If you’re looking to get into sous vide, the way to go is the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi. It’s made by a lab equipment manufacturer with a reputation for making accurate water baths, and though it costs only $200 at the time of writing, it provides temperature precision on a par with much more expensive machines. Unlike other clip-on sous vide circulators we’ve tested, the relatively slim Precision Cooker Wi-Fi has a unique attaching mechanism that allows it to work with almost any size or shape of container, making it a very versatile machine.
For four years now we’ve been testing sous vide cooking tools, and the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi makes the most sense for a home chef because it comes with a low price, is easy to use, and can adjust to pots and containers of almost any size. While the heating element is underpowered compared with some of the competition, its flexibility makes 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. The addition of Wi-Fi provides a stable wireless connection and the ability to set and control the cooker remotely, whereas the Bluetooth version connects to an app only within limited Bluetooth range. This new version has 900 watts of power and circulates water more quickly.
In many ways, the ChefSteps Joule is equal or superior to the Anova Precision Cooker. It’s physically smaller, it’s just as accurate, it heats up water faster, and it can cook with less water in a pot thanks to a magnetic base and its unique pump system. We love the app, which works over either a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection. What the Joule lacks is on-board controls. There’s no screen, no buttons, nothing. It’s entirely controlled from a smartphone or tablet, meaning you can’t adjust the temperature or start a cook from the unit itself. For some people this won’t be a problem at all, but having to rely on a secondary device as the only form of control is a big enough demerit to keep the Joule from becoming our top pick.
Sous vide cooking is only the first step when it comes to meat. After the protein is cooked through, searing provides a delicious, crispy brown exterior. While you can finish your food in a pan, we found Bernzomatic’s TS8000 to be the fastest tool for searing. It attaches to a standard camping propane tank and is easy to use.
Nick Guy has been interested in the intersection of food and tech since middle school when Emeril Live was appointment viewing for him. He’s been cooking sous vide since November 2014, when he first got his hands on the Anova Precision Cooker (if you don’t count his pretty successful attempts with hot water and a cooler!).
Tim Barribeau has written for The Sweethome and The Wirecutter since 2012, covering both gadgetry and cooking tools. In that time he’s interviewed James Beard Award-winning authors and chefs, performed blind taste tests with Japanese chefs, and persuaded ice cream parlors to spend hours slinging ice cream with different sizes and shapes of scoops. He also makes a mean sous vide salmon.
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 who are willing to wait for hours for food to finish cooking. Over the past 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. They’re like a more controllable version of slow cookers, and they can give you some pretty interesting food outcomes thanks to their accuracy.
Over the past few years, sous vide technology has really come into its own, filtering down from labware that cost thousands 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 A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking is your best bet. It’s a fantastic look at the science of sous vide, offering details about 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 going to Serious Eats and checking out the Sous-Vide 101 recipe series (and more), from the people behind SousVide Supreme (which is just as applicable to other machines), EatTender, or—if you’re into the no-carbs thing—the Nom Nom Paleo sous vide recipe sets.
There are primarily three 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 four traits to look for in a sous vide cooker:
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 pick, the Thermapen. 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 it isn’t any more efficient in the long run, and it is more likely to blow a fuse in your kitchen. There’s a balancing act of power versus 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 1,000 to 1,100 watts (about the same as a full-size microwave), or 750 to 800 watts (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.
This is our fifth iteration of reviewing and recommending sous vide devices for the home. Our long-term 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.
This year, we compared the new version of our previous pick, the Anova Precision Cooker, and ChefSteps’s Joule. Previously, we tested the Wi-Fi Nomiku, VacMaster SV1, Gourmia GSV130 Digital Sous Vide Pod, and Bluetooth version of the Anova Precision Cooker. As with previous years, we evaluated speed (to reach specific temperatures), accuracy, and noise levels. 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.
With each, we heated 1.5 gallon of water—enough to fill a stockpot—from 69 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, measuring the temperature at both points with the Thermapen (an accurate instant-read thermometer) and recording the time to get to temp. We continued to let the circulators run for 12 hours and did add hot water as necessary to account for evaporation and keep the water above the minimum level.
|Anova (Wi-Fi, 900 W)||Joule||Anova (Bluetooth)||Anova (Wi-Fi, 800 W)||Gourmia||Nomiku||VacMaster|
|Thermometer starting temp (°F)||69||69||69||69||69||69.2||69|
|Circulator display temp||69||69||69.6||69.6||69||69||69|
|Time to reach 135 °F (minutes)||20||15||35||22||18||20||15|
|Thermometer read temp||135||135||135||135||137||135.3||133.2|
|Circulator display of temp||135||135||135||135||136||135||135|
|kWh at temp||0.26||0.24||0.34||0.33||0.34||0.33||0.31|
|kWh after 1 hour||0.32||0.25||0.41||0.42||0.45||0.41||0.41|
|kWh after 12 hours||1.07||0.44||2.17||2.24||2.21||1.77||1.75|
|Ambient sound (db)||35.9||35.9||36.1||36.1||36.1||36.1||36.1|
|Sound at unit||52.3||52.7||54.3||57.4||74.3||60.4||67.4|
|Sound at 12 inches||42.9||44.3||45.5||45.6||60||43.8||48.8|
The Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is the best bet for most home cooks due to its low price, relatively 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 Anova works with a much smaller volume of water than the earliest iteration did—so now you can cook with as little as two and a half inches of water in almost any container. The Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is all but identical to the previous version, which improved on the old design with a simpler, scroll wheel-based interface that is preferable to the slow-to-adjust touchscreen on the original Anova. The only differences are small internal power bumps. It also has a beep alert when water has come to temp, circuit-saving lower wattage, and quieter performance. The Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is made by a lab equipment manufacturer with a reputation for accurate and long-lasting gear, which is important for precise cooking.
About the size of a rolled-up newspaper, the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is smaller than pretty much anything else on the market, including the older Anova models; our runner-up pick is the only exception. The clamp that attaches to the container of your choice is 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 Wi-Fi 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 the 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 the water will have less thermal mass and 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 over 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 Wi-Fi has a simple interface that’s identical to that of its predecessor, based around 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 Wi-Fi.
We’ll get more into the heating element of the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi in a bit, but the company has upped it from 800 watts to 900 watts, which is still low enough to prevent it from tripping the circuitry in your kitchen. The original Anova circulator ran at 1,100 W. Most modern kitchens should have a 20-amp circuit, which should allow for to 2,400 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 a 1,100 W heating element is already pushing close to the maximum of 1,200 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, 1,100 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 Anova Precision Cooker is very quiet. We tested in a quiet room (ambient level of 36.1 decibels) and used a vaguely accurate iPhone app to test volume. The Precision Cooker Wi-Fi produced about 56.1 dB right against the circulator itself, which dropped to just 46.1 dB, about the level of the background noise in a larger room, when measured 12 inches away.
The Precision Cooker Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi 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 if it gets gross.
The biggest update from the original Precision Cooker to the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is, well, Wi-Fi. It isn’t required—like the first Anova Precision Cooker, the circulator can be used out of the box without an internet connection and you don’t lose any functionality. The main benefit of Wi-Fi is range. Bluetooth’s range is generally limited to about 33 feet. With the original Precision Cooker, you can’t necessarily set the timer or temperature if you are out of the kitchen, or at least too far from it. The Precision Cooker Wi-Fi can be controlled from anywhere—another room in your home or beyond.
Connecting to a wireless network is painless thanks to the cooker’s Bluetooth bridge; it allows for an ad hoc connection directly to your phone using an app (iOS/Android), where you can then put in your Wi-Fi password to share with the circulator. Once paired, the temperature and timer can be set remotely. Whereas you might not have wanted to attempt remote cooking with the flaky Bluetooth connectivity on the previous model, the Wi-Fi provides a more consistent connection, which helps maintain safe food temperatures.
The app works well, and more content is added on a fairly regular basis. Currently, there are guides from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats, plus specific recipes from a variety of chefs. Some recipes let you choose the meat’s thickness and doneness in calculating time and temperature, while others just give you a set number. You can, of course, also manually set these figures.
The low price of the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi comes at the cost of some functionality. Most obviously, the 900 W heater takes longer to warm water than more powerful models. It is faster than the 800 W version though. To bring a 1.5-gallon vessel from 69 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit took 20 minutes on the new version, versus 22 on the last model. You can always give the heater a bit of a boost by using hot water from your kettle to preheat the bath.
The Anova Precision Cooker is not UL-certified or ETL-certified. These are independently tested safety certification standards, which require meeting stringent safety and use guidelines, as well as regular follow-ups to make sure the products are still up to standard.
If you want the benefits of the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi but are willing to give up some functionality to save a few bucks, the Bluetooth-only Precision Cooker is still a great buy. It does everything the newer version does (except for connect to a network) and it usually sells for $50 less. We found the two to be equally accurate, equally loud, and equally as power efficient. Oddly, though they seem to be identical, the Bluetooth model we tested did take about five minutes longer to heat up the water bath in our tests, but again, that issue can be mitigated by starting with hot water.
The ChefSteps Joule outperforms the Anova Precision Cooker in a lot of ways. The most obvious is its size. At 11 inches long and 1.85 inch in diameter, it’s about a third the volume of the Anova unit, and about half the weight, measuring in at only 1.28 pound. This thing is impressively tiny. It can easily fit in pretty much any utensil drawer, whereas the Anova is too large to fit in most.
The Joule is also more powerful, with a 1,110 W heating element. In our tests, it heated water a full five minutes faster than the Anova Precision Cooker, rising from 69 °F to 135 °F in only 15 minutes. Despite the higher wattage, it used less power over time. In 12 hours, the Joule drew only 0.44 kWh, compared with the Anova’s 1.07 kWh. Based on the US Energy Information Administration’s August 2016 national average of the price of electricity, that’s a cost of less than 6¢.
Another way the Joule preserves resources is by requiring less water. The Anova Precision Cooker needs at least 2.5 inches of water in which to operate, while the Joule needs only 1.5 inch. Depending on the size of your cooking vessel, that extra inch can make a big difference. The Joule pulls in water through an opening just above its base, heats it up, and then spits it out an oval-shaped opening that doesn’t have to be submerged. It also has a magnetic foot that lets it stick to the bottom of some pots and other vessels. We were able to use a Dutch oven for sous vide cooking with the Joule, which would have been difficult with the Anova because of the shape of the pot’s curves and its relatively short walls. The Joule just stuck right to the bottom and we were ready to go. When it comes to larger pots, though, the Anova Precision Cooker’s adjustable mounting bracket is superior to the Joule’s fixed clip.
The Joule is just as quiet as the Anova Precision cooker when the output spout is totally submerged, measuring 52.7 dB at the cooker, and 44.3 dB a foot away. When the opening isn’t underwater, it sounds like a fountain that might be used for white noise, and is noticeably louder at 73.2 dB up close and 61.6 dB 12 inches away.
ChefSteps’s app (iOS/Android) experience is particularly great. Pairing with the Joule is no issue, and once you’re connected, cooking is a breeze. As of this writing, there are 15 different preset recipes, split among “basic” and “ultimate” categories. When you choose the kind of meat, the app will first ask to what temperature you’d like it cooked (with full-screen videos in the background showing the doneness), and then ask you to choose whether the protein is fresh or frozen, and how thick it is. From there it’ll calculate how long to cook and start heating the water when you’re ready. It’s a similar experience for eggs and vegetables. Of course, you can also manually set the temperature and time yourself. And ChefSteps has an Amazon Alexa skill that allows you to control your Joule with an Echo or other Alexa-enabled device.
The downside to the app is that it’s the only way to control the Joule. Other than the top cap that can stop cooking, there are no buttons or displays on the Joule. With the Anova Precision Cooker, you can just spin the wheel to your desired temperature and hit start. There’s no comparable experience with the Joule. You must pull out your phone or tablet and set it all from there. This is the single reason the Joule isn’t our top recommendation. We know that for many people, this control scheme will be just fine, but for others it’s a dealbreaker. A version of the Joule with onboard controls might just be the perfect sous vide machine.
It’s also worth noting that the higher power draw might be an issue for some electrical systems, especially if you have older wiring. However, we didn’t experience any circuit tripping in our testing.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the only cooking professional we’ve seen to test the final version of the Joule (others have tested beta hardware through the summer of 2016). In his review, Lopez-Alt calls the Joule “the new standard on the market.” He says the magnetic foot is “an ingeniously simple solution to what was previously a perennial problem,” and says he found the small size the handiest of all the features. The lack of hardware controls is his biggest reservation. Ultimately, we agree with his conclusion, in which he found “the Anova and the Joule as equally attractive tools designed for slightly different audiences. Choose whichever one suits your needs best—you can’t really go wrong.”
Cooking your meat sous vide only gets you halfway. The water bath brings the protein up to the proper temperature, but it leaves the outside the same color as the inside, without any of the tasty and texturally pleasing outer crust you’d get from other cooking methods.
We tested four torches along with the skillet method by cooking five New York strip steaks to medium-rare using the Joule. We then dried them off—burning off extra moisture slows down browning—added salt and pepper, and got to searing. Each steak was tested among three Wirecutter/Sweethome writers focused on the taste of the steak and its level of cook, but ignoring the actual service temperature. Because we had to cook five steaks, some of them were colder than others when we sat down to eat.
We tested five searing methods and found that the best searing tool for most home cooks is the Bernzomatic TS8000, paired with a small propane tank. It seared New York Strip steaks faster than most other methods (in about a minute and a half), didn’t leave any off-tastes from the gas, and is less expensive than most of the competition. The high-powered flame made quick and easy work of the process. The TS8000 also has a flame control adjuster.
Most of the searing methods produced similar tasting results; the differences come down mostly to price. Sansaire’s Searing Kit is the most expensive of the bunch, although it comes with a propane tank, a searing rack, and a drip tray, in addition to the torch head. The torch was made in partnership with Bernzomatic specifically for this purpose, but we didn’t see superior results compared to the TS8000. It took just as long to finish the steak, and it tasted just as good. The Searing Kit’s torch lacks a flame control adjuster.
We also tried what is perhaps the most well-known searing device, Booker and Dax’s Searzall. It’s not a stand-alone torch, but rather, a cone-shaped attachment for the TS8000. Two layers of wire mesh at the end help spread out the flame, meaning you can cook more surface at once. It also slows down searing: Browning time doubled with the Searzall. We liked the results, but not enough to justify the extra cost. Since it’s an add-on to the TS8000, we suggest starting with the torch by itself and only upgrading if you’re looking to take your searing to the next level.
We had to disqualify one of the torches almost immediately. The Bernzomatic ST2200T Micro Flame Butane Torch Kit is not intended for searing, but we wanted to give it a try. It was very clear once we got going that the torch, which may be okay for soldering or even bruleeing, simply isn’t powerful enough to sear meat. After three minutes and almost zero browning, we gave up on this one.
The easiest, least costly searing method produced poor results in our tests. We seared one of the steaks in a ripping hot cast-iron skillet with canola oil. (Normally, we’d add butter for flavor, but we were attempting to control for taste and canola oil is considered neutral.) After a minute and a half, as suggested by most recipes, our steak was still not yet crusty. By the time we reached nice browning, after four and a half minutes, the steak was overdone, with a large gray ring underneath the crust that detracted from our perfect medium-rare doneness. For many this method may still be fine, especially if you’re still just getting started with sous vide and not ready to invest in extra tools for better results. The biggest drawback is that it’s a smoky process—you’ll want to open up any windows you can, turn on your hood if you have one, and warn your family that you are not, in fact, burning the kitchen down.
The VacMaster SV1 was both the largest immersion circulator we tested and the most expensive. While it was the fastest to get to temp (after only 15 minutes, thanks to a 1,500 W heater that could potentially trip circuits) and used the least power over 12 hours (1.75 kWh), there were a few serious drawbacks. The most important was temperature; throughout the 12-hour run, the water bath was consistently between 1 and 2 degrees below the temperature on the display. We also found the +/- buttons to adjust the time and temperature to be annoying, especially compared to the more convenient scroll wheel of the Anova circulator. Finally, the SV1 sounds a shrill alarm when it gets to temp, which wouldn’t be so bad if it happened just once. But the alarm keeps going off every few seconds until you set the timer on the unit. This means those who prefer to use their phone or another device as a timer will still have to set one on the immersion circulator to silence the alarm.
We tested the Gourmia GSV130 Digital Sous Vide Pod based heavily on its low price and strong Amazon ranking. The design is very similar to that of the Anova Precision Cooker, from its stick shape to the scroll wheel for setting the time and temperature. Oddly, despite promises of “precision temperature settings within +/- 0.01°,” it allowed only 2-degree increments in Fahrenheit (when set to Celsius, it can be adjusted by a single degree). We confirmed this is expected operation with the company. Additionally, there’s no alarm on the unit to let you know when it reaches the desired temperature, and it’s nowhere near as container agnostic as the Anova. There are also enough reports on Amazon of units dying that the low price isn’t enough to save it.
We previously had the Classic Nomiku as our “safety” pick because it was UL-certified and ECL-certified, would alert you if there was ever a power interruption while you were cooking, and was unable to overheat because it used a PTC heating element, which physically can’t pass a certain temperature. That 120 V US/Canada model is being retired in favor of the new Wi-Fi Nomiku, currently available for preorder as the company fulfills its Kickstarter backers’ orders. Much like the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi, it allows you to control the timer and temperature from anywhere using an app (iOS/Android/Windows/Chrome). This one uses the same PTC heating element, which is a good thing. It’s not as easy to use as other circulators, though. To begin, the Wi-Fi login process is a pain. To enter your password, you must turn the jog wheel around the perimeter of the device’s face, going through each character of lowercase, uppercase, and numeric keyboards and hitting Select once you hit the desired character. If you make a mistake, you have to scroll all the way back to the beginning to hit delete; that’s also where the submit option is. This process should only have to happen once, but it’s still a pain. Overall, we found the navigation more complex than necessary and less intuitive than we’d like. Small bugs, such as the app not adjusting from Celsius to Fahrenheit when we made the change on the circulator, keep this one out of the top spot. The easy-to-use and strong clip is a nice touch though.
In 2014, we tested the Sansaire. 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 hasn’t managed to keep up with the current low prices of other units. The Creative is built like a tank and extremely accurate. However, it isn’t intuitive 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.
A 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 price of $300 and a size over a cubic foot, we just don’t see the point in getting this over the Anova.
The Tribest SousVant seems to be a step in the right direction for an all-in-one unit. It looks far easier to empty, fill, and clean than other models like the SousVide Supreme, and actually comes with a circulator. But it’s still extremely expensive compared with the Anova and will take up way more space in your kitchen. The advantage to the SousVant is that since it’s an entirely enclosed unit with a lid, you don’t have to worry about evaporation, which can be a problem with immersion circulators. And since you’re always working with a specific container, you know the circulation and heat dispersion will always be identical, so there’s less of a chance of variability between uses. But for most people, those are minor advantages for twice the price.
The 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 money you spend 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.
The Codlo is much like the Dorkfood’s temperature controller, but in a much nicer looking package. It works in a similar way to the DSV, functioning as a barrier between a simple appliance and the wall. It costs almost as much as the Anova Precision Cooker and offers fewer features.
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 more than $400 a pop, it’s still pretty expensive—but the same company makes the smaller and more affordable SousVide Demi. Both of these devices rely on convection currents to distribute heat, rather than a circulator.
Another new entry in the field is the Oliso SmartHub, which bills itself as a combination of a sous vide water oven and induction cooker. While it sounds appealing in concept, there are some immediately apparent flaws. The heat for the sous vide oven most likely comes directly from the induction surface, so it would have to circulate via a convection current, rather than being forcibly circulated like our pick. This can lead to pockets of hot and cold water. While combining both a sous vide bath for cooking and an induction heater for searing may sound efficient, since you already own a stove, the induction element is of dubious usefulness, and doesn’t really offer anything more than searing on your stovetop would. You’re still going to end up with just as many dirty dishes, and an immersion circulator is far less bulky than the Oliso SmartHub.
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.)
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 do 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 milliliters 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). The editors updated their picks of vacuum sealers in 2014, and this year picked more affordable alternatives to their previous $400 recommendation. They suggest the 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 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 more than 100 reviews. Just be sure to stock up on bags.
This year’s crop of sous vide circulators included 220 V and 240 V models alongside 120 V models. Anova has 220 V models of the 800 W Precision Cooker with UK, EU, and AU plugs; they’ll be updated to the 900 W version at some point in the near future.
Sansaire launched a Kickstarter campaign for its new sous vide cooker, the Sansaire Delta. Unlike most of the cookers we’ve tested in the recent past, this one isn’t tubular; instead, to our eyes, it looks like a giant Fitbit One. Standing 9 inches tall, it straddles both sides of the cooking vessel. A digital display is on the face, and you can set the time and temperature on the unit itself or via a companion app. The Sansaire Delta isn’t expected to ship until April 2017 (with a 220 V international version following in June), and we generally don’t recommend backing crowdfunding projects for hardware. We will be testing the Delta when it becomes available.
The Mellow looks like an attempt to combine smart appliances with sous vide and has 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 in 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 is supposed to ship in early 2017 (after missing its original summer 2015 launch date, and several thereafter) according to the last update, but is available for $400 as a pre-order; it will be $600 when it finally ships. That’s a pretty steep price.
At CES 2017, Anova announced the Precision Cooker Nano, which is expected to ship this summer and cost just $100. It has a smaller design than the current Precision Cookers, uses a less powerful 700 W heater, and works over Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi. But it maintains onboard controls (meaning you don’t need a smartphone to use it), and Anova makes great cookers, so we’re excited to test it when it’s released and see if a lower-priced unit will work well for most people. The company will also be releasing Mini and Pro models of its cookers later this year.
In addition, Monoprice will be jumping into the category with a $90 immersion circulator. We will add what we know about it here as more information is published.
Originally published: December 2, 2016