Do I Need A Sous Vide Machine in My Life?
Updated: Feb 15
Sous vide machines are now a staple gadget in any professional kitchen, but are they actually any good and will you use it?
Being an avid watcher of just about every country's Masterchef (With British Masterchef being the original and still the best) and Masterchef: The Professionals, for a number of years now, Sous Vide or Water Bath cooking has become a standard cooking method after the initial furor (good word) of 62 Degree egg yolks and 72 Hour Rib of Beef causing an explosion of excitement about this new cooking phenomena, Sous Vide is now a well established practice of the home cooking enthusiast.
Initially, Sous Vide machines were insanely expensive and took up huge amounts of worktop space but the launch of the immersion wand style of sous vide has changed everything. They're affordable, fit in a drawer and make use of your existing array of pans instead of needing a separate water bath. They even connect to WiFi / Bluetooth and have their own apps so you can start them from work to have food ready for when you arrive home! The set & forget convenience and pinpoint accuracy of sous vide cooking is you really can have restaurant standard cooking at home and with minimised risk of failure. No mare will you go into a blind panic wondering if you'll ruin that piece of Kobe wagu beef that you spend close to a week's pay on.
But will you actually use one?
To establish if Sous Vide is a worthy investment of your hard earned cash, here is a simple test:
Question 1: Can you cook a roast chicken to perfection every time so it's cooked through and not dry in the oven?
Question 2: Can you barbecue multiple expensive steaks for your guests and guarantee to get them all to everyone's preferred level of cooking?
Question 3: Are you good at planning ahead and doing meal prep in advance?
Question 4: Is it important to you to have things cooked to perfection?
Question 5: Do you like experimenting with your cooking and trying new things?
OK, if your answer to the first 2 questions was NO, and the last 3, Yes, then you NEED a sous vide in your life, if your answer to the last 3 was no, then it's going to end up in a draw or box never to be used again, save your money.
OK, I'm on board, I think I want one, give me the inside track on what I need to know
So for starters, I would definitely recommend going for a WiFi connected sous vide with an app. Why? cooking anything sous vide can take a long time and there's not much to see, so by having a connected device you can leave the thing to do it's thing and it will tell you when it's ready or you have to intervene. There are other advantages like recipe's through the app, setting levels of "doneness" (not a word) and being able to start the thing remotely. Unless your part cook, part machine the remote functionality is more of a gimmick than a practical reality, but being able to set your steak to a perfect medium rare is one of the key advantages to sous vide and is largely kinda the point.
Next would be a quick one, buy the immersion wand / stick type sous vide that goes into your own pot. I have that kind and the one that has it's own water bath and it's no contest, the water bath version is too big and cumbersome and ends up in the cupboard out of sight and out of mind. It comes out for a major cooking event like a Christmas dinner where hob and oven space is at a premium but that's basically it, plus they're more expensive and generally not ":connected".
You don't really need an additional vacuum sealer. The cheap ones are totally rubbish anyway and need specially made bags. I would love a restaurant-grade vacuum sealer but they are generally over $1000 and take up a bunch of space so the investment is hard to justify for me. If you have the means and the worktop, go for it but Archimedes already figured out a suitable method of expelling air from a bag and that is water displacement. Get your self some good quality zip-lock bags, put your meat/veg/fish in the bag and whilst unzipped slowly lower into the water up to the zip line (careful not to let any water in). This will push all the air out and you can zip it up and make it air tight. This works fine. Clearly a good vacuum sealer will suck more air out but it's not going to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. It does take a little practice to get just right but once you've mastered it, you'll be glad you didn't buy a sealer. Also, you may not know but the cheaper sealers can't seal liquid in so you have to use the water displacement method half the time anyway.
I would recommend going with an established brand with a good following. Two reasons really, there are quite a few cheap generic no-name options that claim the same functionality. That's probably true but the app is going to be rubbish at best and will not be driven by a community sharing ideas, tips and recipes (don't underestimate the value of that) and ultimately, this is mains power electricity submerged in water. I'm not suggesting they're dangerous but you really want something manufactured to the highest standard. After all, we all know why you don't make toast whilst you're in the bath.
You get the picture,. spend a little more on a internet connected stick version from a reputable brand and other than that, there is not much to choose from, after all, this is, at it's core, a water heater that stirs the pan. It's not alchemy.
OK I'm in, I know what to look out for, what do you recommend?
I've owned a couple of sous vide machines now as I was an early adopter who upgraded as the technology improved. I now think they've reached about as good as they're going to and the price is down to a similar cost as say a blender or a food processor so it's good time to buy. In my opinion, the top 3 best buys are:
1. Anova Culinary 1000w WiFi Sous Vide - $150 - Anova were one of the first companies to come out with an internet connected sous vide and have established themselves as one of two market leaders. They have a great app full of recipes, a dedicated community of contributors and a well built and reliable product. Anova have three versions of their sous vide; a 750w Bluetooth Nano version, a 1000w Wifi version and a 1200w pro version (also WiFi). they vary in price from around $100 for the Nano, $150 for the 1000w and a massive $300 for the Pro.
So why do I own the Anova 1000w? Easy, the nano is cool but no matter what anyone says, I can't keep a consistent Bluetooth connection going from my kitchen to my living room so unless I sit in the kitchen, I have no ability to monitor my cooking. If you live in a studio or small apartment or your couch is less than 5m from your cooker top, Nano is fine, otherwise, you need to upgrade to 1000w. No matter how much I try, I cant reconcile how the Pro version is more than double the cost of the 1000w, it seems to have largely the same functionality and just 200w more power which will clearly heat water more quickly and adjust more accurately but I really can't see that it can make a difference to the quality of the cooking, the only advantage is the quicker time getting up to temp. once you're at your temp, they're all basically doing the same job for the same amount of time. Maybe I'm missing somethign with the Pro but if \I really needed to go high end, I'd buy two 1000w machines and use them together, surely that would be even better and still cost less than one Pro machine.
2. Breville Joule 1100w Sous Vide - $200 - The Joule orignally started out by the team at ChefSteps (a really great foodie site if you haven't already checked it out), so is built from the ground up by chefs and not by kitchen gadget people. This has resulted in little details that set the Joule apart, for instance, the unit has a magnet to lock it to the bottom of the pan instead of clamping to the side, that's attention to detail. It has WiFi and Bluetooth onboard and the app is probably the best in this space thanks to very cool use of video and the concept of "Visual Doneness" which allow s you to actually look at the thing you're cooking e.g. steak and scroll through videos of the level of pinkness of the meat to choose what you actually want rather than using the generic rare to well done labels. The unit is 1100w and has the smallest form factor in the marketplace. This might not seem such a big deal but it helps when you're trying to jam 3 racks of ribs into the water bath whilst making sure the bags are not touching the heater element because you'll be leaving them int he water bath over night.
Why not this over the Anova 1000w?
I have to admit, I really like the joule, probably more than I like the Anova for looks, the app, the size and maybe even the extra 100w of heating power but all that is not worth another 100 bucks to me. I could by a 1000w and a Nano Anova for the same money. At $20-$30 more I'd go for it but 100 bucks is 100 bucks. I'll spend that on steak instead.
3. Instant Pot SSV800 Accu Slim Sous Vide - $80 - Instant pot has exploded recently with it's multi-skilled pressure cooker / steamer / air fryer devices and it looks like they're now leveraging that success to expand their product offering. The SSV800 is the "No Frills" sous vide option but as $80,. it's worth a look. It's big drawback is a complete absence of connectivity, neither WiFi or Bluetooth, so all the remote monitoring and setting options are out of the window. After that though, things are largely the same as the competition. Instant pot has an app and a community and arguably given the amount of Facebook fan pages around Instant Pot, they probably have the biggest following. The unit is very similar to the Anova with a touch screen set and forget approach and visual view of temperature and time. It's an 800w model so slightly more powerful than the Anova Nano but a little inferior to the rest of the bunch. As mentioned earlier though, that shouldn't be a big concern.
So why not this over the Anova 1000w?
As the cheapest of the bunch, there's no question this should be a consideration and the loyal following that Instant Pot has got will mean the app will inevitably be chock full of content, however, there's nothing to say you couldn't download the Instant Pot app and pay the extra $20 to add connectivity through the Anova app. If ti goes on special for sub $70, then it becomes a bit of a no-brainer but for me, I would pay a little extra for the connectivity.
At the end of the day,. All three options come from established brands, do the job adequately and are largely going to deliver the same results. It actually boils down (excuse the pun) to connectivity and cost. if you don't care much about remote monitoring or are a full on technophobe, go for the Instant Pot. If you live in a small property where you can put the sous vide within 5 meters of your relaxing space, go for the Anova Nano. If you want the connectivity and want to go do other things even away from the house, go for the Anova 1000w, and if you want the iPhone of sous vide machines and don't mind paying a premium for it, go for the Breville Joule.
Top Pre-purchase Tip
We've already discussed that the machines are pretty much the same thing and you're not going to see great differences in the quality of the cooking so the user experience is pretty important. Before clicking the buy button,, I suggest you download the Anova, Joule and Instant Pot sous vide apps and have a play around. This is the thing you'll use the most so if you can't decide, that will help you make a final decision.
So if you're considering a sous vide machine, I would recommend the Anova 1000w machine. It hasn't let me down yet and for me, has the best mix of functionality, form and price point. for my needs. Oh, and it cooks a mean rib eye. Check out our recipes section for some of the best sous vide recipes to test out your new purchase.
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