For four years now we’ve been testing sous vide cooking tools, and the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is the best immersion circulator for people who want to cook sous vide at home. It’s made by a lab-equipment manufacturer with a reputation for accurate water baths, and in spite of a relatively low price, it provides temperature precision on a par with that of much more expensive machines.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $170.
While the 900-watt heating element in the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is underpowered compared with those in some competitors, this model’s flexibility makes it more useful for most people. The Wi-Fi connection allows you to set and control the cooker remotely (the Bluetooth version connects to an app within Bluetooth range). Like just about every sous vide circulator we’ve tested, the Anova cooker is accurate enough for even the most exacting of cooking techniques. 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.
In many ways, the ChefSteps Joule is equal or superior to the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi. 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 a unique pump system. We love the app, which works over either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. What the Joule lacks is on-board controls—no screen, no buttons, nothing. You control it entirely from a smartphone or tablet, so you can’t adjust the temperature or start a cook from the unit itself, as you can with the Anova model. For some people this won’t be a problem, 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.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $100.
Kitchen Gizmo’s Simplified Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is inexpensive yet reliable, making it a great entry-level option for someone just getting started with sous vide cooking. It’s not as elegant as the circulators from Anova or ChefSteps, and it lacks any sort of wireless connection. But in our tests, it held its temperature properly and was whisper quiet. At around $100, its price on average is about half that of our pick and runner-up.
Sous vide cooking is only the first step when it comes to meat. After you’ve cooked the protein through, searing creates a delicious, crispy brown exterior. Although 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 has 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 has 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 has 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 using a tool, such as the immersion circulators we tested here, to heat up water and keep it at a set temperature. Then you seal your food—ideally within a vacuum—and immerse it in the hot 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 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 come into its own, and the price has dropped significantly. If you’ve been curious about the technology, now is the perfect time to give it a try. Thanks to recent interest and competition, sous vide devices are now more 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, you can find a lot of fantastic recipes online. But if you want the best technical breakdown of sous vide cooking that’s available at no cost online, Douglas Baldwin’s excellent “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 in diving deeper into the science of cooking and other advanced techniques, Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home are two bibles. They’re expensive but immaculately researched (and gorgeously photographed).
You can find three main 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 gadgets 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 decently, and easy to use.
When you’re shopping for a sous vide cooker, you have four traits to look for:
Stability also matters but is less important than some people might think. Generally, low-and-slow foods can handle a little more variation than things that you need to cook quickly, but you still want your cooking to stay on target.
Not every sous vide circulator has a timer built in, but for us, it’s a useful feature. The count-up (just showing the cooking time) and count-down (with an alarm when done) types are both handy for keeping track of how a cook is going, but the ones that shut down after a specific time are less so, as they can allow food to drop to a temperature where bacterial growth becomes a problem.
People also worry about what happens if their power supply is interrupted during a long cook, because if the sous vide machine starts up again after a pause of unknown length, that could also breed bacteria. The Nomiku cooker, for one, changes the color of 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 precision pick, the Thermapen Mk4. But if you don’t know how accurate your thermometer is, there’s a chance you’ll make things worse. Calibration is a pretty good step for the more experimentally minded home chef who has some accurate measuring tools for the job.
A more powerful heater warms up water faster and rebounds from the addition of cold food more quickly, but it isn’t any more efficient in the long run, and it is more likely to flip a breaker in your kitchen. Power versus utility is a balancing act—but keep in mind that you can always give a lower-wattage circulator a boost with some hot water from a kettle. Right now, most of the circulators operate 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). This isn’t a serious drawback, but it is something to take into account if you know that the breaker for your kitchen gets flipped easily.
We took a bunch of other factors into account, too. How does the cooker attach? How precise does the water level have to be? How big is the machine? How big of a container does it need? How loud is it? Is it easy to use? Does it have audible alarms to indicate when it’s at temperature? These things can separate the great sous vide machines from the good.
We’ve been reviewing and recommending sous vide devices for the home since 2012. Our long-term testing has given us a look at how the technologies have changed over this period—and it also has helped us figure out what’s important and what isn’t.
With each sous vide cooker, we heated 1.5 gallons of water—enough to fill a stockpot—from 69 degrees Fahrenheit to 135 °F (the temperature for steak cooked to medium), measuring the temperature at both points with the Thermapen Mk4 (an accurate instant-read thermometer) and recording the time to get to temp. We covered the pot with foil to prevent evaporation, and we continued to let the circulators run for 12 hours—a longer time than your average recipe, but a good indicator, we felt, of the machine’s ability to hold a set temperature indefinitely.
Anova (Wi-Fi 900 watts)
|Thermometer starting temp (°F)||69||69||69||69||69|
|Circulator display temp||69||69.6||69||68.8||69|
|Time to reach 135 °F (minutes)||20||35||15||14||22|
|Thermometer read temp||135||135||135||135||135|
|Circulator display of temp||135||135||135||135.4||135|
|kWh at temp||0.26||0.34||0.24||0.25||0.24|
|kWh after 1 hour||0.32||0.41||0.25||0.28||0.29|
|kWh after 12 hours||1.07||2.17||0.44||0.65||1.05|
|Ambient sound (db)||35.9||36.1||35.9||36.3||36.3|
|Sound at unit||52.3||54.3||52.7||53.5||39.3|
|Sound at 12 inches||42.9||45.5||44.3||40.1||36.4|
*At the time of publishing, the price was $170.
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, this version of the Anova cooker works with a much smaller volume of water than the earliest iteration did—so now you can cook with as little as 2½ inches of water in almost any container. The Precision Cooker Wi-Fi has an intuitive interface with simple, scroll-wheel control. It also offers a beep alert when water has come to temperature, 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 available, 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 to accommodate vessels of varying height. Anova told us that the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi can even sit flush on the bottom of a container without blocking the water flow at all. All the other sous vide circulators we’ve evaluated have attachment mechanisms that are fixed in place, which gives you far less flexibility when it comes to the cooking vessel.
The Anova model’s versatility has some interesting side benefits. Not only does it allow you to work with a larger array of containers (so you’re not limited to large stockpots and the like), but also, when you use more-squat containers, the smaller volumes of water are much faster to heat up (which this machine needs, due to its weaker heating unit). The flip side of that arrangement, 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 advantage of using less water is that, well, you use less water.
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 the one on its predecessor, consisting of a scroll wheel and a small readout. You set the temperature simply by scrolling up and down. The unit also has a start button, plus buttons for setting 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 upgraded it from 800 watts to 900 watts, which is still low enough to prevent the cooker from tripping the breaker in your kitchen.
The Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is very quiet. When we tested it in a quiet room (ambient level of 36.1 decibels) and used a vaguely accurate iPhone app to measure volume, the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi produced about 52.3 dB when we measured right against the circulator itself; the result dropped to just 42.9 dB, about the level of the background noise in a larger room, when we measured it from 12 inches away.
In contrast to our budget pick, the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi alerts you when it comes to temperature, so you don’t have to hang around the kitchen waiting for it. The Anova cooker beeps when it’s just under the desired heat level, so the temp 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 the 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 in moving from the original Precision Cooker to the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is, well, Wi-Fi. It isn’t required—as with the first Anova Precision Cooker, this circulator can work 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 the temperature if you are out of the kitchen, or at least too far from it. You can control the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi 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 or Android), where you can then put in your Wi-Fi password to share with the circulator. Once the unit is paired, you can set the temperature and timer remotely. Whereas you might not have wanted to attempt remote cooking with the flaky Bluetooth connectivity on the previous model, the Wi-Fi support on this model provides a more consistent connection, which helps maintain safe food temperatures.
The app works well, and Anova adds more content on a fairly regular basis. Currently you can find guides from J. Kenji López-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 the time and temperature, while others just give you a set number. You can, of course, manually set these figures instead.
In March 2017, Anova announced it was adding an Amazon Alexa skill for its Wi-Fi model that would enable voice controls with an Echo or any other Alexa-enabled device; the company is currently working on a voice-integration feature for the Google Home, too.
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 connect to a network), and it usually sells for $50 less. We found the two models equally accurate, equally loud, and equally as power efficient. Oddly, though they seem to be identical, the Bluetooth model we tested did take 15 minutes longer to heat up the water bath in our tests.
The relatively low price of the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi comes at the cost of some functionality. Most obviously, the 900-watt heater takes longer to warm water than more-powerful models. It is faster than the 800-watt version, though: In our tests, bringing a 1.5-gallon vessel from 69 °F to 135 °F took 20 minutes on the new version, versus 22 minutes on the last Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi is not UL-certified (it is ETL-certified). These are independently tested safety certification standards that require devices to meet stringent safety-and-use guidelines, as well as to undergo regular follow-ups to make sure the devices are still up to standard.
The ChefSteps Joule outperforms the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi in a lot of ways. The most obvious is its size. At 11 inches long and 1.85 inches in diameter, it’s about one-third the volume of the Anova unit and about half the weight, at only 1.28 pounds. 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 Precision Cooker Wi-Fi, raising the temperature from 69 °F to 135 °F in only 15 minutes. And despite the higher wattage, it used less power over time: In 12 hours, the Joule drew only 0.44 kWh, versus the Precision Cooker Wi-Fi’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 Precision Cooker Wi-Fi needs at least 2½ inches of water in which to operate, while the Joule needs only 1½ inches. The Joule pulls in water through an opening just above the base, heats it up, and then spits it out through an oval-shaped opening that doesn’t have to be submerged. The device 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 Precision Cooker Wi-Fi 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 model’s adjustable mounting bracket is superior to the ChefSteps cooker’s fixed clip.
The ChefSteps model is just as quiet as the Anova 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 from 12 inches away.
ChefSteps’s app experience (iOS and Android) is particularly great. Pairing with the Joule is no issue, and once you’re connected, cooking is a breeze. As of this writing, the app offers 15 preset recipes, split among “basic” and “ultimate” categories. When you choose the kind of meat, the app asks to what temperature you’d like it to cook (with full-screen videos in the background showing the doneness), after which it asks you to indicate whether the protein is fresh or frozen, and how thick it is. From there it calculates how long to cook, and it starts heating the water when you’re ready. The experience is similar for eggs and vegetables. Of course, you can also set the temperature and time manually yourself. And ChefSteps offers an Amazon Alexa skill that allows you to control your Joule with an Echo or some 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, which you can use to stop the cooking, the Joule has no buttons or displays. With the Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi, you can just spin the wheel to your desired temperature and hit the start button. With the Joule, you must pull out your phone or tablet and set everything from there. This is the single reason the ChefSteps Joule isn’t our top recommendation. We know that for many people, the app-based control scheme will be just fine, but for others it’s a dealbreaker. A version of the Joule with onboard controls, if ChefSteps were to make one, might just be the perfect sous vide machine.
In an October 2016 review of the Joule for Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt calls it “the new standard on the market.” He writes that the magnetic foot is “an ingeniously simple solution to what was previously a perennial problem,” and says that 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 finds “the Anova and the Joule [to be] equally attractive tools designed for slightly different audiences.” He continues, “Choose whichever one suits your needs best—you can’t really go wrong.”
ChefSteps now offers two versions of the Joule: the original with a stainless steel cap and foot, and a less expensive model that uses polycarbonate on those components, as on the rest of the body. We tested both, and they’re functionally identical, so we recommend going with the less expensive version unless you love the look of the steel.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $100.
If you’re just getting into sous vide cooking and you’re not sure whether you’ll take to it, or if you’re looking for an inexpensive gift for someone who loves to cook, Kitchen Gizmo’s Simplified Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is the best option. You have to give up some features and design elements for the lower price, but the Kitchen Gizmo does what it’s supposed to: This cooker gets water hot and keeps it there.
Cooking your meat sous vide gets you only halfway. The water bath brings the protein up to the proper temperature but 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 ChefSteps Joule. We then dried them off—burning off extra moisture slows down browning—added salt and pepper, and got to searing. Three Wirecutter/Sweethome writers then tested the steaks, focusing on the taste of the steak and its cook level while 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 our New York strip steaks faster than most other methods (in about a minute and a half), and it didn’t leave any off tastes from the gas. It’s less expensive than most of the competition, too. In our tests, 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 came down mostly to price. Sansaire’s Searing Kit is the most expensive of the bunch, though it comes with a propane tank, a searing rack, and a drip tray, in addition to the torch head. Sansaire had the torch made in partnership with Bernzomatic specifically for this purpose, but we didn’t see superior results in comparison with the TS8000; this model took just as long as the TS8000 to finish the steak, and the results 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, so you can cook more surface at once. It also slows down searing: In our tests, 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 upgrading only 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 is not intended for searing, but we wanted to give it a try. Unfortunately, once we got going, it was very clear that this torch, which may be okay for soldering or even brûléeing, 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 most recipes suggest, our steak was still not yet crusty. By the time we reached a 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 people this method may still be fine, especially if you’re 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 any windows you can, turn on your range hood if you have one, and warn your family that you are not, in fact, burning the kitchen down.
We had been looking forward to testing Monoprice’s Strata Home Sous Vide Precision Cooker 800W since its announcement at the CES 2017 trade show, as the low price and Monoprice’s strong reputation made it intriguing. It looks pretty similar to an Anova immersion circulator, down to the scroll wheel for setting the time and temperature. We encountered enough bugs with an early production unit that we can’t recommend it, though. The temperature, even when we set it to Fahrenheit, moved only in Celsius increments, so when we tried to set it to 135 °F, the only options were 134.6 °F (57 °C) or 135.5 °F (57.5 °C). Monoprice told us that it’s “working with the manufacturer on updating [the cooker] to be based on Fahrenheit increments.” The other issue is that when we set it to the higher of the two temperatures, we saw the circulator’s display repeatedly jump to 136.8 °F before going back down, throughout our 12-hour cook. Although Monoprice acknowledged that “the temperature will fluctuate within +/- 1% while in operation,” this result is more than a degree of difference, and it’s strange enough behavior that we don’t think the Strata is the best choice at this time.
The Gourmia GSV140 Immersion Sous Vide Pod has an appealing price tag—comparable to that of our budget pick—but the device has too many faults for us to recommend it. Before you even use it, you can clearly see that the design is not well thought out. The clip is on the front of the unit, rather than the back as is the case with most immersion circulators. That’s not so bad on its own, but the clip is nowhere as accommodating as on Anova’s cookers. We used the GSV140 with the same stockpot as the rest of the tested cookers, and the height of the nonadjustable clip prevented it from gripping sturdily. The power cord comes out the front of the circulator, getting in the way. Also, in our tests the display’s temperature was consistently a degree or two low compared with our thermometer, and the GSV140 was one of the loudest units we tested, at 70.5 dB. We found the only redeeming factor to be the fast heating times: The GSV140 is a 1,200-watt cooker, and it brought water to temp in 13 minutes, as fast as any other sous vide unit we’ve ever tested.
The Gourmia GSV150B WiFi Sous Vide Precision Cooker Immersion Pod comes at a slight price premium over the GSV140. It’s just as powerful, the design is a little more thoughtful, and it has a Wi-Fi connection, something the less expensive model lacks. Unfortunately, the more expensive version is just as problematic, if not more so. During our 12-hour cook test, the circulator got up to 134 °F, rather than the 135 °F we set it to. The display and thermometer both showed the lower temperature, while the setting indicator in the top right of the display continued to indicate 135 °F. That might be excusable if it weren’t for the cooker’s volume: The GSV150B started out pretty loud at the beginning of our cook, measuring about 65 dB. It got progressively louder as time progressed, rising to 81.2 dB by the end of the 12 hours. That’s comparable to the noise from a garbage disposal. The sound was maddening, and we almost ended the test early because of it.
We were hoping to test Instant Pot’s Accu SV800 Sous Vide Immersion Circulator, especially in light of our positive experiences with the company’s pressure cookers. Unfortunately, when we requested a review unit, Instant Pot declined “to participate in comparison testing among brands that have been in the market for a number of years,” saying: “Once we have a product which we are confident stands up to our brand standards we will then proceed to providing testing samples to the media.” We’d normally have no problem obtaining a product we want to test through other methods when a company declines, but Instant Pot’s suggestion that the sous vide cooker may not be up to “brand standards” was enough for us to leave the Accu SV800 out of the running altogether.
The VacMaster SV1 Sous Vide Cooking Immersion Circulator was both the largest circulator we tested and the most expensive. While it got to the set temperature the fastest (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), it had a few serious drawbacks, including inconsistent temperature, difficult-to-use buttons, and an annoyingly shrill alarm.
We decided to test the Gourmia GSV130 Digital Sous Vide Pod largely because of its low price and strong Amazon ranking. Oddly, despite promises of “precision temperature settings within +/- 0.01°,” it allowed only 2-degree increments in Fahrenheit (when set to Celsius, it allows single-degree adjustments). We confirmed with the company that this operation is expected. Additionally, the unit has no alarm to let you know when it reaches the desired temperature, and it’s nowhere near as container agnostic as better cookers. We’ve also seen enough reports on Amazon of units dying that the low price isn’t enough to save it.
The Wi-Fi Nomiku allows you to control the timer and temperature from anywhere using an app. It’s not as easy to use as other circulators, though. For starters, 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 on lowercase, uppercase, and numeric keyboards and hitting Select once you reach the desired character. If you make a mistake, you have to scroll all the way back to the beginning to hit the delete button; that’s also where the submit option is. This process should have to happen only once, but it’s still a pain. Overall, we found the cooker’s navigation more complex than necessary and less intuitive than we’d like. Small bugs, such as the app’s failure to adjust from Celsius to Fahrenheit when we made the change on the circulator, also kept this model out of the top spot. The easy-to-use and strong clip is a nice touch, though.
The Sansaire Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is a capable device, but it’s also much larger than the competition, and its clip system doesn’t attach as easily or as solidly as those of any of the other models we played with. It also has no timer functionality whatsoever.
PolyScience’s Sous Vide Professional Creative Series is built like a tank and extremely accurate. However, it isn’t intuitive to use—it’s huge and heavy. It can’t calibrate the temperature, and it doesn’t really offer anything that you can’t get from a model that’s half its price.
As mentioned above, in order to cook with a sous vide machine, you need to put your food in a bag and eliminate all the air around it. Some people swear that you need a vacuum sealer to do this (and on occasion such an appliance is useful for quick marinades and such), but you also have a free way of doing it with a simple Ziploc 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, this method is 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, your food 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 your bags 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, selecting more affordable alternatives to their previous, $400 pick. They suggest the Weston Professional Advantage Vacuum Sealer as a powerful, heat-sealing model, but 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 didn’t do quite as good a job of sealing as the Weston in their tests but is far smaller and more affordable. Just be sure to stock up on bags.
This year’s crop of sous vide circulators includes 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; the company will be updating them to the 900 W version at some point in the near future.
Anova’s Precision Cooker Nano immersion circulator is scheduled to ship sometime in 2018 (pushed back from October 2017). With a list price of $100 and a preorder price of $70 (though the presale has now ended), this model is by far the least expensive sous vide cooker we’ve yet seen from an established company. It has a smaller design than the current Precision Cooker models, 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 this lower-priced version will work well for most people.
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), this device will chill the water to keep food safely refrigerated until the ideal time to bring it to a cooking temperature, so the food is perfectly done at exactly the time you want it. The problem with this process is that keeping the food in the water as it slowly comes to temp means that the food will spend more time in the potentially dangerous temperature range where bacteria can rapidly grow. When you take something directly from the fridge to hot water, in contrast, you minimize that period. Another concern: According to the most recent update, the Mellow is supposed to ship in early 2017 (after missing its original summer 2015 launch date, and several thereafter) and is available for $400 as a preorder, but it will be $600 when it finally ships. That’s a pretty steep price.
We're gonna have to have a whistle-off!