Some of them look like curling irons, while others resemble crock pots and slow cookers. Available in various types and sizes, sous vide devices are becoming increasingly popular. So, what is sous vide exactly? Well, it’s a cooking technique that means “under vacuum” in French. This cooking method — pronounced “sue-veed” — used to be reserved primarily for fine-dining chefs, but now, home cooks have taken a liking to it because it makes it easy to cook a steak that tastes like a meal you bought at a four-star restaurant. The best sous vide machines only make the process easier.
To cook your food, you simply place it in a vacuum-sealed pouch (or Ziploc bag), submerge it in a water bath, heat the water to a specific temperature, and let your food sit until cooked. However, maintaining the temperature of your water bath is key. Therefore, sous vide machines are designed to heat the water and maintain the exact same temperature throughout the cooking process. Some sous vide machines will even connect to an app on your smartphone, allowing you to place your food in the water bath and “set it and forget it.”
Like most kitchen gadgets, however, not all sous vide machines are created equal. You have self-contained sous vide ovens that heat the water quietly using insulated walls and a PID-controlled heating element, as well as immersion circulators that use a heat source and pump to heat and circulate the water. You also have smart machines, basic machines, and various sizes to choose from. So, which is the best? Read on for all the details — after all, not every machine allows you to infuse your own spirits.
ChefSteps CS10001 Joule Sous Vide
Why you should buy it: It’ll cook the perfect steak, and you can control cooking with a smartphone app or your voice.
Who’s it for: Those who want a small device they can use to make easy, restaurant-quality meals at home. Also, those who value a smart kitchen and the ability to control small appliances with apps.
How much will it cost: $199
Why we picked the Joule:
We picked the Joule for its durability, integration, speed, and power. ChefSteps constructed the Joule out of extruded polycarbonate and stainless steel, which gives it added strength and durability. The machine also features a magnetic base, which makes it stick to your pot without a clamp.
In terms of integration, the Joule sets trends and rises above the rest of the pack. You can connect this immersion circulator to your smartphone or tablet, and use the app’s visual tool to select how you want your steak to look when it’s done. Have raw meat on your hands? You can even connect Joule to Amazon’s Alexa or Facebook Messenger, which will allow you to simply say “Joule, cook a steak” after you’ve placed the steak in the pot. You can then walk away until your food is ready. Because of Joule’s smart integration, you can cook a steak and a side of vegetables and only spend a total of six minutes in the kitchen doing prep work.
Boasting 1100 watts of power, the Joule is powerful enough to heat your water quickly. Of all the immersion circulators we tested, the Joule heated water the fastest, bringing 4 quarts of water from room temperature (78 degrees Fahrenheit) to 135 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 10 minutes. The manufacturer recommends a maximum water capacity of 2.5 gallons when you’re cooking without a cover, and 5 gallons if your cooking with a covered pot. This is a large enough capacity to accommodate a large family or a small dinner party. Some people also worry about immersion circulators being annoyingly loud. Thankfully, the Joule is surprisingly quiet considering its speed and power. It’s about as loud as the sound of boiling water.
As with any machine, however, there is always room for improvement. The Joule doesn’t have a display that indicates the time or temperature, which can make cooking more difficult for some users. The only thing you can control from the actual device is the power setting, meaning you can turn the device on and off. You must control all of the cooking settings using an external application, such as the mobile app for Android and iOS. If you’re not the type of person who wants to use a smartphone app or something like Alexa to control your kitchen appliances, the Joule may not be for you.
The best for flexibility
Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker Wi-Fi
Why you should buy it: The flexible device is great for just about anyone, whether you’re an amateur or professional chef.
Who’s it for: Those who want the option to control their sous vide machine with an app or their voice.
How much will it cost: $199
Why we picked the Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker Wi-Fi:
Instead of using a magnetic base, the Anova clamps onto the side of your cooking pot. It’s secure once in place, but it does require you to fiddle with it for a few seconds to get it just right.
Flexibility is where this immersion circulator shines. It offers similar integration to the aforementioned Joule, allowing you to control the device with your smartphone, tablet, or smart home devices such as Alexa and Google Home. However, the Anova also features an LCD display and an LED-backlit scroll wheel for users who don’t want to control their device externally. If you’re the type of person who wants the flexibility to cook your meals with or without additional peripherals, the Anova is a good choice, as it offers more flexibility than most competitors.
When compared to the Joule, though, the Anova is less powerful in terms of its wattage. This doesn’t have much impact on its maximum capacity — 4 to 5 gallons, per the manufacturer’s recommendations — but it does impact how fast it heats water. For example, it took more than 20 minutes to heat 4 quarts of water from room temperature to 135 degrees.
The best budget sous vide machine
Why you should buy it: This machine lets you try sous vide for under $50.
Who’s it for: Those who want to cook food sous vide, without shelling out a ton of cash for a remote, voice controls, or other fancy features.
How much will it cost: $50
Why we picked the Magic Mill Sous Vide Machine:
Unlike the immersion circulators you put in a separate pot, the Magic Mill is a standalone sous vide oven. On the plus side, you won’t need a separate pot or container to cook your food sous vide. On the other hand, you won’t be able to tuck the Magic Mill away in a drawer because it’s about the size of a large crock pot.
This sous vide machine can hold 9 quarts, and it comes with tongs and racks to hold your pouches in place. You can adjust the temperature up and down in intervals of one degree, and you can set the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius.
There are a few negatives. Although the device has a large water capacity, it is a bit shallow. This makes it so you have to place your food very carefully, and it makes it somewhat difficult to cook larger items. It also takes a considerable amount of time to heat up; it took an average of 46 minutes to heat 4 quarts of water to 135 degrees.
The best sous vide multi-cooker
Gourmia GMC650R Sous Vide and Multi Cooker
Why you should buy it: The versatile Gourmia GMC650R may be the only kitchen appliance you’ll ever need.
Who’s it for: Those who want to cook food sous vide without purchasing a device that’s dedicated only to sous vide.
How much will it cost: $100
Why we picked the Gourmia GMC650R:
This multi-cooker is a sous vide water oven, one that comes with 10 other cook settings: Bake, rice, roast, yogurt, porridge, slow cook, keep warm, sauté, steam, and stew. With this device, you can cook your steak sous vide, and then sear it in the same appliance.
There’s very little this device can’t do. Like many other sous vide machines and multi-cookers, this machine comes with a cookbook. The recipes in this cookbook are more versatile, ranging from steak to lasagna to yogurt. The multi-cooker also comes with accessories, like a sous vide rack to hold your food pouches.
However, like any device, the Gourmia GMC650R does have a few cons. The device has a lot of different functions, and it takes time and practice to figure out how each one works. The device could also be a bit more user-friendly, and provide clearer and more detailed instructions on how to use each setting. Additionally, the interior surface scratches and chips easily if you use metal utensils. As such, it’s a good idea to use wooden or silicone instruments to prevent scratching.
How we test sous vide machines
We tested and compared eight different sous vide machines that received some of the highest overall ratings. During testing, we considered these factors: taste of the meal, quality and durability, features, ease of use, speed and power, and price. We also compared the time it took to heat water from 78 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit using each machine. Additionally, we compared reviews, tech integration, maximum capacities, noisiness, manual instructions (and how easy the instructions are to follow and understand), forum comments from users, customer support, and overall value (what you get for the price).