Sous vide is quite different from traditional cooking methods. It requires extra steps, new tools, and proper time and temp settings. A first-timer will naturally need time to learn it and likely commit a few sous vide mistakes along the way.

Don’t be afraid to try and practice, though. Sous vide is fun and remarkable once you figure it out.

To boost your confidence, here’s a list of hurdles you’ll likely encounter while learning this cooking technique. I’m citing solutions to overcome or avoid them, too.

Sous Vide Cooking Mistakes

Time and temperature are crucial factors when sous vide cooking. Compared with traditional cooking methods, sous vide generally works at longer times and lower temperatures.

Some ingredients would react differently under these cooking conditions, though.

So, without proper adjustment, errors can happen. Here are some examples.

1. Cooking in the Danger Zone for Long Periods

Sous vide is a slow-cooking process at low temperatures. However, setting the temperature too low can result in undercooking and food poisoning.

Some try to solve this through longer sous vide cooking times, thinking that it’s impossible to overcook food in a hot water bath.

This practice is incorrect, too. Because as you cook your food for hours at low temperatures, you’re also giving pathogens ample time to grow and multiply.

How to Fix: Follow the proper cooking time and temperature of food items for sous vide. The NSW Food Authority also recommends keeping the water bath at 55°C and cutting your food for sous vide into thinner portions or slices. Make it a habit to occasionally double-check the calibration of your immersion circulator or use a second thermometer for sous vide safety.

2. Cooking with Raw Garlic or Onion

Two sous vide mistakes can happen when you add fresh garlic or onion to your vacuum-sealed food pouches.

One is that sous vide temperatures are too low to cook both vegetables. So, adding them to sealed plastic and cooking for hours will only infuse raw garlic or onion taste into your food.

Another problem is raw garlic naturally has the botulism toxin that can activate when placed in a warm and low oxygen environment, like a vacuum bag in a sous vide water bath.

This tendency also explains why you should not submerge garlic in oil and store it at room temperature.

How to Fix: Omit raw garlic or onions during sous vide cooking, then use garlic or onion powder instead. Alternatively, you can sauté sous vide vegetables or meats in these aromatics or serve roasted garlic or onions on the side.

Woman Sous Vide Cooking Vegetables

3. Cooking Meat and Vegetables in One Go

To maximise time and minimise effort, some home cooks would sous vide meat and vegetables in one water bath at the same time and temperature.

Doing this is a big sous vide mistake as these items have different cooking requirements. Most vegetables cook at 83.9°C to 85°C, while meats need lower temperatures for proper doneness.

If you follow the one-pot sous vide approach, one will likely be under or overcooked.

How to Fix: Tackle this problem by sauteing or pan-frying your vegetables while your main dish cooks at optimum sous vide settings. Another solution is to sous vide your meat and vegetables separately in advance, then reheat or sear them when you’re ready to eat.

4. Cooking with Too Little or Too Much Water

During sous vide cooking, your sealed food should be fully submerged in water to cook. The challenge? The water level in the pot should be enough to last long hours of cooking.

With these requirements, first-time users often experience spilling sous vide water while putting the sealed bag in or arriving home to sous vide water bath running dry.

How to Fix: To avoid putting too much water, check the water level line of your immersion circulator. Keep your water within this range when you put the bag inside the pot. Then, reduce water evaporation by getting sous vide accessories like a pot lid or insulation balls. You can also use aluminium foil or plastic wrap to cover your cooking vessel.

5. Sous Vide Meats End Up with Rubbery Fat

Sous vide is a go-to method when you want perfectly cooked steaks. The problem is the fat in the meat often ends up chewy and inedible after sous vide.

The reason for this is the low cooking temperature.

During sous vide, the protein component of meat turns moist and tender under low heat. However, the same low cooking temperature will not be hot enough to render its fat, making it rubbery.

How to Fix: Avoid this sous vide mistake by pre-searing fatty meats. After a good sear, cook them in the water bath. Another solution is to cook fatty meats longer to give their fat time to render. Just make sure to maintain the proper cooking temperature to avoid overcooking.

Woman Placing Vacuum Sealed Chicken in Water Bath

6. Overcooking Meats After Sous Vide

Sous vide gradually breaks down the proteins in meat, keeping it tender and moist. However, if you leave it in the water bath too long, too much protein breakdown happens, affecting the overall meat texture.

This problem often happens when sous vide cooking thinner cuts of meat.

Similarly, you can ruin perfectly cooked sous vide steak when you over-sear it. Searing your thinly sliced steak for too long has a higher risk of being overcooked as the heat travels faster to its centre.

How to Fix: Refer to your sous vide cooking manual and follow the recommended searing time based on meat type and thickness. Generally, sous vide sear should only last 45 to 90 seconds per side. Check out this guide for reverse searing steaks after sous vide to know more.

7. Eggs Keep Cracking During Sous Vide

Aside from perfectly cooked steaks, sous vide is a popular method for cooking eggs to the correct doneness.

However, some home cooks do this by putting eggs into the sous vide water bath, thinking the shell can work as a vacuum bag.

This technique can work, but the shell could also crack and spill the egg into the water. Pieces of shells could get into your immersion circulator and damage it, too.

How to Fix: For extra precaution, carefully vacuum seal the eggs into a plastic bag. You can also put the eggs in a resealable bag filled with water from the sous vide pot. This option allows the water to protect the shell while transferring heat to the egg. Note that filling the bag with water from the tap may affect the water bath temperature and the cooking process.

Vacuum Sealing Mistakes

Sous vide needs vacuum bags for cooking. The plastic protects your food from direct heat contact, allowing it to cook gradually and preserve its juices and flavour.

However, vacuum sealing your food alone can lead to a few sous vide mistakes, like the following.

Woman Sealing Chicken in a Single Bag to Avoid Sous Vide Mistakes

8. Using Incorrect Vacuum Bags

The golden rule of sous vide is to use plastic bags made for this cooking method. However, some home cooks find this too expensive or wasteful, so they opt for cheaper plastics.

The problem is cheap plastics can leach harmful chemicals into the food. Some are also too thin for long hours of cooking.

How to Fix: Ideally, use the prescribed vacuum bags for sous vide cooking. Instead of using single plastics for every meat portion, arrange them in a single layer in one big bag. You can also use resealable bag or silicone pouches if you prefer something reusable and sustainable.

9. Overfilling Your Sous Vide Bags

Stacking food inside a single vacuum bag is a technique some home cooks use to save time and energy. However, overpacking your sous vide bag leads to several mistakes.

For instance, if you stack multiple steaks inside the bag, the food becomes too thick, prolonging the cooking time.

It also leads to uneven cooking since some parts of the food will not have constant heat contact. This issue is dangerous for meats, like pork and chicken, that require thorough cooking.

Another problem with stacking meat items is their tendency to fuse or bond together during cooking.

Lastly, creating a secure seal with an overfilled vacuum bag is difficult. Food items inside can release steam and liquids, forcing an overpacked plastic to leak or burst.

How to Fix: Arrange your sous vide meat items in a single layer or separate bags to ensure heated water can circulate them consistently. Also, use an appropriately sized vacuum bag with enough head space to create a good seal.

10. Sous Vide Bags Keep Floating to the Top

It’s frustrating when your perfectly seasoned food in a bag won’t stay submerged in the water bath, no matter how much you push it down.

However, leaving the bag afloat is a big sous vide mistake, which results in uneven cooking. The main culprit here is the air that keeps the bag buoyant.

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent your bag from floating.

How to Fix: If using a resealable bag, remove as much air as possible by doing the immersion or water displacement method. Alternatively, use a food vacuum sealer with the proper plastic bag.

Another technique is to use sous vide weights and seal them with your food item. You can also vacuum seal a stainless-steel knife or pie weights, put them in your food bag, and use them as makeshift weights.

Double-bagging is another strategy to weigh the bag down, but it’s not the best option as it uses more plastic.

Woman Adding Salt to Meat for Sous Vide

Food Preparation Mistakes

Some food items and ingredients we use for flavour react differently when in a water bath.

Long hours of cooking and the vacuum-sealed environment of sous vide are contributory factors.

Here are some prep mistakes you should avoid.

12. Using Low-Quality Ingredients

First-time sous vide cooks might think poor-quality ingredients improve when cooked in a water bath.

For example, buying cheap beef with poor marbling will turn into a tasty steak after sous vide. However, this is a sous vide mistake.

Sous vide can cook food items with precision and consistency. But like any other cooking technique, it has to work with high-quality ingredients for optimum results.

How to Fix: Use sous vide to transform cheap cuts but quality meats into a tasty meal. Cook with fresh produce as well.

13. Overseasoning Your Food

Some of the seasonings added to your food would fall on the grill, stay on the pan, or evaporate into the air. So, we tend to season food well for conventional cooking.

However, it’s different with sous vide. With your food sealed in a bag, it is 100% in contact with whatever aromatic or flavouring you put inside.

After hours of sous vide cooking, heavy seasoning naturally makes your food item too salty or spicy.

How to Fix: Reduce the seasoning you add to your food for sous vide. Also, stick to fresh herbs and spices that typically require more cooking time to impart flavour to your food. You can also season your food after sous vide cooking or serve it with a flavourful sauce.

14. Adding Too Much Oil in the Bag

Aside from salt and spices, putting too much oil or butter into your vacuum bag is a sous vide mistake.

As your meat cooks in the bag, its flavourful juices go to the oil or butter added, making your food bland.

How to Fix: Put enough butter or oil to coat your food. You can also apply this technique to prevent multiple meat items in a bag from sticking. For sous vide steaks, season the meat, then reverse sear it in oil and butter afterwards.

Final Thoughts

Sous vide is an excellent cooking technique. However, without the know-how, it can also be challenging that you might find yourself making multiple sous vide mistakes.

Nonetheless, once you understand the basic requirements, your sous vide journey should be smooth sailing. Start with easy recipes and gradually build your confidence. Experiment and try a new sous vide dish when ready.

Hopefully, the list above helps you improve your sous vide cooking skills. Check out my list of sous vide machines in Australia to start mastering this method.