This article is a part of my free Exploring Sous Vide email course. If you want to discover how to consistently create amazing food using sous vide then my course is exactly what you're looking for. For a printed version of this course, you can purchase my Exploring Sous Vide cookbook.
Jason,how many chicken breasts can I put in one sous vide bag? How does the amount of food I add to sous vide affect the cook time?
This is one of the more commonly asked questions I get. I'll answer it in two parts.
With the power of today's sous vide circulators, the amount of food you put in a sous vide bath doesn't matter, as long as it isn't so full that the water can't circulate between the items. So you can cook 1 chicken breast in the same amount of time as 12 chicken breasts, as long as there is room between them for ample circulation.
Stacking the breasts, or having the bags too close together, effectively increases the thickness of the chicken and will require longer cooking times. So the answer to "How does the amount of food I add to sous vide affect the cook time?" is that it doesn't, as long as the water can circulate.
Most sous vide recipes will say something along the lines of "Place the chicken breasts in a sous vide bag then seal". The food should actually be in a single layer and not just piled in, though many recipes don't clarify this. I've seen multiple people not realize it should be in a single layer and they end up stacking their food in the pouches.
What's the biggest issue with this? Sous vide cooking times all depend on the thickness of the food. So if you follow a recipe for chicken breasts, it might tell you to cook it for 2 to 3 hours, which is long enough to pasteurize a 1.5" to 2" chicken breast (40mm to 55mm) when cooked at 63°C (145°F).
This is true regardless of how many chicken breasts you are cooking, as long as the thickness is within that range. However, if your chicken breasts are next to each other in the sous vide bag, the actual thickness is double or triple what the recipe called for and the innermost chicken breast will not be fully cooked, leading to potential safety issues.
So the general answer to "How many chicken breasts can I put in one sous vide bag?" is as many as you can fit in a single layer.
I hope this helps you figure out how to best seal and cook your sous vide food in the future!
In this lesson we discussed how:
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Thanks again and happy cooking!
Jason Logsdon, Amazing Food Made Easy