Sous Vide vs Slow Cooker: Which is Better and Which is the Right Choice

Sous vide vs slow cooker? People often ask if sous vide is a type of slow cooking—in other words, is it just like using a slow cooker? While Sous Vide can take longer than the traditional ways of cooking on the stove or oven, some differences make it different and unique in its ways.

sous vide vs slow cooker - which one is better? on the left is an image of a sous vide circulator and water bath. on the right is a traditional slow cooker filled with ingredients and ready to cook.

Let’s Compare the Two

Most slow cookers take a minimum of four hours to finish a recipe (sometimes up to twelve hours), whereas some sous vide dishes can be completed in as little as 1 hour. If you consider the precise temperature control, the retention of nutrients and the vacuum seal, sous vide is very different from using a slow cooker and appears to be superior in many ways depending on your preferences.

Because there are some similarities between sous vide and a slow cooker, one very big difference is you cannot use a slow cooker for the sous vide method. The biggest problem with trying to use a slow cooker for sous vide? Slow cookers lack the precise temperature control (down to a single degree) that sous vide precision cookers possess. When compared with a circulator, a slow cooker cannot continuously circulate the heated water throughout the container—allowing for a consistent temperature throughout the entire cooking container.

Where Sous Vide Wins

Depending on the dish you are making, sous vide outperforms a slow cooker in almost every way. How? See the short list below.

  • Consistent Cooking: because of the precise temperature control and the even heat transfer through the liquid, Sous Vide dishes are consistently cooked more evenly and are much more difficult to overcook.
  • More Nutrient Retention: Because of the vacuum seal, sous vide recipes also retain a significant amount of their nutrients as compared to the slow cooker. Being able to better keep the nutrients in the food you cook means it is best for cooking vegetables, even better than traditional methods like roasting.
  • Structure: Finally, a meat or vegetable cooked in a Sous Vide machine retains its structure much better. A roast or chicken may seem tender when it falls apart in the slow cooker, but the same dish from a Sous Vide can be just as tender while easier to put on a plate and eat. For those of us who care about presentation, this reason alone makes it look more appealing.

Where Slow Cooker Wins

Depending on what you are looking for, a slow cooker may have a couple of advantages over sous vide.

  • Cost: the biggest advantage is cost. Most quality sous vide circulators, and water ovens are upwards of $100. Add to this the fact that you may need a vacuum sealer (another $30-100), and will either need expensive vacuum bags, or Ziploc bags. The initial cost is rather high, and there is a minor ongoing cost as well. Most slow cookers, however, are right around the $30 cost. The much lower price of a slow cooker can mean significant savings for people on a budget.
  • Low Maintenance: Some people may prefer the “hands-off” capability of slow cookers. You can put your meat and vegetables in the slow cooker in the morning, go to work for eight hours, and return home to eat with minimal effort or concern. Because sous vide cookers take two hours or less, there is slightly less flexibility to leave it unattended (of course, this depends on the dish you’re planning to make).

Who’s the Winner?

Which method of cooking is better between sous vide and a a slow cooker? In general, sous vide provides an objectively better result. You can also cook a lot more dishes using sous vide; whereas with a slow cooker, well, it’s a slow cooker. Only you can ultimately decide if sous vide is worth the money and time. While slow cookers have their weaknesses, they are still a cooking method. However, if you were to ask for my opinion, I’d say get yourself a sous vide precision circulator. If you’re on a more limited budet, start with just Ziploc bags to cut down on costs. You can always upgrade later and get a fancy vacuum sealer. You won’t regret it.