Sous vide containers

I have an Anova Precision Cooker (the old, bulky, pre-WiFi, pre-Nano edition that launched in 110V in 2014 and eventually appeared in 220V years later) which I don’t use too often. Let’s talk about water containers, since after circulators and plastic bags, that’s probably the next item people have to sort out.

There are always some specialised items that will appear in the market – Anova will try to sell you accessories in the form of the S$208 insulated 20L container with lid, or the S$110 16L container with HemiFlow™ curved corners, while other specialised brands like Lipavi and many other Amazon Marketplace-only brands have also sprouted up to sell similar accessories.

Buying containers

In the first place, you don’t have to buy a container just for sous vide, you can just use any pot, and internet people seem to like using those insulated picnic coolers too. That will generally work just fine, but you might have some reason to acquire a new container – like wanting a container volume or dimension that your pots can’t meet, and possibly having that size be a bit unobtainable or unaffordable as a pot.

If you do want a new container that’s not a regular pot, you can buy the specialised containers online or at kitchenware stores like ToTT, but there’s no real reason to pay the specialisation markup.

Many food-safe containers and pots (including the GN food pans discussed later) are available at reasonable prices in Singapore at the commercial food service/kitchenware suppliers at Temple St, like Sia Huat and Lau Choy Seng. Their prices may not be much cheaper if you only look at the more “consumer” brands or items that you’d see at the more upmarket consumer kitchenware stores, but there’s much more variety available in terms of other brands and items that the commercial food service folks use.

Plus, you get to browse and see the items in person, and then cash and carry, as they serve both retail and trade customers out of their shop or showroom.

Sia Huat has a 400+ page catalogue on their website that exhibits most of their ranges, but unfortunately that has no prices on it, as it’s probably meant to be a reference for the trade customers who have an order form and maybe a separate price list.

Container sizes

It’s interesting to look at what size of containers Lipavi, as a specialised brand for sous vide accessories, is selling for different recommended use cases:

SizeContainer size
Small - Couples7 qts/6 L - 12.7 x 7 x 8 inches
Medium - Family12 qts/11.3 L - 12.7 x 10.3 x 8 inches
Large - Family & Friends18 qts/17 L - 17.6 x 11.3 x 8 inches
X-Large - Party26 qts/20 L - 21 x 12.8 x 8 inches

The items they sell are all polycarbonate containers that are 8 inches (20 cm) tall. That is a good height that provides for some room to spare above the MAX water line for the Anova and other circulators. They’re all also rectangular-ish in the length/width, apart from the medium size.

Curiously, if you look at the dimensions, they mostly match the European Gastronorm (GN) standard for food pans. The height of 8 inches also matches the 200mm depth defined in the standard.

Gastronorm sizemetricimperial
GN 13325 x 176 mm12.80 x 6.93 inch
GN 12325 x 265 mm12.80 x 10.43 inch
(no match)447 x 287 mm17.6 x 11.3 inch
GN 11530 x 325 mm20.87 x 12.80 inch

That makes sense – easier to get the containers and lids manufactured when they’re based off existing product sizes. They just need a cutout on the lids, and to figure out the racks for clipping food packages to.

These GN pan dimensions are pretty convenient for me, because the width of the space available on the countertop at home after factoring in some appliances was around 30-35 cm, so the 325 mm width of the GN system is perfect.

Another good option might be the bulk food storage containers that typically come in some kind of square or round stacking format. These seem to be less standardised in dimensions, as the various brands seem to target certain volumes (2, 4, 6, 8, … qts) instead.

Food pan materials

GN food pans typically come in a couple of different materials:

  • stainless steel
  • hi-temp amber polycarbonate (PC)
  • black/white opaque polycarbonate
  • clear polycarbonate
  • translucent/opaque polypropylene (PP)

That’s in approximately descending order of price.

The stainless steel and hi-temp PC models are only required if you’re going to put them in an oven or on a heating element like a product holding unit, as they are rated up to around 200 deg C. Otherwise, you shouldn’t need either of these more expensive (for hi-temp PC) or heavy (stainless steel) options.

The regular PC and PP are typically rated up to 99 deg C. PP is perhaps better known to most of us in thin-walled form as yogurt and other disposable containers, while PC is probably the more rigid type of reusable water bottle? Since we’re not going to go too near to water’s boiling point in sous vide cooking, either of these materials will work.

It seems that black/white PC is a little more expensive than clear PC, while PP is a little cheaper than clear PC. I think clear PC is pretty nice because, hey, it’s clear, so you can peer through the sides at the cooking food, and it feels a little nicer than PP.

Food pan brands

Both Sia Huat and Lau Choy Seng seem to carry Cambro products as the ‘branded’ option, as well as some generic brand products that are a little cheaper and still NSF-listed but have a slightly less broad range.

If we examine the current Sia Huat catalogue for GN food pans:

ItemBrandedGeneric
GN Food Pans - Stainless SteelSafico / Steelcraft by Safico
GN Food Pans - Hi-temp PCCambro H-Pan
GN Food Pans - PCCambro Camwear pans in black/white/clearJiwins in clear
GN Food Pan - PPCambro Translucent pansUnica Translucent
GN Food Pans - PC InsulatedCambro ColdFest pans

I’m sure the generics should be pretty much equally functional as the branded items. But when examined in person, at least for the clear PC pans that I was comparing, the Jiwins just looked a little less “crystal clear”, and also had some slightly sharper edges on the pan lip where you will be handling it.

Containers I have

Right now, I have two containers:

One is the Jiwins P-064C, a 12 qt clear polycarbonate square food storage bin. This was mostly purchased to accommodate the many 8 oz canning jars that I was using to make crème brûlée. Perhaps if I buy a proper lid for it, I can repurpose it for actual stacking storage, instead of just having it take up space now.

It ended up being really large and unwieldy to use for anything else, so I just purchased a Cambro Camwear 38CW which is a GN 13, 7.3 qt clear polycarbonate food pan, that requires about half the counter space and water. This definitely fits two chicken breasts along the two long sides, and might have space for a third one if you can clip it to the middle.

I’m hoping that with a smaller container that’s a bit less of a hassle to get out and make space for on the countertop, maybe my sous vide circulator can get used a bit more often. That said, it’s quite tricky to find food items in our existing cuisine preferences that really take advantage of sous vide’s capabilities.