A Beginner’s Guide to Water Displacement Method Sous Vide

Sous vide cooking is popular these days. With a container of water, controlled water pressure from immersion circulators, and freezer bags, you can defrost or cook a host of meals.

However, there is one piece of equipment that some argue you cannot do without — a vacuum sealer. Whether you are a rookie or a veteran sous vide chef, you should know that the absence of air is important when using this cooking technique.

A problem arises when you cannot extract that air. So how do you cook sous vide without a vacuum sealer? Is it even possible? What is the water displacement method sous vide, and how does it work?

What Is the Sous Vide Cooking Style?

Shows cook sous vide immersion circulator cooker and the meat .

The demand for vacuum sealers is increasing, and there is no doubt that the sous vide cooking style is one of the reasons. Sous vide cooking is becoming more popular in the food industry, both at restaurants and at home. It is an easy way to cook your meals at low temperatures for a prolonged time.

It prepares tasty and tender meals and gives you complete control over every step in the process. You decide how well and long it cooks. But cooking sous vide isn’t the most straightforward method for meal preparation.

This cooking style requires a water bath and controlled pressure, which an immersion circulator can take care of. You can cook your food as long as you’d like, to your desired temperature. Since immersion circulators are not exactly common in every kitchen, you’ll need to buy one just to use for sous vide.

The water must cover every portion of the food, or it will not cook evenly. Sous vide cooking requires applying pressure to the water, which means the plastic pouch of food may be displaced if there is too much air.

But left on its own, most food is heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the water bath, thereby cooking evenly. However, you can use ping pong balls to ensure the bag stays submerged. Moreover, removing all the oxygen in the bag is impossible, especially if you aren’t using a vacuum sealer.

You can also use the sous vide machine to defrost your food. The process is the same — place the food into a bag and extract the air with your vacuum sealer. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, do not fear! There is another option — water displacement.

Regardless of what you are doing with your sous vide machine, you need to create an airtight environment for your meal. This is to prevent it from floating around while cooking

What Is a Vacuum Sealer?

Vacuum sealer machine and meat .

A vacuum sealer is a device that helps you remove the air from plastic bags. This product isn’t just useful for sous vide. You can use a vacuum sealer to increase the shelf-life of food for weeks without sacrificing the texture, quality, or taste of the food.

This handy sealing device can remove the oxygen in a plastic bag for sous vide cooking. The benefits of vacuum sealing before cooking, defrosting, or freezing your food are not to be overlooked.

You know the dreaded freezer burn. Well, this is one way to prevent it. Place your food in plastic freezer bags and use a vacuum sealer to keep food fresh. This prevents freezer burn by removing any moisture from the bag in addition to any air.

There are tons of advantages to vacuum-sealing your food in bags. Fortunately, there are alternatives to vacuum sealers, such as manual air extraction. If you are not a fan of vacuum sealing for one reason or the other or if you cannot afford a sealer, you can do it with your bare hands.

The essence of using a vacuum sealer is to remove excess air and moisture so the meal will cook evenly. For homes without a vacuum sealer, the water displacement method sous vide is the go-to substitute.

So, do you need a vacuum sealer to cook sous vide? No, you don’t.

Unless you specifically want to invest in a fancy vacuum sealer, eliminating air pockets can be done without spending a dime. You can remove air manually, and this is where water pressure becomes helpful.

What Is Water Displacement Method Sous Vide?

Water displacement is a free, technology-free alternative to vacuum sealers. It helps you remove air pockets from the sous vide bag that may prevent uneven cooking.

If you are familiar with your sous vide dishes, you will know that the fewer air pockets you have, the better the meal tastes. This is because oxygen delays the cooking process. So, the areas that house these air pockets won’t cook as fast and uniformly as the others.

What’s more, having too much air trapped in the bag makes it more buoyant. In turn, the bag rises to the top of the water and prevents the food from cooking evenly.

You may not taste the difference, but chances are a sous vide chef would. To perfectly cook sous vide without a vacuum sealer on hand, you need to know how to do the water displacement technique.

A Simple Water Displacement Technique Sous Vide

Shows cook sous vide immersion circulator cooker and the meat .

The water displacement method uses the pressure of water to release the excess air from the sous vide bag. Follow these steps to try it out for yourself:

  • Place the meal in a Ziplock Freezer bag. Include all ingredients you need, as you will not open the bag until you are done cooking.
  • Add a dribble of olive oil to the plastic bag.
  • Place the bag on a flat surface and massage the packet to drive the air toward the almost-sealed outlet. Try to get out as much air as you can.
  • Gently submerge the bag in a pot of water.
  • Leave the part of the bag that you have not sealed shut just above the surface of the water bath.
  • The air will slowly pass through the small opening you left behind, but do not bring the bag out of the water until you have sealed it shut.
  • Add to your sous vide machine and wait for your meal to cook.

You will only know you have done the job correctly when the package drops to the bottom of the container. If you left too many air pockets in the bag, it will float back up to the top.

If you made a mistake with the water displacement technique sous vide, you can place something weighty on the plastic bag to ensure it does not bob to the surface.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the water displacement method sous vide a perfect replacement for vacuum sealers?

The water displacement technique is not difficult. It does require patience and the willingness to try a few times. However, you will soon find that a vacuum sealer is dispensable, especially if you are cooking for yourself alone.

While a vacuum sealer makes the job easier, it is not necessary for sous vide cooking. The water displacement method is a good replacement. You could solely rely on this method if you do not want to purchase a sealer.

That said, you will never be able to get all of the air out of a sous vide bag with water displacement. You can absolutely cook a successful sous vide meal without a vacuum sealer, though.

Are vacuum sealers expensive?

You can pay up to $80 for a good vacuum sealer, but the price is usually worth the investment if you struggle with water displacement. Keep in mind that a vacuum sealer is useful for more than just cooking sous vide.

You can also use it for properly storing and preserving food. Over time, a vacuum sealer may pay for itself.


It is a common misconception that you need fancy equipment to use the sous vide cooking style. While there are some materials you’ll need to properly cook sous vide, a vacuum sealer is not one of them.

A container for the sous vide machine, an immersion circulator, and high-quality zip-top plastic freezer bags are all you need. You can use the water displacement method sous vide to release all the air and set the perfect cooking time for your meal.

The trick is to ensure every part of the food stays submerged in water. Excessive air pockets will prevent that. Luckily, you can turn to the water displacement method to cook perfect sous vide meals.

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