strat showdown

Which Sous-Vide Machine Should I Get?

Oh no, you’re thinking. Here comes another food nerd to talk about cooking steaks in bags. And it’s true, this is going to be about sous-vide cooking, and it’s likely sous-vide cooking is a topic you are either (a) familiar with, and not interested in hearing about again; or (b) already completely uninterested in, and not ready to start caring about now. Which is fair. I cook all the time, and I never understood why anyone would want to cook like this at home, but I am here to tell you that I am now among the converted.

First, we need to get just a little wonky. For those readers who didn’t frequent wd~50 and don’t own a copy of Modernist Cuisine, here’s the deal with sous-vide cooking: Chefs place ingredients in food-safe plastic bags and vacuum-seal them, then cook the food in water baths with precisely controlled temperatures. A thing called an immersion circulator is the secret here, they’re the gadgets that keep the water temp so accurate.

The technique is big in restaurants because it’s incredibly accurate and consistent (two attributes held in very high regard by the people who make their living by selling food to people). And in the last couple years, companies have started to offer home cooks an easy way to do this. And that has resulted in a market of full of wands — these are the immersion circulators — that you can use to set a small pan filled with water to, say, 129.5 degrees, at which time you can then cook a steak or something to the most beautiful medium-rare you have ever seen.

I always thought this sounded so dumb to do at home. So when our office received some sample wands, and I was asked to test them, I agreed, assuming I’d hate them.

I did not hate them. Instead, after setting them up and following the (very easy) instructions, I became something of a sous-vide maniac, owing almost entirely to the fact that everyone who ate the food I was making loved it (me included).

Here’s a quick rundown of some food I’ve made in the week or so since I started playing around with these gadgets:

New York strip steak: Honestly, the most tender, most perfectly cooked steak I’ve ever made. The cross section was pink all the way through, and a quick sear at the end was all it took to get a little crust on it. So easy, and it very much impressed some friends we had over for dinner.

Cod fillets: Buttery. Soft. Flaky as all get-out. My wife: “Can this just be how we cook fish all the time now?”

Scrambled eggs: I didn’t even think this would work, but it VERY MUCH WORKED. Silky. Soft. Smooth like you can’t believe. Took, like, 20 minutes total, and I’m never going back to the old way again.

Beef tenderloin: Whoa. Just some next-level filet-mignon action here. At this point, we were almost taking it for granted how well this worked.

There are two real contenders in the at-home sous-vide game: The Anova, and a wand called Joule by ChefSteps. I tried them both, and got similar results, though I have to give the edge to the Joule because it’s a lot smaller and sleeker, and the app — you gotta use an app to control this, which I know is like the height of food-nerdy, but is also worth it, in my recently converted opinion — is filled with very solid recipes and videos that show you how to do everything. (I must not be the only person who appreciates the relatively small size of the Joule because Anova is releasing its own mini-version later this year.) But you’re going to get great food with either one.

So, I don’t know, is it worth it to buy one of these things just because they make steak and scrambled eggs better than the traditional method of putting stuff in a hot pan? Nine days ago, I would have said probably not. Now, I very much think yes, and am going to stop writing this so I can go figure out how to make pastrami with this thing.

ChefSteps Joule Sous Vide

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Which Sous-Vide Machine Should I Get?