The Best Budget Sous Vide Gear

If you're looking to get into sous vide, the way to go is the Anova sous vide circulator. It’s made by a lab equipment manufacturer with a reputation for making accurate water baths and costs only $200.

Last Updated: May 6, 2014
Anova has begun a Kickstarter for a new, more affordable sous-vide cooker that you can control from your phone. With prices starting at $99, it seems like a solid future contender, but we won't know for sure until it launches in October.
Expand Previous Updates
April 21, 2014: The newly announced Mellow is on the pricey side, but its smart controls and ability to refrigerate food as well as heat it may make it worth further investigation once it ships next year.
April 1, 2014: Added a link to Serious Eats' head-to-head review of our pick, the Sansaire, and Nomiku. We're still planning to test the Sansaire as soon as we can get our hands on a model, but it's currently sold out.
November 26, 2013: We've changed our pick to the Anova sous vide circulator because it has the best combination of features at a great price.
August 22, 2013: We put this article on hold to find a replacement for the SideKIC as it is doing poorly in long term testing.
June 4, 2013: Added information about an alternative store to buy the SideKIC from.

We tested the Anova alongside 3 other well-reviewed and popular circulators and found it to be easy to use, quick to heat up, tolerant of widely varying water levels and extremely accurate and stable when it comes to holding temperatures steady. Others performed better in particular tests, but the Anova performed consistently well and had a lack of flaws.

On the cheaper end, you could get the DorkFood DSV for $100, but you will need to provide your own heat source and circulator.

Over the last 12 months, the sous vide market has exploded with a number of  excellent and precise devices that will cook your food for long periods at fixed temperatures without costing a huge amount of money. It’s the first time we’ve seen sous vide cookers that are simple enough for everyday home use. They have all the features that we think are important and the performance to back it up at a price that’s reasonable.

What is sous vide?

Steak that’s a perfect medium rare…chicken so tender that you don’t even need a knife and eggs the consistency of custard.
Over the last few of years, sous vide cooking has blossomed into the public consciousness. Now a mainstay of cooking shows and internet discussions, sous vide involves sealing your food—ideally within a vacuum—and then immersing it in warm water for hours at a time until the entire thing reaches a uniform temperature. The result? Steak that’s a perfect medium rare throughout (no cold, raw centers or overcooked outsides involved), chicken so tender that you don’t even need a knife and eggs the consistency of custard. That’s what sous vide can do. And for the most part, it’s quite easy.

Sous vide cooking intrigues me, an amateur home cook with a love for science and technology. On one hand, it packs the simplicity of low-and-slow cooking as with a crock pot; on the other, the exceptional temperature control means you can do all sorts of fun things that almost get you in the neighborhood of molecular gastronomy. However, like most home cooks, the prospect of dropping more than $1,000 on a cooking appliance seems excessive to me—hell, even $500 is more than I’d pay for anything in my kitchen but the oven. Yet over the last couple of years we’ve seen some of these cookers drop into the price range of mere mortals.

The standard sous vide procedure for meat goes something like this: seal it with some herbs and spices using a vacuum sealer (or just a Ziploc bag with all the air displaced). Get your water to temperature. Throw the meat in the water for a couple of hours (or as long as you want; it won’t overcook). Then remove the meat and sear it to get a nice crust. Since the meat heats through to an exact temperature, you can get some wonderful effects that you can’t get with standard-issue kitchen gear. You can make beef exactly as done as you like, all the way through. Or you can have a roast that’s set exactly to the temperature at which fat breaks down, giving you the tenderness of hours of braising but the pink flesh of a medium-rare roast.

Since sous vide cooking in the home has been so heavily driven by innovative people putting things together piecemeal and experimenting in their kitchens, there are a lot of fantastic recipes available online. It’s worth checking out Serious Eats’ Sous-Vide 101 series, SVKitchen, the recipe series from the people behind SousVide Supreme (which are just as applicable to other machines), or—if you’re into the no-carbs thing—the Nom Nom Paleo sous vide recipe sets.

However, there are some problems with sous vide cooking. For one, you can’t get a sear on your food, as the Maillard reaction never happens. (The reaction requires direct heat.) It’s also on the slow side. (Some roasts can take up to a couple of days to cook.) As we mentioned above, the other big problem is price. It’s only really in the last 12 months that home sous vide cookers have dropped well below $400-500 and to a point that’s more on par with other cooking gadgets.

Who’s it for?

A home sous vide cooker is mostly for food lovers and experimental cookers. It’s for people who love cooking and playing around with new recipes and techniques. Ever made tea-cured gravlax because you found a recipe online? Willing to wait 72 hours for a great set of ribs? Then you’re on board.

A home sous vide cooker is mostly for food lovers and experimental cookers.
But it’s also on the verge of blooming into something that’s much more accessible. The best of these devices are very simple to use, and the fact that the meat won’t overcook means that you can start a water bath when you leave for work in the morning, and come back to a perfectly medium rare steak. It’s like a more controllable version of a crock-pot.

What to look for

There are four primary things to look for in a sous vide cooker.

Accuracy – With some food, eggs in particular, a temperature variance of just one degree Fahrenheit can mean a radically different final product. So you need a sous vide cooker that is accurate enough to do what you want—and all of the water has to be at that same temperature. No hot or cold spots.

Stability – If you’re doing a long cook (like 72 hours) you need to know that it’ll keep it as close as possible to the best temperature for that entire time period with as little variance as you can manage.

Speed – You don’t want to be waiting for hours for it to bring a container of water up to temperature. You need a nice, big heating element that can rapidly warm a large volume of water.

Price – Since these are enthusiast gadgets right now, we’re a bit less exacting on the price front, but there are $200 options that are just as good as $500 ones, so save money where you can.

There are a bunch of other factors we took into account. How does it attach? How precise does the water level have to be? Does it have a timer? How big is it? How big of a container does it need? How loud is it? Is it easy to use?

Contentious features

There are a couple of features that are debatable as to how useful they are; there’s a split of opinions among users as to which way to go and why. We’re going to lay out the arguments below.

One of the big points of discussion is if a sous vide circulator should have a timer and how it should work.
One of the big points of discussion is if a sous vide circulator should have a timer and how it should work. Some of the cookers have a timer system that can shut off the circulator as soon as you reach a certain time, like the Anova, which can either stop entirely or just sound an alarm. This is great if you have things that require slightly more precise timing, like seafood. But if you’re doing, say, a 72 hour cook and it stops when you’re not home, then it gives time for the food to cool, and potentially drop to a dangerous temperature. (The FDA recommends that hot food be kept at at least 140°F or else kept refrigerated at 40°F or below.)

Alternatively, some count up from when you hit go (like the SideKIC), or just set off an alarm when the time is up, like the PolyScience Creative. Others, like the Sansaire and Nomiku, simply don’t have a timer at all, for claims of simplicity and safety—but it means that you have to use another gadget if you do want to time something even vaguely accurately.

In a similar vein, there’s discussion about what happens if your power supply is interrupted. If, for whatever reason, you lose power in the middle of the night during a long cook, should your sous vide cooker keep going when the power comes back? If it doesn’t then you lose a night of cooking. But if it does, you probably don’t know how long the power was out for — and you don’t know if your food was kept at a safe temperature for the entire time. The Nomiku splits the difference by popping up a little icon informing you the power was stopped, so you can make the judgment call on your own.

There’s a chance that the internal temperature in your sous vide circulator is off by a little bit, which could significantly change how your food cooks, especially for very touchy foods like eggs. Some sous vide circulators allow you to alter this by calibrating the circulator yourself. Of the ones we tested, only the PolyScience doesn’t. But the problem: how do you know you’re calibrating it right? I have a calibrated and regularly tested thermometer, which I can rely on the accuracy of. But for most folks, it’s dangerous thing to calibrate unless you’re sure of accuracy. Most of the circulators just let you tweak the calibration by a small amount in either direction; the Nomiku, however, goes a step further by giving you two-point calibration (one for cold temps, then again at hot). This allows for more accurate calibration.

The different types

There are primarily three different types of sous vide cooker: the immersion circulator that can simultaneously heat and circulate water; the all-in-one but less precise water bath; and the bring-your-own-heat controller. All have their respective strengths and weaknesses.

For most home cooks, an immersion circulator is the perfect sous vide cooker. These are gadgets that latch onto the side of a vessel—be it a stock pot, a plastic tub, or even a cooler—and not only heat the water but also use an impeller to circulate it around the container. Since they actively push the water around, that means the temperature is more even throughout the entire vessel. They also tend to be smaller than some of the alternatives, priced generally decently and easy to use. For most people in most situations, we think they’re the way to go.

A water bath is more like an all-in-one appliance; think something around the size of a breadmaker that you fill with water before it heats itself. These have the advantage of being all-in-one, the most like a traditional appliance. But they’re heavy, bulky, expensive and tend not to circulate the water, which can lead to internal temperature variances.

Finally, there are the sous vide controllers. These sit in-between a basic heating appliance (like a rice cooker), and switch the power on and off to keep water at a fixed temperature. They’re very affordable, but require you to have another appliance floating around that will handle frequent power interruptions. They can’t circulate water either.

(There’s also a whole world of homemade and modified systems, ranging from just pouring boiling water into insulated containers on up to permanently modding appliances.)

How we tested

The testing lineup.

The testing lineup.

The testing for this piece is based on two rounds. One in the original version of this article early in 20131, and then again in late 2013 when we tested a number of newly available circulators.

In order to choose which of the circulators was the best for most people, we took the Nomiku, the PolySci Creative, the Sansaire, the SideKIC, and the Anova and put them through three primary tests.

The first was pure speed. Using identical vessels, we found a volume of water that all the circulators could handle, and we tested how long it took those 3.8L to hit a temperature of 135°F (aka, a medium rare steak). All of them, aside from the SideKIC, were on par, taking with a range of 20 minutes to 26 minutes. The SideKIC took a whopping two hours to come to temperature, thanks to its comparatively low power heating element.

We also ran stability tests: a 24-hour marathon to see how well the circulator performed at keeping at a specific temperature over longer periods of time with as little wobbling or variance as possible. All of the units we tested stayed stable within 1°F, and the SideKIC and PolyScience Creative both managed to stay at exactly the same temperature for the entire period.

Finally, we did a relatively low precision sound testing, where the volumes of each circulator were measured at various distances in a quiet room using an iPhone app. With an ambient sound level of 50 dB, we found the SideKIC to be the quietest, with +12 dB right against the circulator, and it being essentially silent by the time you’re 12 inches away. The Nomiku added +19 dB, which fell to +3 dB at 12 inches, the PolySci added +17 dB close by and +2 dB at 12 inches and the Anova was the loudest, with +25 dB falling to +7 dB.

The pick

anovaWe say get the Anova, for $200. It’s a low price for a gadget that has pinpoint accuracy, is incredibly easy to use, heats up water fast, and is very quiet. It’s made by a lab equipment manufacturer with a reputation for accurate and long-lasting gear. There aren’t many reviews of these types of things, but the ones that do exist speak highly of the Anova.

…it has the best combination of features at the lowest possible price.
To be honest,  the Anova isn’t actually  the best in any particular aspect of the circulators we tested. But it has the best combination of features at the lowest possible price. It’s not as quick to heat up or as temperature stable as the PolyScience Creative, but it’s within a couple of minutes for the former, and still well within our requirements for the latter. It’s not as quiet as the SideKIC, but it’s far more powerful. It’s not as cool looking as the Nomiku, but it’s a fair whack cheaper and is more tolerant of different water levels. What matters is that it’s very good overall and has no dealbreaking flaws.

The Anova, like the rest of these circulators, clips onto the side of a vessel you already own, like a stockpot. To use it, you simply hit a switch on the back to turn it on. Then you’re into a simple touchscreen interface. You can set a target temperature of between 32° and 210°F in 1°F increments (or 0° and 99°C in 0.1°C increments, if you’re metrically inclined) with a timer that runs from five minutes to 99 hours in five-minute increments.

Unlike the other sous vide cookers, it can be set up to use its timer one of two ways—to either set off an alarm when the time runs out or to shut down entirely.

anovapotThe interface on the Anova is extremely easy to use. You need no great skill to figure out how to use a couple of up and down arrows and a check box.

In our testing, we used a standardized container of 3.8 L (an amount that all the sous vide circulators could agree on with regards to water levels and volume), and the Anova was able to heat up that volume of water from 69°F to 135°F in a little under 27 minutes—which is within a couple of minutes of  the competition. We also kept it at temperature for 24 hours, and found that it only fluctuated by less than 1°F over the entire course of the day. That’s more than precise enough to keep your roast medium rare. If you’re more than a foot away, the noise produced by the circulator was low enough that it didn’t even register in our testing.

It can heat up to six gallons of water at temperatures up to just below boiling. The pump moves around 3.2 gallons of water per minute, which is more than enough to keep temperatures evenly distributed. Officially, it can handle 5-6 gallon containers, though with most of these, you can push that number quite a bit without any real problem.

When it comes down to accuracy, it was within 1°F of our lab-calibrated thermometer, which is within the bounds of accuracy we’re looking for.

It attaches to your container of choice by a screw tightening system, which works well enough but isn’t quite as elegant as the silicone clamp that the Nomiku uses (more on that later).

In a nice touch, you can rotate the pump cover to pump the water in a different direction if it’s not working too well with your current vessel.

It’s also easy to clean. There’s a stainless steel skirt that protects the heater and impeller. You simply take that off and easily access and clean all the bits and pieces of the Anova.

The Anova also features a low water sensor so that it won’t overheat if your water levels drop down during a long cook (though you can avoid that by covering your cooking vessel). We’re also impressed by the range of water levels that the Anova can handle. With a full 3.5 inches of play between the minimum and maximum water line, it means you’re a lot less likely to trip that sensor, even if you do leave things uncovered.

We’re also keenly aware of the fact that the Anova is made by a lab gear company, which means experience in manufacturing, and a track record in actually producing and maintaining devices. With so many sous vide machines being made by new and starting companies, having a group that is experienced with water-accurate temperature baths seems like a good mark in its favor.

We’d like it if the timer were a bit more accurate, rather than limiting you to five minute intervals.
There are a couple of minor downsides. We’d like it if the timer were a bit more accurate, rather than limiting you to five minute intervals. If you’re trying to do something very time precise, like some fish, it would be useful—but it’s hardly a dealbreaker.

The screen also turns off after a brief time of running, which means that you can’t read it from across the room—but this doubtless saves power and prevents burn in.

Safety not quite certified

The one other thing we’re a bit hesitant on with the Anova is that fact that it hasn’t received either UL or ETL certification to make sure it stands up to rigorous third-party safety testing. (This is not required by law, but peace of mind is an added layer that is nice to have when it comes to things that involve heating elements.)

The folks behind the Anova have assured us that they’re in the midst of getting ETL approval, and are expecting it by January 1st (we will update when this does happen). We talked to Intertek, the company behind the ETL testing, who confirmed with Anova that Anova is working with a company in China to receive certification. However, they are currently self-certified to carry the CE marking for sale in Europe.

This was not an issue for us last year when the category was just emerging and options were few and limited, but now there are competitors available that do have certification, such as the also great (albeit pricier) Nomiku, which has both ETL and UL certifications. We aren’t overly concerned about the Anova’s reliability given the fact that it is made by an established lab-grade water bath manufacturer, but if the lack of current certification is problematic for you (and we could see why it might be, since the vast majority of kitchen appliances have either the UL or ETL stamp) and you are willing to pay extra for it, you should get the Nomiku.

What everyone else thinks

When J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats reviewed the Anova, he complimented its performance, saying “As for how the machine actually functions in terms of circulation and temperature-holding ability, I have no complaints. As a manufacturer of precision laboratory-grade equipment with a longstanding reputation in the field, you can bet your butt that it’s accurate.” He also liked that you can adjust the direction of the water flow and praised the attachment mechanism.

In a review on the Black Peppercorn, the Anova was praised for being able to clamp onto any container, for having a display that’s “clear simple and responsive” and for its speed to bring water to temperature. The review concluded “The Anova product is handy for people wanting to get into sous vide cooking but who do not have the counter space for one of the larger countertop units. This particular product is nice and small and can be packed away until needed. At $199 I am very impressed with the product as it is comparable to some of the more expensive immersion circulation units out the the market.”

TechCrunch did a hands on with the Anova, saying “The fact that this thing is only $199…makes it quite compelling and it made some excellent food in only a few hours.” and “ However, if you’re a foodie and you want to try sous vide, this is probably the best device out there. There are other water ovens online but those are brushing past the $400 mark and higher. This is the first “standalone” model – you do need other equipment to make it work, but not much – and it is surprisingly easy to use and elegantly designed.”

A review at Happy Valley Chow praised how even with the low cost, the Anova feels like a high-quality, high-price unit, saying “While it is one of the cheapest, it definitely feels like one of the most expensive ones, so you feel like you purchased a quality product.“ They are also fans of the big, easy to use input.

If you want to do a bit more reading, there’s a 19 page thread on eGullet of people playing with the thing, the majority of whom seem very pleased with it.

Finally, the folks at Studio Kitchen may have summed it up best, saying “It is not intended purely as a domestic product but rather an excellent value in a professional quality product that makes proper sous-vide cooking viable for chefs with low budgets and ambitious home enthusiasts. After several days of use, it works perfectly and basically eliminates any justification for buying a static bath. Great Product. Ridiculously good price.”

At the end of the day, there were other competitors that outperformed the Anova in particular aspects, but none came close to touching the Anova’s combination of features, performance and value.

Also good

The Nomiku has some extra safety features like a warning if you're cooking with heat that's lower than necessary, but it has a smaller water level tolerance and a bulky power brick that makes a slight whining noise.
The Nomiku, which goes for $299, doesn’t offer anything more in terms of raw performance over the main pick for its extra $100. But what it does get right is a bunch of small things that make it all but foolproof to use and perhaps a better option for someone who wants to be extra careful. For example, if you set the cook temperature below 160°F, (the FDA recommended temperature to prevent bacterial growth), the color of the numbers on the display changes to orange, so you know that it could potentially be hazardous. It is UL and ETL certified, while the Anova is still in the midst of attempting to gain its ETL stamp.

Also, unlike the other models, the Nomiku’s heater physically can’t overheat. Almost all of the other units have failsafes (the SideKIC lacks it), so that if the water levels drop below a certain level the heating units will automatically power down to prevent them from being damaged, but the Nomiku avoids this by using a PTC heater, which physically can’t go over a set temp. The Nomiku also pops up with a warning when the water level drops too low and will tell you if the power supply was interrupted while cooking. It’s just overall dead-simple to use.

nomikupotAlso, it uses a silicone coated clamp to grab onto the wall of the pot, which is faster and easier than the screw-on methods of some of the competition.

On the flip side, it has a smaller water level tolerance than the competition, and it’s very easy to knock the main dial and accidentally slightly change the temperature. And, most annoyingly, it has a power brick that’s separate from the main unit, which means that though the bit that attaches to your pot is a bit smaller, but then you have something extra on your countertop. And the power brick has a constant, slight, high-pitched whine.

The rest

You may be familiar with the Sansaire because it’s gotten more positive media coverage than any other sous vide device this year. Sansaire is a new company birthed from Kickstarter and just started shipping the product earlier this year (and it is frequently sold out.) It hasn’t had a chance to establish a record for reliability, but the fact that it’s only $200 and reportedly does everything the Anova does with an easier-to-use interface bodes well. We’ve read some great reviews — for Serious Eats, Sansaire was just narrowly bested by Anova — but we can’t recommend it just yet. We’re trying to get our hands on one to test it out.

polysci

The PolySci.

PolyScience is a company that spearheaded much of the first generation of sous vide circulators. The Creative is their most affordable unit at $400; it’s built like a tank and extremely accurate. However, it’s unintuitive to use, huge and heavy. It can’t calibrate the temperature and doesn’t really do anything that you can’t get from a unit that’s half its price. The company has just announced an upcoming model called the Sous Vide Discovery, but it won’t be out until later this year, it’s still $300, seems saddled with the same interface, and doesn’t seem to do anything that our $200 pick won’t.

sidekic

The SideKIC.

The SideKIC was our previous choice for this review, but since then, new models have come out that are much more effective for a minimal price difference. The things we disliked about the SideKIC (its slow heater and ultra-precise water level requirements) aren’t a problem on the Anova or Sansaire, which cost just $30 more. The one thing we still like about the SideKIC, though, was just how easy it was to attach to the side of a very small container. The rest of these really need large vessels like stockpots or the like.

A note for international readers

This year’s crop of sous vide circulators marks the first wide availability of 240 V alongside 120 V models. Anova claims they have a 240 V version in the works. Sansaire and Nomiku also both offer higher voltage versions, suitable for cooking in other nations. So for our readers in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and parts unknown, all three major picks should work in your country without blowing the hell up.

The step down

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $100.
The super cheap Dorkfood is a temperature-controlled on/off switch that turns any powered cooking pot like a cheap rice cooker into a sous vide cooker. Rice cooker not included.
The most basic type of sous vide cooker is a probe thermometer that keeps water at a very specific temperature by simply switching on and off the power to a simple kitchen device. You plug a simple appliance like a super-cheap rice cooker into one of these guys, which then plugs into the wall. Good examples are the SousVideMagic, which goes for around $160, the open source Ember Kit (which requires some soldering skills), or the DorkFood DSV. DorkFood was kind enough to hook me up with a review unit as well as a super basic rice cooker and a heating element. For just $99, it’s a close second pick as a simple-but-functional sous vide tool.

The way these switches work is pretty straightforward. You hook them up to the appliance, which must be very basic; it essentially has to be just on/off, with no digital settings or timers. Low-end rice cookers, crock-pots or coffee urns all work really well. Based on the water temperature, the switch simply turns the power on-and-off to keep it at the optimal temperature. If you pick up a direct heating element, you can even just put that directly into a cooler and fill it with water for larger projects. The manufacturers tell me they’ve even used it with a 150-quart ice chest, which is pretty damned impressive. And DorkFood will offer lifetime replacements for the unit itself.

sous_diagramThe advantage to this type of cooker is pretty self explanatory: it’s dirt cheap, and it works well. Once the DSV settled down to the proper temperature, it varied minimally and was simple enough that’s it’s almost impossible to screw up. However, there’s a frustrating downside, too. These units rely on convection currents to maintain a uniform water temperature: the hot water rises and distributes, and the cool water sinks. Unfortunately, that’s not a very efficient system, and it’s very easy to get temperature variance within the cooking. The whole system relies on the temperature being uneven to create that flow. Now, that won’t matter for some things; a steak won’t freak out by a degree or two. But some food, like eggs, can change their results massively on just a minute temperature change. As Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt told me, eggs were the one thing he couldn’t get to work properly on a convection machine.

Now, you could add a circulator of some sort to the setup, essentially looping in an aquarium bubbler or something similar. But you’d need to make sure it’s rated for high enough temperatures to work in heated water, and it means yet another set of wires and power cords being run all over the damned place.

The DorkFood DSV also has the most basic control mechanism available. It just displays the current temperature, allowing you to set the target. No cook times, nothing fancy. But if you’re only dropping $100 on a device, the fact that it’s simple and it works should be enough.

The folks at DorkFood sent me this Oster rice cooker for use with the DSV, which worked just fine for all of my tests. Oster isn’t exactly known for quality cookware, but just about any basic rice cooker will do the job. People on Amazon also seem to like this Aroma model and this one from Panasonic, both of which are simple enough to work. I have seen some other places recommend using a coffee urn for sous vide cooking, but I’d be a bit wary of exposing your sealed food directly against a heating element.

Water baths

The other sort of sous vide cooker you see offered is the water bath. This is a large all-in-one appliance that’s about the size of a bread maker. Rather than clipping onto the side of a pot like a circulator does, it has the pot built in. As such, you fill this enormous appliance up with water, and then it heats it all for you.

However, in our testing, these tend to be less accurate than the circulators; since they don’t push the water around at all, you get pockets of varying temperatures. And since they’re large appliances, filling and emptying them can be heavy and cumbersome. Frankly, you’re better off getting an Anova and a stockpot and just going from there.

Great but expensive
*At the time of publishing, the price was $430.
The most complete and well reviewed, but pricey and not all that different from our pick (which is half the price) in practice. There's a mini version, too. But we would pass.
By far the most popular device in this market is the SousVide Supreme, which arguably was the first vaguely affordable home sous-vide unit. However, at $430 a pop, it’s still pretty spendy.

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $330.
The same as the Sous Vide supreme, the most polished and complete (and expensive) machine here, but with 8.7 instead of 11.2 liters of capacity.
Heads up: The same company has also released a smaller unit called the SousVide Demi, which is a more reasonable $330. (It holds 8.7 liters of water compared to 11.2 liters in the full size.) Alas, both of these devices rely on convection currents to distribute heat, rather than a circulator.

The SousVide Supreme and its siblings are the most widely reviewed of the available sous vide machines, thanks to their early arrival on the scene. For instance, America’s Test Kitchen recommends the SousVide Supreme [subscription required], but it’s also the only device they tested.

The SousVide Supreme looks much like any other appliance you would find in your home and is pretty straightforward to use. It holds an impressive volume of water—even the smaller Demi model—and gains heat very quickly. However, the one thing that I did find frustrating about the SousVide Demi was the difficulty filling and emptying it. Lugging the entire thing over to the sink to load it up or pour it is less than ideal. And it’s not light. Okay, sure, you can fill it up with water from another container, but that’s not going to help when you need to get everything out of it. In my testing, it also seemed to run a couple of degrees cool; though not by a huge amount, the thermometer seemed 1-3°F off.

One significant point in its favor is lifespan. According to the manufacturer, the Demi has been tested for 6,000 cycles, or more than 16 years of daily use. Now, what a machine gets tested for and how it actually does in the kitchen are very different things, but that’s a pretty impressive number.

The SousVide Supreme Demi, though a very cool looking and professional device, didn’t cook my food any better or more accurately than either of the aforementioned products, so I don’t see it being worth the significant extra outlay. It’s nice that it’s a simple, all-in-one solution, but it’s double the price of the SideKIC, and I don’t see it as having double the utility.

The rest

Pass
*At the time of publishing, the price was $160.
The same price as our pick, but less terrific at temperature control. Avoid it.
There’s a more recent all-in-one unit that’s been making some waves due to its extremely low price. You can pick up the AquaChef for just $160. However, you should avoid it as it’s barely cheaper than the main pick, which has far more consistent temperature regulation and ease of use. The controls are not intuitive at all, and the instructions were unclear about how to use it (two of the three face buttons don’t really seem to do anything). The food is loaded into a tiny metal cage and lowered into the water, and it won’t hold much.

However, the biggest issue is the AquaChef’s inability to maintain a consistent temperature. Even with my relatively basic thermometer setup, I noticed some extreme temperature changes between areas of the AquaChef, which at times reached unacceptably high 5˚F variations. Similarly, this guy noticed a 2.5°F variance, which can make a major difference in how some foods turns out. The whole point about sous vide is temperature reliability, and this cheapo, modified deep fryer doesn’t have that.

There’s a recently announced water bath called the Caso, which fixes a number of problems with the likes of the Sous Vide Supreme Demi. It has a circulator as well as drainage for easy emptying. There’s even a vacuum sealer, though it looks that works like a handheld electric model, so it will require special bags to use. But with a steep price of $500, the fact that it’s more than a cubic foot in size, and a timer that only runs for 12 hours, we just don’t see the point in getting this over the Anova.

On the opposite side of things, if you really want to give this type of cooking a try but don’t feel like dropping any cash, there are a multitude of homebrew ways to get something similar (but not quite as exact) at home. All you need is an accurate thermometer, a stove with fairly precise controls, and then ice and hot water on hand to fluctuate if needed. Just nose around the web a bit, and you’ll find dozens of DIY ways to play with sous vide. (Here are a few good ones from Serious Eats and Instructables.)

The vacuum sealer

As mentioned above, in order to cook with a sous vide machine, you need to put your food in a bag and get out all the air from around it. Some people swear that you need a vacuum sealer to do this  (and on occasion it is useful for quick marinades and such) but there’s a free way of doing it with a simple ziplock bag that’ll work just as well in most situations.

Here’s how it works: put the food in the pouch, and almost completely seal it with just a small section remaining open. Immerse the pouch in a bucket of water, leaving the opening just above the water line. Allow the air to escape, slowly pushing the entire thing under, and then seal it just before you submerge the opening. You can see some more discussion of how to this here and here. In some cases, it’s even preferable to vacuum sealing. For example, the vacuum sealer can compress the meat in your burger, leaving you with less of a burger and more of a meat brick.

If you’re dead-set on buying a sealer, Cook’s Illustrated reviewed a handful a few years ago, looking at how they performed over long periods in the freezer. Their primary pick was a $400 high-end vacuum sealer, but to put it bluntly, that’s an obscene amount to pay unless you’re freezing almost all your food. For the comparatively short time periods that you’re looking at with sous vide (a few days at most), their runner-up was the FoodSaver V2240. Unfortunately, that model’s not in production any more, but either the $124 Foodsaver V2450 or the $80 Foodsaver V2244 seem like solid alternatives. The more expensive version seems to primarily benefit from having separate moist and dry settings and a place to store the plastic roll.

Things to look forward to

The Codlo is much like the DorkFood’s temperature controller, but in a much nicer looking package. Set to go for £100 (around $150), it’ll work in a similar way to the DSV, functioning as a barrier between a simple appliance and the wall. But again, it’s barely cheaper than a Sansaire or Anova, so why bother?

The folks at Nomiku also have some interesting new ideas in the works. They’re talking about a new generation of the Ember Kit for modifying existing appliances to turn them into water baths.

Anova is also planning regular updates, and their Senior Engineer Jeff Wu told me that “the updates and optimization schedules are always going on and will add a features on a 6 or 12 month schedule kinda like phone models every year.” It’s not clear if these will be hardware or software-based, and if the latter, if there will be a way of upgrading a model you already have.

The Mellow looks like an attempt to combine smart appliances with sous vide, as well as a few other neat features. Controlled by your smartphone (and smartphone only), it’ll actually chill the water to keep food safely refrigerated until the ideal time to bring it to a cooking temperature so that it’s perfectly done at exactly the time you want it. However, that’s a little bizarre, as one of the advantages to sous vide is that you can leave something cooking nearly indefinitely, as it won’t overcook in a correctly controlled water bath, so it’s arguable how useful that actually is as a feature. The Mellow isn’t set to ship until 2015, but is available for $400 as a pre-order; it will be $500 when it finally ships.

In May, Anova started a Kickstarter for a new sous vide unit, the Anova Precision Cooker. With limited numbers available at prices from $99-$159, it’s a notably more affordable version. Anova demoed a prototype of the new unit for us, and it has a much simpler on-unit interface and slightly reduced power draw (apparently, it flipped a lot of breakers before). But it also features some significant design improvements, like a Bluetooth chip that allows you to control the cooking from your smartphone, and a redesigned adjustable clamp system that lets you fit it in a much wider array of vessels. Serious Eats has a hands-on, and shows off some of the new features. It’s due to be available for purchase in October, but the usual Kickstarter caveats apply. As soon as we can get a model on hand for testing, we will update the piece with what we learn.

Wrapping it up

If you want to get into sous vide, we recommend grabbing an Anova for $200. For that price, you simply clip it onto the side of a pot, set the temperature and you’re in business. It’s simple, affordable, accurate and doesn’t take up much space.

If you’re trying to save money, the DSV is dead simple and great if you want an effective option at the lowest possible price point. Pair it with a $20 cooking appliance and it’ll do most of what you need. If you’re planning on much larger cooking projects, it can also be used for huge volumes of water, assuming you have a heating element that’ll heat a lot of water. Not bad for $100.

Footnotes:

1. For the first version of this article, I was able to get review units for the DorkFood DSV, the SideKIC, the SousVide Demi and the AquaChef. (You can imagine how chaotic my kitchen looks.) How do you even rate these against one another, when they’re so incredibly different? There’s no really clear way to do so, so instead I focused on things that I could keep track of: temperature variation.

Earlier in this piece, I talked a bit about how delicate eggs are. Eggs are almost magically bizarre in just how much of a difference a degree or two can make, since the proteins react very specifically at certain temperature. There are some incredible guides online to the science behind this, and I’d recommend this one, this one (especially the photos about ⅓ of the way down), and, for a super-simple comparison, this one.

Armed with a thermometer and a battery of eggs, I set each of these devices to 144°F, and cooked a handful of eggs held in different positions in the cooker for an hour to see if the temperatures fluctuated over the course of cooking. This method was recommended by CCO of Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt, because hot and cold spots are readily revealed once you open the eggs. The eggs in the SideKIC and the DSV both came out just about identical, and all uniformly cooked. The SousVide Supreme Demi was a bit runnier, but again still a uniform result. The only one that was a bit on the outside was the AquaChef, which seemed to overcook the eggs significantly, and had whites that came out noticeably different between each egg.

I also put all four devices through a much more forgiving test: steak. 130°F should give a perfect, nice, medium rare hunk of dead cow. In this case I used New York strip steaks and seared all four of them off using a scorchingly hot cast iron skillet. Yet again, the SideKIC and DSV produced near-identical steaks. The AquaChef fluctuated noticeably over the course of cooking, but the steak come out more or less on target. The SousVide Supreme Demi was running a smidge cool, and produced a slightly bloodier steak—delicious, but not exactly what I was looking for. Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Pablo Escolar, SideKIC: Sous Vide Review (Accuracy/Stability), February 23, 2012
    "The initial heatup can be time consuming, but the accuracy and stability is totally fine for most home use. You might want to be careful about adding too much frozen product, because I assume if you lower the temperature of the water bath too low you are going to experience a fairly significant stabilization time as the heater will be working overtime to get back up to temperature."
  2. Pete Johnson, SideKIC: Sous Vide on a Budget, SVKitchen, February 20, 2012
    "As I write this, I’m still waiting for the chuck roast to finish its 24-hour cooking time, but I’m already convinced that the SideKIC is a winner."
  3. Sous Vide Machine, America's Test Kitchen
    "Wondering if this machine was as good as its restaurant counterparts or just another overpriced toy, we followed the simple setup instructions and cooked fish, chicken, and steaks—all with perfect results. We had only one gripe: A vacuum sealer—another pricey investment—is necessary but not included. That said, the machine would make a great splurge gift."
  4. J. Kenji López-Alt, Equipment: We Test the $199 Sous-Vide Circulator From Anova, Serious Eats, September 24, 2013
  5. Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator Product Review, The Black Peppercorn, October 2013
  6. John Biggs, Hands On With The Anova Automatic Sous Vide System, Tech Crunch, September 9, 2013
  7. Eric Pepple, Sous Vide Fajitas, Happy Valley Chow, October 29, 2013
  • Keith

    The SideKIC is currently unavailable, and has been for a while. It would be better to recommend a product that can actually be purchased. Also, a few who have purchased the SideKIC are having problems with their units and are having some problems communicating with the company.

    http://forums.egullet.org/topic/141796-anyone-heard-of-the-sidekic-cheap-sous-vide-circulator/page-7

    • tbarribeau

      Hi Keith,

      The SideKIC goes in and out of availability on Amazon rapidly, so it’s sometimes a matter of keeping an eagle eye for when they’re back in stock. I’ve heard Fat Laundry has them in stock
      http://www.fatlaundry.com/products/ica-kitchen-llc-deals-sidekic-kitchen-immersion-circulator

      As for the communications problems, we’re looking into it. We’ll get hold of ICA Kitchen ASAP, and update the piece if it needs changing. Until then we’ve put a “wait” on this.

      -Tim

      • FatLaundry

        Hi all,

        FatLaundry.com does indeed have stock of the SideKIC, and we also honor the warrantee from ICA. We have a great relationship with the exec team there, and will be sure to help coordinate any commmunication that needs to happen. There was a problem with one run of the SideKIC a few months ago, but the company did replace all defective units at no charge, and has since rectified the issue.

        Tom

        FatLaundry, LLC

  • http://pop-pr.blogspot.com Jeremy Pepper

    Or, as a chef friend said … almost no one needs a sous vide machine at home for personal use.

    I still want one.

    • sygyzy

      Tell your chef friend nobody needs anything, really.

  • Phillip Lamb

    Couple quick things:

    1. As much as Kenji would love the promotion, he’s actually Chief Creative Officer, and not CEO.
    2. An easy way to prevent evaporation (and to insulate!) open-topped sous vide containers is to float ping pong balls on top.

    • tbarribeau

      Thanks for the catch, fixing the good on Kenji’s position!

  • Christopher Vee

    Couldn’t you pair an aquarium pump with the DSV and a heating element? Sure a bit more expensive but if you are using the large cooler it would seem like that would do it.

    • tbarribeau

      Hi Christopher,

      It’s funny, this actually came up in the comments before, when this piece was originally run on the Wirecutter, but when we ported it over to Sweethome the comments didn’t move with it, so that whole discussion vanished. So excuse me if I copy paste what I said before, but I believe it still holds. Short version is yes you can, but aquarium pumps often aren’t rated for the high temps used in cooking.

      “There are indeed — since so much of the sous-vide movement is done by people hacking together rigs at home, all sorts of things have been used. The problem with aquarium pumps is that they’re not generally rated for high enough temperatures for use with sustained sous-vide cooking.

      At Cooking for Engineers, someone recommended a cheapo option you could get from eBay, that’ll set you back around $20-$25.
      http://www.cookingforengineers.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=22570#22570

      Q and Abe (who are behind the Nomiku and Ember) have previously suggested an aquarium air pump, but again, I don’t think they’re recommended for that high of a temp

      http://qandabe.com/2011/50-diy-sous-vide-immersion-heatercirculator/

      If you’re ok with your sous vide being composed of a bunch of different components like this, then it’s definitely an option. Just make sure that the pump is rated for a temperature as high as the you’ll want to use while cooking.

      • philbo

        The point of using an aquarium air pump is that it can sit on the counter – only the tube (and a bubbler, if you get fancy) go inside where the temperature is high. Any cheap pump has more than enough power to keep the water moving, and water movement is the key to keeping the temperature stable.

  • Carl

    Thanks for the article! I’ve been eyeing the new kickstarter sous vide “Sansaire” which is due out in the fall (made by the same guy who posted the $75 DIY machine a while back) OR the Anova Sous Vide machine, which is apparently already released with reviews out there (apparently Anova makes circulatory lab equipment). Both run $200, clip onto an existing container and circulate around 3 gal/min. I’d love somebodies insight.

    • tbarribeau

      Hi Carl,

      We recently updated the piece and put it on hold, in partly due to those recent developments. We tend not to recommend Kickstarter projects, because you never know when they’ll actually be available or how reliable the hardware will be — but I’m also hopeful for the Sansaire. But we are getting an Anova out for review, and we’ll see how it stacks up!

  • Marc Williams

    http://www.sousvides.com/ has an about $200 I am interested in trying.

    • tbarribeau

      We’re in the middle of testing that one for the updated piece! So keep your eyes peeled for the results!

  • http://johnnysgarage.blogspot.com/ Yogi Beaty

    I have the Sous Vide supreme, and have been using it since Christmas to great effect. I average about once/week or so, and cook several things for my family of 3 over teh course of a day or day and a half. I use the vac sealer because I often a part of the results for later use. Well worth the price for me.

  • Andrew Kalinchuk

    We’ve changed our pick to the Anova sous vide circulator.

  • Tim

    Sorry,I am late to this discussion (I am now in the market for a SV). Did you guys test the Sansaire? It was a little unclear. I’m trying to make a decision between the Sansaire and the Anova. In his review, it seems to find them pretty similar in performance, but did state that the clamp on the Sansaire was more versatile as the Annova could attach to containers shorter than 8″ tall. He also had a small quibble with the screen/controls on the Annova. Granted, the Sansaire isn’t available, but I probably won’t make a decision until the beginning of the year…

    • tbarribeau

      Hi there Tim,

      We did not get hold of the Sansaire. Despite multiple attempts, they didn’t have any review units to send out way, plus the general shipping has been delayed until January. When they do ship, we’ll put one through the paces and see how it stacks up — but for now we just don’t know. We wanted to make a recommendation for something you could actually buy today.

      Tim

  • sygyzy

    Great article on SV equipment; one of the best I’ve seen. I have been doing SV for a while, starting with a PID and a rice cooker. I currently use a lab immersion circulator and I backed the Sansaire on KS. I am personally excited but these appliances have come down to the $200 level so that the average cook can afford it and play with SV. Also, it give me the ability of doing quick SV setups (sticking a clamp to the side of a stock pot is faster than pulling out a giant plastic bin and my IC. Remember, it’s the appliance that you have readily available, on your counter that you use most often. I have a fancy juicer that I rarely use because it’s tucked away in its box, in an overhead cabinet. On the other hand, I use the Kitchen-Aid stand mixer all the time because it’s right on my counter.

  • Phillip Lamb

    Just an FYI – the Nomiku is -NOT- available in Europe or anywhere in the world with a 230V mains power source. This is due to some utter, utter BS with their manufacturers insisting that the entire device be able to be immersed in water because it is somehow considered a ‘fixed’ device. I have asked and asked and asked the people at Nomiku when they will be getting this resolved, and the only responses I’ve received have been along the lines of “we’re working on it.”

    So for the moment, I would not even look at a Nomiku if you’re in the 230V mains countries. I am pretty upset about this as I bought two of them through Kickstarter and it’s been nearly 18 months since funding ended.

    • tbarribeau

      Oh man, that sucks. I knew they had a version in the works, but wasn’t aware it had hit so many roadblocks. I believe the Anova is currently available to order in a 220V form, but that’s not much help if you’re a Kickstarter backer.

      • Phillip Lamb

        So, they just posted an update this past weekend saying that they had seemingly sorted out their 230V compliance issues and that manufacturing was set to begin in January, with everything ready to ship out before the Chinese New Year. I am sorry to say that I won’t be holding my breath.

  • Phillip Lamb

    Also, that AquaChef thing looks like somebody took an electric ‘deep fryer’ and just upgraded the internals to allow for ‘more precise’ temperature control: http://www.amazon.fr/Severin-2404-Friteuse-2200W-Bross%C3%A9/dp/B000T5O8Z4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1385630978&sr=8-2&keywords=friteuse+electrique

    • tbarribeau

      I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what it is.

  • Brian Plikaytis

    A very nice article. I have the Sous Vide Supreme as well as the SideKIC. I solved the evaporation problem with the SideKIC by placing a piece of plastic wrap (Glad Wrap) over the container. I would also caution against using the Ziploc bags as a substitute for the vacuum sealers. There has been a lot of discussion on the Sous Vide discussion boards about the safety of using the Ziploc bags for this application. The concern is chemical leaching from the plastic into the food. Some of the bag manufacturers state on the box in small print that they are not suitable for immersion cooking over long periods.

  • metabrewing

    What I didn’t see mentioned anywhere was average electrical cost for these products. Considering you’re using them for extended periods of time (sometimes days), the difference between an open top immersion style sous vide and an enclosed and insulated all-in-one could be considerable.

    I know that the Sous Vide Supreme mentions that it only uses the equivalent of a 60 watt light bulb. On the Anova website, the only information that I can find is that it uses a 1000 watt heating element, but not what the average power usage ends up being with the pump and heater running in a normal room temperature environment with a given water volume in an open top container.

    • tbarribeau

      While I haven’t crunched those numbers, I know that for a long cook, you should really be sealing the top of your vessel. You could just put a layer of plastic wrap over the top, but some people use a fitted plastic lid with a hole carved in for the sous vide; some cut pieces of styrofoam to fit; and some just float a whole pile of ping-pong balls. Because, if you don’t, the water will evaporate pretty quickly, and drop the below a level where the sous vide cooker can function.

      And I’m guessing power use would be heavily dependent on the vessel and covering that you use. If you have something that’s already insulated (like a cooler), or use extra material to insulate a container better (wrap it in towels), it’ll engage the heater less frequently, which should make it less expensive to run.

  • Evan Choi

    Is it just me or is nowhere in the article that mentioned what to do with the stock pot’s cover? I assume after you mount a circulator on the side of the pot, you can no long use the pot’s cover. Do you just leave the pot full of temperature maintained water open?

    • tbarribeau

      We do very briefly mention covers in the piece, but not in depth, as this isn’t really a guide on how to do sous vide cooking. But the short answer is that you should still be covering your pot to prevent the water from evaporating to the point where it’s below the minimum water line of the circulator.

      There are a bunch of ways to do this. Probably the most basic is just to use plastic wrap or tinfoil, which you can place around the circulator, and cover the rest of the top. Some people make custom lids out of plastic or styrofoam, and cut inserts for the circulator (or if you’re using a plastic container that already has a lid, they cut out a section from that so it fits tight). I’ve also heard of people floating a layer of ping pong balls on top, which serves much of the same process.

      You can also wrap your pot in towels, or something else insulating, in order to keep the temp high, and prevent the heater from kicking in as often.

      Hope that helps!
      Tim

  • Small Firm Partner

    Nicely done. I have an Anova, a Sansaire, a SideKIC, and a DSV (which I used to control a 1000w bucket heater in an Igloo Ice Cube cooler with an aquarium circulator).

    I agree with the Anova recommendation; my main critique is that the clamp location is suboptimal.

    The Sansaire is good, but the plastic chassis doesn’t seem as substantial as the Anova (and Anova has a track record in this space).

    The SideKIC is woefully underpowered and has a very narrow window for acceptable water level, which is particularly problematic combined with the lack of power. Basically, you have to use it with a small volume of water, which means that adding and removing food alters the water level substantially.

    The DSV worked pretty well until I got water in the mounting holes in the back — which is surprisingly easy to do, since it isn’t held above the water level automatically. And although using noisy mechanical relays saved them a couple bucks over solid state, it was a bad choice, IMHO.

  • http://bulkowski.org/ Brian Bulkowski

    Hi – one thought for an update to the article.

    I am using the Anova for cheesemaking, where I want to have a water bath at a precise temperature for several hours. The Anova rocks for this – sort of. Because of its size, I need a vessel that’s about 16″ in diameter for the water bath + anova, to then put my main stainless steel pot for the milk during the ripening phase. The Anova should be a RADICAL improvement in my process control.

    Any suggestions for getting pots this big, because the Anova only goes in water? I’ve been cruising amazon and a lot of the other sites, and haven’t found quite the thing yet.

  • A K

    Not sure if I want my chicken to have the consistency of butter, or a steak without a nice charred crust…

    • tbarribeau

      You do still sear your foods, finishing them up under intense heat after they’ve complete the sous vide cooking process in order to get a char, and induce the maillard reaction. You can do this with a very hot skillet, on a barbecue, under a broiler, or (if you’re hardcore), with a blowtorch.

  • Dkharwell

    I hope now that the Sansaire is widely available, that we’ll be getting an article update soon? I’ve heard lots of good things about both of these units.

    • tbarribeau

      We’re probably going to try and doing a big update to the piece once the updated Anova comes out, including pitting it head to head with the Sansaire. But the Sansaire is quite a bit bulkier than our main pick, and according to some people I’ve talked to that have them, there are are some problems with the intake cover coming loose.

  • metabrewing

    Has anyone seen this one yet? To me, this is the way to go because it can keep the food item cold until it is time to start heating it, you can monitor the cooking from your phone while away, it learns your preferences, and you don’t have to jerry-rig a container for the cooking. http://mellow.refr.cc/35VX68R

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