Gear Test: Smart Sous Vide

By Noah Kaufman |
Sous Vide Circulators

From Left: © Nomiku; © ChefSteps; Courtesy of Amazon

The first time I encountered sous vide cooking was when one of my old bosses brought one of those oversized Sous Vide Supremes and started using it in his office. Looking at a contraption the size of a small suitcase, the first thought to cross my mind was, “that looks like an expensive pain in the ass.” More than half a decade later I’m glad to admit I was wrong. In the years since I dismissed it out of hand, cooking sous vide has become both cheaper and more convenient, primarily through the rise of portable, storable immersion circulators (check out a quick primer on the whole process here).

And in the last year the newest class of kitchen gadgets has also gotten smarter. App and Wi-Fi connected everything from coffee makers to refrigerators are invading kitchens, but amongst the handiest smart appliances I’ve used are sous vide circulators. But all gadgets are not created equal and so I put the three Wi-Fi enabled circulators to the test: The Joule from Chef Steps, the Wi-Fi Nomiku and the second generation Precision Cooker from Anova. 

A few notes on the process: 

- I prepared a number of dishes with all the circulators, but for our purposes I’m only dealing with one, a boneless rib eye, for two reasons: Having a butcher equally portion the same cut of meat removed a lot of potential variables and I consider good steak to be the most universally crowd-pleasing dish you can make sous vide (apologies to my vegetarian friends).   

- I followed the directions the apps provided, which meant slightly different preparations. But one of the reasons to get a Wi-Fi connected circulator instead of a standard one is for the app, so I thought to see what sorts of results the apps would yield.

- I ranked the circulators in five categories and assigned points to each (3 for first, 2 for second, 1 for third). I didn’t weight the categories though. It’s up to you what is most important. 

Now, away we go.

Design

Joule
Hands down the sleekest of the three. The Joule is the smallest and lightest, which makes it the easiest to store. And the built-in magnetic base also makes it the easiest to use with existing pots. The one thing the Joule lacks is a manual way to change temperature and time on the circulator itself. The app provides the only way to adjust those.

Nomiku
You’ll never mistake the Nomiku for any other appliance you’ve ever owned. It’s the bulkiest of the bunch and has a “supercomputer” sort of aesthetic to it. One positive about its size though, is that it is easier to use in the sorts of large plastic tubs preferable for whole briskets or pork shoulders or anything else big enough to feed a football team, particularly compared to the Joule. It also has the clearest and easiest to use temperature dial for those who want an alternative to app control.

Anova
The Anova is in between the other two in terms of size—it’s slim like the Joule but quite a bit longer. Its clip for attaching to the cooking vessel is also detachable, which makes it easier to store than the Nomiku but requires an extra step of setup. It’s nice to have the option of the manual control dial, but the touch screen wasn’t the most responsive and it didn’t feel as natural to use as the Nomiku. The app was a much easier way to adjust the Anova.

Ranking:
Joule - 3
Nomiku - 2
Anova - 1

Efficiency

The best way I had to measure efficiency was to track heating time. The actual cooking temperatures I used were slightly different because each app recommended a slightly different one for medium rare steak, so for this test I used a six-quart pot of water at 29 degrees Celsius and raised it to 56 degrees Celsius. 

Joule
8 minutes 25 seconds

Nomiku
9 minutes 45 seconds

Anova
1
6 minutes 46 seconds.

Ranking:
Joule - 3
Nomiku - 2
Anova - 1

App

Joule
The Joule app has a “cooking for dummies” sort of functionality. It walks you through, with big lettering, step-by-step. It also lets you select how you like your steak (or eggs, or chicken) visually—to get medium rare results you tap an image of a medium rare steak—and the app automatically sets temperature and time for you. Joule makes it very easy get a well-done steak if you want one.  And while I consider grey steak sacrilege, there are people out there who will appreciate this functionality.  

Nomiku
The biggest difference between the Nomiku app, called Tender, and the other two is that it opens up recipe development to anyone. It does have its own officially approved recipes, but many come from Nomiku users. That has pros and cons. Obviously it provides more variety and a sort of culinary social network. It’s also the only app that lets you save your own recipes for future use. But, it leaves users with the responsibility of figuring out which recipes work for them and which don’t and all those extra recipes make for a more crowded interface. 

Anova
The Anova app provides recipes from well-respected chefs like J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Kate Williams and Barbara Freda as well as “guides.” But the recipes aren’t searchable—you have to just scroll and browse to find something that sounds good. The guides though, give the same sort of flexibility that Joule’s app does—allowing you to select exactly how you like your steak, chicken or pork. They just aren’t quite as pretty.

Rankings:
Joule - 3
Anova - 2
Nomiku - 1

Cooking Results

Since “tastes good” means different things to different people, I’m focused here on more objective results like color and texture. And frankly, all three produced steaks that tasted excellent.

Joule
The color was precisely the sort of pink center you want in a medium rare steak. The texture though was slightly chewier than I expected by looking at it.

Nomiku
The steak looked slightly more cooked than what I got from either the Joule or the Anova. The texture however was wonderfully soft and tender—the best of the bunch.

Anova
The Anova scored on both appearance and texture. A beautiful pink center and a melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Rankings:
Anova - 3
Nomiku - 2
Joule - 1

Price

Joule
$199

Nomiku
$249 (readers can get an extra $50 off with the code FOODWINENOM)

Anova
$199

Rankings:
Anova - 3
Joule - 3
Nomiku - 2

Point Totals:

Joule - 13
Nomiku - 11
Anova – 10

Conclusion

Strictly by the numbers the Joule comes out on top, but each of these provides a totally different experience and is for a totally different type of home cook. If the reason you want to cook sous vide is its idiot-proof nature, get the Joule. If you like to experiment in the kitchen, buy a Nomiku. And if you fall somewhere in between, grab the Anova.

Happy circulating.

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