes and carrots out of a heated bowl and directly onto your plate … yeah, the crock-pot is it. 3

But with sous vide, you get to inject an additional layer of flavor and texture to your food, depending on how you want to finish it.

Sticking to our example, the steak:

  1. Remove the steak from your water bath, cut open the vacuum bag, and take the meat out of the bag. It’s going to look gross and gray and weird. That’s fine. That’s normal. It’s about to get magical.
  2. Pat the steak dry with paper towels, removing as much moisture/fat as possible.
  3. Season your steak as you normally would (coarse Kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic/onion blend for me).
  4. Place the seasoned steak on a wire rack in your fridge or freezer for 30 minutes (optional, but this helps to stop the steak from cooking internally any further and also dries the surface of the steak for a better sear).
  5. Sear it.

Step five, the sear, is absolutely crucial.

This is when you develop that delicious, brown crust on the outside of your meat. It’s called the “Maillard Reaction” if you wanna impress somebody on trivia night, but all that matters here is that it’s freakin’ incredible.

For searing, I love blasting the steak directly over a lit charcoal chimney. It gets wild in the best way, especially if you hit the coals with a fan:

Big-chimney-sear

FIRE!

After a quick sear on each side and the edges, you get something like this…

Ta-da-chuck-roast-sear

Mmmph

… that looks like this when you cut into it:

chuck-roast-chimney-sear

Oh yes.

Your crock-pot could never.

ALL THAT SAID …

Yes, a crock-pot is similar to a sous-vide circulator. The process at its core is the same: Cook something low-and-slow, in a controlled environment, for a longer-than-usual period of time.

Sous vide, however, allows for more precise temperature control throughout and more options post-bath thanks to various finishing techniques. A sous-vide setup can do everything a crock-pot can do (besides suck at life).

A crock-pot can not do everything a sous-vide setup can do.

And that, friends, makes it superior.

  1. Thanks, Gwynn.
  2. The check’s in the mail.
  3. Full disclosure: Crock-pot chuck roast slaps. I am not mad about it at all.