Water Displacement Method for Sous Vide Cooking

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There is no need for a vacuum sealer for successful sous vide cooking! Learn how easy it is to use the water displacement method for sous vide. Step by step explanations with pictures and a video!

The principle of sous vide cooking it to place food in an air tight bag or other container and cook it in a large pot of hot water. Having the food in an air tight container is important to the process.

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So a vacuum sealer can be a huge help for sous vide. It quickly and easily removes most of the air from a bag.

But buying a vacuum sealer is an extra expense and it is one more appliance that has to be stored in the kitchen. Luckily a vacuum sealer is not essential, because it is easy to remove air from a bag using the water displacement method.

lowering the chicken into a sous vide

Water Displacement Step by Step

1. Bag the Food

Chose a heavy duty bag for that has an easy to use zippered top of some kind. Make sure whatever bag you choose is BPA free too.

bagging the meat

Freezer bags are the best choice and will give you good results. There are also reusable bag like Stasher, which are excellent choices for sous vide.

2. Force the Air Out

Use your hands to squish the bags and force most of the air out. The more air you get out now the better.

squishing the water off

Seal the bag most of the way, leaving one corner unsealed. This will allow any remaining air to escape.

3. Submerge the Bag

Then slowly submerge the bag in a large container of water. As the bag goes in the water the pressure of the water will force out most of remaining air.

The air should go up towards the top of the bag, towards the part that was left unsealed. Slowly put the entire bag in the water, leaving the open part out.

sealing the ziploc bag

Once the air has escaped seal the bag the rest of the way and let it go under the water.

Tips for Successful Water Displacement

  • Remember that the container of sous vide water will be HOT. You do not need to use the hot water bath to force out the water. You can use a bowl of water or do the immersion when you start the sous vide, before the water reaches its final temperature.
  • Water displacement works best for shorter sous vide cooking times. The longer something cooks the more likely air pockets will develop and cause the bag to float.
  • Because of this check on the bag once or twice as it cooks to make sure it hasn’t floated up. If it does weigh it down with something like a metal spoon or a plate. The food needs to stay underneath the water. Weighing the food down as it cooks will not affect the taste or texture.

Pro Tip

You will never remove all the air. And as meat cooks it will shrink, which will introduce little pockets of air anyway. So don’t be too concerned about small air pockets which will develop even with a vacuum sealer.

chicken thighs in water
Why do you need to remove the air for sous vide cooking?

Removing the air from the bag allows for better heat transfer from the water to the food. The heat goes directly into the food and cooks it, which is what you want.

If there is a layer of air between the food and the water then the heat will not cook the food as directly. This will slow down the sous vide process.

Also air pockets might cause the bag to float. The food needs to be surrounded by water, so a bag that floats to the top has to be weighted down.

What if water gets in the sous vide bag?

Occasionally the bag leaks and water gets inside. If it is only a little bit of water it will not matter. If a lot of water gets inside it can change the taste and texture of the food.

The food will still be safe to eat, even if the bag has leaked. But a steak that has had a lot of water get inside just isn’t going to taste as good.

If I had a large scale leak I’d probably change my recipe and use the meat for a stew or something like that where the texture is less important. But a small leak with a little bit of water can be ignored.


Hi, I’m Anne!

I love to cook and I want to share my recipes with you. I believe cooking should be approachable and fun, not a chore. I want to make simple recipes using everyday ingredients that you can make again and again, whether it is for a busy weeknight, a summer cookout or a special dessert. Read more...

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