The Best Sous Vide Gear
If you’re looking to get into sous vide, the way to go is the Anova Precision Cooker. It’s made by a lab equipment manufacturer with a reputation for making accurate water baths, and though it costs only $180, it provides temperature precision on par with much more expensive machines. Unlike every other clip-on sous vide circulators we’ve tested, the slim Precision Cooker’s unique attaching mechanism allows it to work with almost any size or shape container, making it the most versatile machine we’ve seen yet.
For three years now we’ve been testing sous vide cooking tools, and the Anova Precision Cooker makes the most sense for a home chef due to its low price, ease of use, and the ability to adjust to pots and containers of almost any size. While the heating element is underpowered compared to some of the competition, its flexibility and stowability make it more useful for most people. And, like just about every sous vide circulator we’ve tested, it’s stable and accurate enough to use for even the most exacting of cooking techniques.
We think the Anova Precision Cooker is the best choice. But if it goes out of stock, or becomes unavailable, the $200 original Anova sous vide circulator is excellent and widely available. While it requires a larger vessel to work in and lacks the app compatibility of the Precision Cooker, the original Anova heats water faster and has a bright, easy-to-use touchscreen.
If you’re concerned about safety, it might be worth spending the extra money on a Nomiku. While its $300 price tag is substantially above the competition, it is UL and ECL certified, will alert you if there’s ever a power interruption while you’re cooking, and is unable to overheat because it uses a PTC heating element, which physically can’t pass a certain temperature.
Over the last 24 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. This is the first time we’ve seen so many sous vide cookers that are simple enough for everyday home use. Our picks have all the features that we think are important and the performance to back it up at a price that’s reasonable.
Table of contents
Who is this 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, those that are willing to wait for hours for food to finish cooking. Over the last few years, sous vide cooking has blossomed into the public consciousness. Thanks to the technique’s prevalence in the kitchens of high-end restaurants as well as a glut of demystifying literature, demand for home-use sous vide circulators soared, and many inventors have been using Kickstarter to fund the creation of affordable machines. 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), 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, making that happen is quite easy.
The best of these devices are very simple to use, and allow you to expand the margin of error in creating the perfect piece of food. It’s like a more controllable version of a crock-pot, and it can give you some pretty interesting food outcomes thanks to its accuracy.
Over the past few years, sous vide technology has really come into its own, filtering down from labware that cost thousands down to devices that you can reliably get for less than $200. If you’ve been curious about the technology, now is the perfect time to give it a try. Recent interest and competition now means that sous vide devices are affordable and easy to use.
Plus, 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. But if you want the best technical breakdown of sous vide cooking that’s available at no cost online, Douglas Baldwin’s excellent site Sous Vide for the Home Cook is your best bet. It’s a fantastic look at the science of sous vide, offering a breakdown of proper handling, cooking times, and various other techniques. If you’re interested further in the science of cooking and other advanced techniques, Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home are both bibles for more information. They’re expensive but immaculately researched (and gorgeously photographed).
It’s also worth checking out Serious Eats’ Sous-Vide 101 series (and further recipes), SVKitchen, the recipe series from the people behind SousVide Supreme (which are just as applicable to other machines), BagSoakEat from Nomiku, or—if you’re into the no-carbs thing—the Nom Nom Paleo sous vide recipe sets.
How we picked
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. For most people in most situations, the immersion circulator is the perfect sous vide cooker. These are gadgets that latch onto the side of a vessel—be it a 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, the temperature is more even throughout the entire vessel. Immersion circulators also tend to be smaller than some of the alternatives, priced generally decently and easy to use.
There are three traits 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.
Speed – You don’t want to be waiting for hours for it to bring a container of water up to temperature. You need a powerful heating element that can rapidly warm a large volume of water and keep it warm as you cook.
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, and we know you want to save money where you can.
Stability also matters but is less important than some think. Generally, low and slow foods can handle a little more variation than things that need to be cooked quickly, but you still want it to stay on target.
Not every sous vide circulator has a timer built in, but for us, it’s a useful feature. Both count-up (just showing cooking time) and count-down (with an alarm when done) types are very handy to keep track of how a cook is going, but the ones that shut down after a specific time are less so, as they can let food drop to a temperature where bacterial growth becomes a problem.
People also worry about what happens if your power supply is interrupted in a long cook, because if your sous vide machine starts again after a stop of unknown length, you could also breed bacteria. The Nomiku changes color on its display to let you know this has happened, but we don’t think it’s an important feature, as an interruption of power is not a common occurrence for most people.
Calibration is useful, assuming you have a trustworthy thermometer, like our step-up pick the Thermapen, that you can test the sous vide against. But if you don’t know how accurate your thermometer is, then there’s a chance you’ll make things worse. So it’s a pretty good feature for the more experimentally-minded home chef who has some accurate measuring tools for calibration.
A more powerful heater will warm up water faster, and rebound from putting in cold food more quickly, but isn’t any more efficient in the long run, and is more likely to blow a fuse in your kitchen. There’s a balancing act of power vs utility—but keep in mind you can always give a lower wattage circulator a boost with some hot water from a kettle. Right now, most of the circulators are powered at around 1000-1100 W (about the same as a full-sized microwave), or 750-800 W (about the same as a mini microwave). Neither is a dealbreaker, but is something to take into account if you know your switches get tripped easily in the kitchen.
There are a bunch of other factors we took into account. How does it attach? How precise does the water level have to be? How big is it? How big of a container does it need? How loud is it? Is it easy to use? Does it have audible alarms so you can know when it’s at temperature? These things can separate the great sous vide machines from the good.
How we tested
This latest round in 2014 is our third iteration of reviewing and recommending sous vide devices for the home. Our longterm testing gives us an unparalleled look at how the technologies have changed over this period—and it also has helped us figure out what’s actually important and what isn’t.
In 2013, we took the Nomiku, the PolySci Creative, the SideKIC, and the Anova v1 and put them through three primary tests. We tested how long they took to make a 3.8-L vessel hit 135°F (the temp of a medium-rare steak), their stability over the course of 24 hours; and how loud the circulators were in a quiet room.1
This year, we compared the new $180 Anova Precision Cooker, the $200 Sansaire (which we weren’t able to test in time last year), and the Anova v1, the reigning champ. As with previous years, we evaluated speed to reach specific temperatures, accuracy, and noise levels, but we changed how we tested some other factors. After talking to experts and amateurs alike, we realized that longterm accuracy isn’t that important to test, so we focused instead on short-term accuracy. Foods that require 12 hours or more of cooking don’t require the 1°F accuracy and minimal variation that you see in dishes like salmon or eggs. When you’re cooking those over short periods of less than an hour, then you need to be accurate. But for 72-hour ribs? A degree or two in either direction doesn’t hurt.
For the first time, we also looked at power draw, after people raised questions about how much energy it uses to keep one of these things going for a long cook.
|Anova v1||Anova Precision Cooker||Sansaire|
|Water starting temperature||69°F||69°F||69°F|
|Time to bring 8.5 L of water to 135°F||24:36||39:14||22:41|
|Energy used to bring to temperature||0.41 kWh||0.43 kWh||0.43 kWh|
|Energy used in one hour||0.59 kWh||0.6 kWh||0.55 kWh|
|Energy used after 12 hours of cooking||2 kWh||2.04 kWh||1.81 kWh|
|Sound level directly at circulator (47 dB ambient)||64 dB||54 dB||52 dB|
|Sound level 12 inches from circulator (47 dB ambient)||53 dB||50 dB||48 dB|
For most home cooks, the $179 Anova Precision Cooker is the best bet, due to its low price, small size, and flexibility. It’s one of the cheapest ways to get into sous vide cooking, and thanks to an innovative adjustable attachment system, the new Anova works with a much smaller volume of water than the previous iteration did—so there’s now no need to heat up a gallon of water just to cook a couple of chicken breasts. The Precision Cooker improves on the old design with a simpler, scroll wheel-based interface, which is preferable to the slow-to-adjust touchscreen on the original Anova. It also adds a beep alert when water has come to temp, has circuit-saving lower wattage, and performs more quietly. The Precision Cooker is made by a lab equipment manufacturer with a reputation for accurate and long-lasting gear, which is important for getting precision based cooking.
About the size of a rolled-up newspaper (well, the Sunday edition), the Anova Precision Cooker is smaller than pretty much anything else on the market, including the older Anova version 1. It’s not far off from the Nomiku but lacks the external pack that adds mass to the Nomiku’s system. The clamp that attaches to the container of your choice is a connected to a ring that has the unique ability to slide up or down the length of the shaft in order to accommodate vessels of varying height. Anova has even told us that the Precision Cooker can sit flush on the bottom of a container without blocking the water flow at all. All the other sous vide circulators we’ve analyzed have attachment mechanisms that are fixed in place, which gives you far less flexibility when it comes to cooking vessel.
This has some interesting side benefits. Not only does it allow you to work with a larger array of containers (so you’re not just limited to large stockpots and the like), but when you use more squat containers, the smaller volumes of water are also much faster to heat up (which this machine needs, due to its weaker heating unit). The flip side of that, though, is that having a smaller volume of water means it has less thermal mass, and will be more disrupted when you put in cold items or top up the water levels. One other advantage of using less water, is that, well, you use less water. There’s a drought out here in California, and it seems pretty damn wasteful to use a gallon or two of water just to cook a steak.
The adjustable mount also means that you can swivel the main column, which is great if you want to look at the dial from a different position.
The Precision Cooker simplifies the user interface from the original Anova even further. The large full-color touchscreen on the older model has been replaced by a scroll-wheel and a small readout. You use this to set the temperature, simply by scrolling up and down. Then there’s a start button and buttons for starting a timer or pairing over Bluetooth.
We’ll get more into the heating element of the Anova Precision Cooker in a bit, but the company deliberately dropped it from 1100 W to 800 W, which will apparently make it less likely to trip the circuitry in your kitchen. Most modern kitchens should have a 20 amp circuit, which should allow for to 2400 W at 120 volts without tripping—more than enough for the full power heater and whatever else you’re running in the kitchen. But older buildings will sometimes run as low as 10 amps, which means an 1100 W heating element is already pushing close to the maximum of 1200 W, and adding anything to that same circuit will cause trouble. Even more modern kitchens will sometimes have outlets set for 15 amps, even if the circuitry can handle more. Depending on how and when your kitchen was wired, 1100 W may have been pretty close to the maximum load it was designed for on a single circuit, and turning on anything else may trip it. Reducing the wattage means you’re less likely to accidentally lose power while cooking, which means fewer failed cooks and less food waste.
The new Anova is very quiet—even quieter than its predecessor. We tested in a quiet room (ambient level = 47 dB) and used a vaguely accurate iPhone app to test volume. The Precision Cooker produced about 7 additional dB right against the circulator itself, which dropped to just 3 dB when measured 12 inches away. The original Anova added 12 dB when in close proximity, dropping to 6 dB at 12 inches. It also tended to run loud after a long cook—during our testing last year, after coming off of a night of cooking, the original Anova added up to 25 dB of noise.
The Precision Cooker also alerts you when it comes to temperature, which the original didn’t, so you don’t have to hang around the kitchen waiting for it. It beeps when it’s just under the desired heat level, so it should be just right by the time you get yourself over to the kitchen.
Unlike some of the other models you can currently buy, the Precision Cooker also allows you to adjust the direction of water flow, so that you don’t get spots of still water where heat isn’t circulating properly, and you can easily take off the metal skirt and throw it in the dishwasher in case it gets gross.
When the Anova Precision Cooker was first revealed to the press in early 2014, Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt said, “when it comes out in September, this will be the best, most cost-effective consumer-grade sous-vide solution on the market.” While the dates may have been a little off (as with most Kickstarters), his praise for the interface, the clamp, and the price seem to have remained accurate.
iOS and Android apps
One of the big selling points of the Anova Precision Cooker is that you can pair it over Bluetooth to your smartphone and control it remotely using a free iOS app, simply called Anova Culinary.
The app’s layout is pretty basic. Upon launch, you’re presented with a long list of recipes, each accompanied by a photo. They’re seemingly organized by the date they were added, and while you can search for a term, there’s no way to sort by type of meal, ingredients, or any other factors — we hope that’s coming in the future. The recipes themselves vary, with everything from “Sous Vide Kangaroo Steak” to “Sous Vide Pineapple-Infused Rum.” What’s notably missing are the very basics. Chicken. Steak. Salmon. The app expects you to find a specific recipe to prepare, rather than giving you the tools to deal with individual ingredients.
Once you’ve selected a recipe, tapping the play button at the bottom of the screen (after you’ve paired to your Precision Cooker over Bluetooth, a simple in-app process) starts the circulator running, getting it up to the prescribed temperature. The water bath’s temperature is displayed at the top of the page, and it’s only slightly laggy; you may notice that it’s a fraction of a degree off for a few seconds. A bug in the app has the timer start as soon as you hit play to begin heating the water, rather than waiting until the heater hits the correct temperature to begin, but Anova has told us they’re aware of the issue and are working to resolve it.
The app also lets you manually set the temperature and timer. Each is set using iOS’s dial menu. We found it kind of tedious to have to flick, flick, flick until the right temp or time is found, and would prefer the ability to just type in the figures. It’s a small complaint, all things considered. The final feature is the ability to calibrate the Anova Precision Cooker. Tapping on that listing in the Settings menu brings up a warning: “Caution: If you’re not familiar with this feature, please contact Anova support for instructions.” We’ll be playing around with the calibration tool in the future.
Our initial impression of Anova’s app is that it’s a nice extra, but we’re thankful the cooker doesn’t rely on it to function. If you find a recipe you’d like to try, it’s convenient to be able to simply tap one button and have the app take care of setting the details. In the future, we’d love to see better organization, and features that dial in the right temperature and time based on the kind of food you’re cooking and its dimensions. Again, this is only a pre-release version of the app. Once it formally launches in the App Store, we’ll be putting it through its paces.
If you find the official Anova app lacking, software from a third-party may offer what you’re looking for. We’ve had a chance to check out two of them: Jonas Frei’s Sous Vide °Celsius ($4, iOS only) and Palagraph’s Anova Remote ($2, Android only).
Sous Vide °Celsius packs in some of the features we wish Anova included. Instead of just a scrolling page of recipes, it lists the different proteins you might be cooking with a sous vide circulator, plus vegetables and fruits. Tapping on any of those categories brings up a selection of recipes for different cuts. Some allow you to adjust the cook time based on the thickness of the cut, and desired doneness. For example, a rare 20mm thick rib eye steak will cook at 125.5° F for 40 minutes, while a 50 mm steak cooked to medium will require 138° F for three hours and 35 minutes. An on-screen ruler helps you measure the thickness.
The app is not perfect. It doesn’t have the high level of control for every cut, and while it can send temperature settings to the Anova Precision Cooker, it can’t set the timer, for some reason. An in-app timer works just as well though, with push notifications as an added benefit. If you’ve already invested in the Anova Precision Cooker, the $4 investment strikes us as well worth it. There’s no reason not to start with the official app that’s free, but if find yourself wanting more, we recommend picking up Sous Vide °Celsius.
Anova Remote is more of a hacker tool, and not geared toward the everyday user. The Google Play Store description says it best: “It doesn’t provide food recipes or calculations for correct times and temperatures. It just provides comprehensive control for the device.” This includes the temperature, as well as controls for calibrating the device, setting multi-step programs, recording data plots, changing the color of the scroll wheel, and even the ability to send any command to the device (with the warning that “some of the commands might render the device non-operational.”) Anova Remote isn’t as user-friendly as Sous Vide °Celsius, and we’re not overly excited by it, but it could be a fun tool for those who really want to play around with the Anova Precision Cooker, and aren’t worried about the possibility of bricking it.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The biggest issue—and it’s one that we don’t take lightly—is that new orders on the Anova Precision Cooker aren’t shipping yet. Anova funded this model through Kickstarter, and while we usually don’t back items that aren’t shipping immediately, we’re making an exception here because we think the new model is worth waiting for. Anova seemed to be mostly on track towards fulfilling orders for those who backed their campaign by December 25 (you can see the comments on this post from upset backers who haven’t received theirs yet), and pre-orders are scheduled to ship starting in January 2015, but as with all Kickstarter-funded items, we don’t know how firm that ship date is. We won’t hold our breath. At the time of press, we asked Anova how long someone would have to wait if they pre-ordered in mid-December, and they told us it would ship the first week of January.
The price drop in the Precision Cooker was done at the cost of some functionality. Most obviously, the 800-W heater takes longer to warm water than the previous version. To bring a 8.5-liter vessel from 69°F to 135°F took 39:14 minutes on the new version, versus 24:36 on the previous. According to Anova, the Precision Cooker is around 20% slower than the original unit, and they say it’ll take an extra 4-8 minutes to heat up a 5.5-L volume of water. That’s a bummer, but you can always give it a bit of a boost by using hot water from your kettle to preheat the bath.
Anova isn’t the only company that has lower-power sous vide circulators on the market. The SideKIC, which was the very first product we recommended in this category, was much slower to heat. The $300 PolySci Discovery is only 750 W, and the $300 Sous Vide Supreme Demi is just 550 W (though it’ll heat a bit faster due to being completely enclosed and insulated).
The increased simplicity is a good thing overall, but it has made performing some tasks more difficult than it should be. For instance, to change the temperature units between Celsius and Fahrenheit, you have to press and hold the start button until it beeps at you. To get access to a built-in timer is even more convoluted: You have to first press the start button for eight seconds, then the timer icon for three seconds, set the timer with the scroll wheel, then hit start to begin a countdown.
The Anova Precision Cooker also is not UL or ETL certified. These are independently-tested safety certification standards, which require meeting stringent safety and use guidelines, as well as regular followups to make sure the products are still up to standard. If this matters to you, go for the Nomiku instead.
The original Anova cooker is still an excellent alternative. It’s a bit more expensive than the Precision Cooker, with a list price of $200 (though it does drop on sale sometimes), and it’s bulkier, noisier, and has a fixed clamp that requires larger containers for cooking.
On the flip side, the larger heater brings water to temperature faster and rebounds more quickly when you put in cold items or add more water. The touchscreen offers more controls than the simple interface on the Precision Cooker does (we don’t know yet how much the PC’s app will help). With it, you can set easily set temperature, timers, change units, and even calibrate the internal thermometer if needed.
The original Anova has the ability to run its timer either up or down, depending on which you’d prefer, which is a nice touch. 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.
The Anova v1 was our previous pick in this category, and still retains all of the strengths we liked about it. It still offers a good combination of speed, power, precision, stability, and price. It’s just that you can now get something that’s also more flexible, smaller, more affordable, and quieter, which is probably a better bet for most people. But if you want that extra push of power, or you want something that you know you can buy right now instead of a unit that’s not universally available yet, get the original.
Also great: for food safety concerns
The Nomiku, which goes for $299, doesn’t offer anything more in terms of raw performance over our main pick. But what it does get right are 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 about safety. 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 be hazardous. It is UL- and ETL-certified, which means the Nomiku was independently tested for safety and usability by two different bodies to make sure it’s up to standards, while the Anova is neither.
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 is built with a hard limit of a temperature that they’re unable to surpass. 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 dead simple to use.
Also, 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 our main pick, but it’s still fixed in place, so it isn’t as flexible when it comes to vessel sizes.
Unfortunately, the Nomiku has a smaller water-level tolerance than the competition, which means you have to pay closer attention to the rate of evaporation in case the water level fall below acceptable levels. Also, it’s very easy to knock the main dial and slightly change the temperature. Most annoyingly, it has a 4 x 4 x 1.5-inch power brick that’s separate from the main unit, which means that the bit that attaches to your pot is smaller, but it’s connected to something extra on your countertop. And the power brick has a constant, slight, high-pitched whine.
In 2014, we were finally able to test the $200 Sansaire because it wasn’t available when we did the previous iterations of the guide. While it’s a capable and affordable device, it’s also much larger than the competition and its clip system doesn’t attach as easily or as solidly as any of the other models we played with. There’s also no timer functionality whatsoever. You can get more features from the Anova v1 for the same price. To Sansaire’s credit, the large LED display is easy to read and it uses slightly less power than either Anova circulator. It was also the quietest model we tested, putting out just 5 dB of sound even when right up close to the circulator. Overall however, the Anovas offered more bang for your buck.
PolyScience is a company that spearheaded much of the first generation of sous vide circulators, but haven’t managed to keep up with the current low prices of other units. The Creative is $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. On the more affordable end is the $300 Sous Vide Discovery, but it is even less powerful than the Anova Precision Cooker, and there’s nothing here that seems worth the $120 difference.
The SideKIC was our pick for the very first version of this guide, 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 with the new competition. The SideKIC is not widely available now (though if you’re really keen, you can grab one here). The only real advantage it had was being able to fit on the side of very small pots, which the Anova Precision Cooker can also do for just $10 more.
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 that doesn’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 turn 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. The Caso’s timer will run up to 99 hours, and you can delay the start time by up to 12. But with a steep list price of $500 and a size over a cubic foot, we just don’t see the point in getting this over the Anova.
The $99 DorkFood DSV is the most basic type of sous vide cooker, with 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.
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.
While $100 is pretty cheap, you still need to have an appliance to plug into (so you’re looking at at least $30 if you don’t have one already), and then some manner of water circulator if you want to push the heat around by anything other than convection. It also won’t have any of the neat tools like timers, alarms, or wireless controls, and it will have cables and cords running in all directions. The extra $80 for the Precision Cooker gets you a lot more accuracy and an impressively easy to use and flexible device that will probably suit more home cooks better.
Of all-in-one water bath devices, by far the most popular is the SousVide Supreme, which arguably was the first vaguely affordable home sous-vide unit. However, at $430 a pop, it’s still pretty expensive—but the same company makes the smaller and more affordable $300 SousVide Demi. Both of these devices rely on convection currents to distribute heat, rather than a circulator.
Some people prefer the all-in-one form factor of a water bath, and they do have the advantage of a known size, shape, and insulation, so they can theoretically have more repeatable and reliable performance. One expert we interviewed also liked that you can use liquids other than water, because the lack of a circulator means they’re easy to clean—but that’s beyond what most folk will probably require. It also dramatically improves the lifespan of the device: the Demi has been tested for 6,000 cycles (or more than 16 years of daily use). Fewer moving parts means fewer things to break.
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.
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. However, you might take on a little water while cooking with this method. We ran a test by cooking something with no water in it (a couple of small containers filled with rocks for weight) in a Hefty freezer bag over the course of 12 hours. It took on 38 mL of water—not a huge amount, but if you’re worried, you can double-bag. In reality, if you seem to take on a lot of liquid while cooking, it’s most likely coming from inside the food.
If you’re dead-set on buying a sealer, the only major editorial review we found was from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required). They updated their picks of vacuum sealers in 2014, and this year picked more affordable alternatives to their previous $400 recommendation. They suggest the $189 Weston Professional Advantage Vacuum Sealer as a powerful, heat-sealing model—though it doesn’t seem that widely available. Alternatively, for a valve-sealed model that requires special bags, they suggest the $60 Waring Pro Pistol Vac Professional Vacuum Sealer System, which doesn’t do quite as good a job of sealing as the Weston in their tests, but is far smaller and more affordable. Amazon reviewers seem to love it, giving it 4.6 stars from over 100 reviews. Just be sure to stock up on bags.
A note for international readers
This year’s crop of sous vide circulators marks the first wide availability of 220-240V alongside 120-V models. Anova has a 220-V version of the original immersion circulator, with one for the Precision Cooker coming soon. 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.
Things to look forward to
At CES 2015, Anova unveiled the concept for their next sous vide device, running hot on the heels of the Precision Cooker: the Anova Touch. For once, they’re not Kickstarting the device; instead, they plan to offer it for sale directly in summer 2015. For this model, Anova plans to put a lot more power back into the unit, bumping it to an 1,100-W heater (with the accompanying worries about tripping circuits in kitchens). They may also add a variable strength water circulator which will theoretically allow for lower circulation strength when cooking delicate foods that might start to break up under a lot of pressure, such as tilapia. The Touch will also have Wi-Fi controls and a touchscreen, rather than the wheel of the Precision Cooker.
One interesting application for this Wi-Fi tech is that Anova should be able to remotely disable devices—apparently these things have a habit of being stolen.
Anova didn’t give us a firm price point for the Touch.
In August 2014, Nomiku announced a followup model to its original sous vide cooker in a Kickstarter campaign. Fully funded in just hours, the new cooker features a major hardware redesign that’s notably shorter and more rectangular than the original. It requires just 1.5 inches of water and can now be controlled over Wi-Fi with an app. It’s not expected out until March 2015 (with the usual Kickstarter caveats that that might be pushed back), and will retail for $250. When it’s available, we’ll definitely be sure to try and test it.
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. It isn’t out yet, but it will cost almost as much as the Anova Precision Cooker and offer fewer features.
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. The problem with this is that it means the food will spend longer the potentially dangerous temperature where bacteria can rapidly grow. When you take something from fridge to hot water, that period is minimized—but by having the product in the water as it slowly comes to temp, you’ll spend a long time in that danger zone. And the Mellow isn’t set to ship until Summer 2015 according to the last update, but is available for $400 as a pre-order; it will be $500 when it finally ships. That’s a pretty steep price.
Wrapping it up
If you want to get into sous vide, we recommend grabbing the Anova Precision Cooker for $179. It’s affordable, small, accurate, and the most flexible of the current crop of devices due to its adjustable collar that lets it clip onto the side of many different container shapes and sizes. It’s easy to use, and the app is a useful extra that let’s you control it from the other side of your house.
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."
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."
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."
Equipment: We Test the $199 Sous-Vide Circulator From Anova, Serious Eats, September 24, 2013,
Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator Product Review, The Black Peppercorn, October 2013
Hands On With The Anova Automatic Sous Vide System, Tech Crunch, September 9, 2013,
Sous Vide Fajitas, Happy Valley Chow, October 29, 2013,
Anova Sous Vide Circulator Available: anyone try it?, eGullet Forums, July 28, 2013
Anova Immersion Circulator, Studio Kitchen
Originally published: January 10, 2015