Sous vide cooking is easily as cool as it is functional. Sure, it’s not an essential piece of cookware. But, it’s one of the easiest ways to get professional-level cooking results without much effort.
My first foray into sous vide cooking was in 2012, and I’ve used them extensively in just about every restaurant I’ve worked in since. The technique remains the same but options have gotten smaller, more powerful, and less expensive. A perfect recipe for home cooks.
Today, I’ll be using my own professional experience, hours of research, plus a few consultations with fellow chefs to break down three of the best sous vide machines for use in a home kitchen environment.
Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker Pro
The Anova Precision Cooker Pro isn’t technically a commercial unit. But, if you’re running a smaller operation this pick is accurate, dependable, and will save you a big chunk of change.
The Anova precision cooker nano is the best way to get into sous vide cooking, but it’s also not what I would consider an entry-level machine. It’s much better. This option is simple and easy to use if you’re just getting started, but I also know several pros who use this as their go-to when cooking at home.
No matter how experienced you are, the Anova Nano is incredibly easy to use. The control panel is a simple touchscreen with only three buttons to deal with. Getting started is as easy as setting your desired temperature and how long you want to cook.
If buttons are too old-fashioned for you, you can also control the Nano entirely from your smartphone, using the Anova culinary app. Not only can you set the temperature and time, but you can also browse a library of recipes and useful techniques.
Sous vide cooking is all about precision and this model is accurate to within +/- 0.2 F of the set temperature. In other words, your food is going to be cooked exactly the way you want every single time.
The Nano brings water up to your target temperature quietly and it alerts you when it gets there. That way you don’t have to stand around waiting and wondering when you’re ready to start cooking.
The built-in clip screws down for a stable fit on a wide range of containers and will more than likely fit a pot that you already have. So you don’t have to buy any additional accessories in order to get cooking right away.
This circulator is small, accurate, reliable, and user friendly. While it’s not the cheapest model on the market, it certainly won’t break the bank. So, it doesn’t matter if this is your first rodeo or you’re a seasoned pro, the Anova Nano might just be the best sous vide immersion circulator for any home kitchen.
What we like
- Incredibly accurate temperature control
- Can be controlled manually or with the very useful Anova app
- Very quiet when cooking
What We don’t
- Not suitable for large water baths over 5-gal
- The maximum temperature of 197 F is on the low side
Monoprice Sous Vide Immersion Circulator
If you’re on a tight budget or not quite sold on the value of sous vide cooking yet, the Monoprice immersion circulator is a great way to get your foot in the door for about $50.
This model doesn’t offer a wireless bluetooth connection like many of the more expensive units, but it still offers accurate cooking temperatures in an easy-to-use package.
The design isn’t as sleek as my other picks – it’s one of the larger options you’ll find outside of commercial models. With that said, the Monoprice sous vide is not huge by any means, but you may have a harder time fitting it nicely in a kitchen drawer.
The touch-sensitive control panel is straightforward and easy to use. There’s one button for temperature, one for cooking time, a control wheel to set both of those, and a button to start or stop the machine.
The cooking performance of the Monoprice is actually on par with my top pick. It will bring your water to temperature in around 20 minutes, depending on how hot you’re trying to go. It’s also notable that the Monoprice has a higher max temperature (212 F) than the Anova (197 F).
One tradeoff of the value model is that the largest water bath that you can accurately heat is only 4-gallons. While that should be plenty of space for most at-home cooking, you may be better off with another model if you are regularly cooking at bigger volumes. If you aren’t sure, I’ll add more guidance on how to determine the best volume for you in the buyers guide below.
The Monoprice immersion circulator offers incredible value. Especially when you consider that the cooking performance is similar to models that cost at least twice as much. So, if you don’t mind the larger size and lack of wireless control, this is a very smart pick.
What we like
- Cooking performance is similar to some higher-end options
- High maximum heating temperature of 212 F
What We don’t
- No wireless control/connectivity
- Not as sleek as the competition
PolyScience Chef Commercial Immersion Circulator
The PolyScience Chef series is a professional-level immersion circulator that’s used in some of the best restaurants around the world. I’ve used this model extensively in high-end restaurant settings and can attest to its accuracy and durability.
In my professional experience, it was common for this model to run for 10 to 12-hours a day, 7 days a week without any issue. There were even some recipes that required 72-hours of continuous cook time.
While this model may be overkill in many home kitchens, the fact that it can accurately heat baths up to 8-gallons can be useful for cooking very large cuts of meat or for entertaining.
My other top picks are accurate to within an impressive 0.2 F, but this model ups the ante. This pick is accurate to within 0.1 F.
So, while a fraction of a degree doesn’t actually matter for most real-world cooking scenarios, it will most definitely give you bragging rights over all of your friends.
This is another model that doesn’t offer any wireless control, so if that’s important to you, look back to my Best Overall selection above. This model is also on the large side, weighing a burly 7-pounds.
In the end, this option and it’s high price might not make sense for many home kitchens. But, if you plan on cooking sous vide A LOT, the durability and consistent performance could be worth your while. And, you’ll definitely have the most accurately cooked foods on the block.
What we like
- More accurate (by a hair) than the rest
- Can heat very large water baths, up to 8-gal
- Durable enough for very heavy use
What We don’t
- Very expensive
Breville Joule Sous Vide
The Breville Joule sous vide immersion circulator is the smallest and if you ask me, the best-looking immersion circulator around. And, even though it’s the smallest option, it delivers impressive power and cooking performance.
The Joule will bring a water bath up to temperature about five minutes faster than my best overall or best value pick.
The main thing keeping this model from the top of the list is that there are no physical controls at all. That means you have no other choice but to use a smartphone and the Joule app to control cooking time and temperature.
I prefer having the option to do both, but if that’s not important to you, this is a very good option to consider.
What To Look For
Tank Vs. Stick: Consider Portability and Storage Space
The alternative to a stick sous vide immersion circulator (like all of my top picks), is a tank sous vide – which is sometimes referred to as a “water oven cooker.” These options are small countertop kitchen appliances that have a water reservoir with a built-in heating unit and circulator.
The cooking effect of these tanks is the same as a stick model, but you simply don’t need a pot or another container to hold the water.
That may sound convenient, but a tank sous vide circulator takes up a lot of cupboard space in-between uses. If you have an abundance of storage or countertop space, a tank might make sense.
Personally, I like how easy it is to store a stick sous vide, or even throw it in a backpack to use at a friend or family member’s house.
Compatible Containers: You Probably Already Own One
You can use any container for a bath as long as its heat resistant up to around 212 F (water’s boiling point). And, it must be tall enough to hold the minimum water requirement for your sous vide machine.
That’s usually around 5-inches deep, but some models like the Joule, only require 1.5-inches of water.
So, for most uses, a good old stockpot fits the bill nicely. If you don’t have one, or just want to use what the pros do, go for an inexpensive 12-quart Cambro. Or, for even more cooking space, go with a food storage box that’s close to 5-gallons.
Controls: Keep It Simple
There are really only two settings that you need to worry about when using a sous vide machine, time and water temperature. So, controls should be as simple as a button for each, and a way to start and stop the machine.
Wireless controls through a smartphone and app can be a useful feature as well. This allows you to set the time and temperature, and many options provide useful recipes and techniques.
Time and Temperature Settings
Sous vide machines that can reach high temperatures and cook for a long time will offer the most versatility.
Most options have a maximum heating temperature of around 200 F.
But, it’s uncommon to use a water temperature that high for most tasks, which is why Anova’s “low” 197 F max shouldn’t be a concern for most cooks.
Just about any option that you choose will be able to cook for longer than you’ll ever need. The Anova Nano, for example, claims to be able to cook continuously for up to 3,000 hours. That’s 125-days!
I’ve never cooked anything longer than a few days straight and would guess that most home cooks won’t need to either.
Power, Speed, And Water Bath Size
Most household sous vide machines are built to heat water baths up to around 5-gallons. That’s a lot of room for cooking and probably more than most people will need on a daily basis.
Some more powerful (and more expensive) models, like the PolyScience Chef, are built for commercial use. These can handle water baths of 8-gallons and sometimes even larger.
These models have more power full heating elements as well as larger fans or jets that can circulate larger amounts of water.
When it comes to how long it will take to bring a bath up to temperature, that depends largely on how hot you’re trying to get and how hot the water is, to begin with. But, plan on waiting around 15-20 minutes for most home models.
Precision: More Accurate Than You Need
All of my top picks are accurate to within at least 0.2 F. At that rate, you nor your friends will be able to tell the difference between a steak that’s cooked to 129 or 128.8 F.
Vacuum Sealer: Useful But Not Required
Vacuum sealing isn’t absolutely necessary but it can be useful for certain cooking techniques. If you’re just getting started, you’ll do just fine using Ziploc-style bags.
When using vacuum-sealed bags, you can completely submerge them in the water bath without worrying about water seeping in. If you plan on cooking a lot of small items or infusing oils and liquids, a vacuum sealer will make your life much easier.
You can find a good model from home use between $50-400, while commercial “chamber” vacuum sealers can handle (much) more volume, but usually start around $1000.
Cleaning Your Sous Vide Machine
Cleaning the exterior of most sous vide machines is simply a matter of wiping it down with a damp cloth.
To clean the heating coils you should fill a non-reactive container with equal parts white vinegar and water. Use enough liquid that the entire coil is submerged. Then, simply run the circulator at 140 F for about an hour and then rinse well. At this point, you can also give the coils a gentle scrub using a toothbrush for anything that’s still stuck on.
What You Can Expect To Spend
A sous vide machine may seem like a fancy piece of equipment that only high-end restaurants can afford. But, solid options are available for well under $100 and even the best home use models can be had for $200 or less.
The primary features that you’ll be giving up with a budget-friendly model are wireless control, and compact design. When it comes to cooking performance, they’re often pretty closely matched.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is A Sous Vide Machine Used For?
Sous vide machines are used to cook at very precise temperatures without any fluctuation. This means you can cook an item to a very specific temperature without ever overcooking it or losing moisture.
It can be used to cook meat, fish, vegetables, eggs, as well as infuse oils and liquids. But, because this is a water-based cooking method, you can never reach temperatures higher than 212 F.
That means browning or caramelization will never occur with this method.
How Does It Work?
It’s a relatively simple process that involves a heating coil and fan or jet that keeps water circulating. The coil heats the water, which is continuously moving so that the temperature is consistent throughout the water bath.
Are There Any Safety Issues?
One of the coolest things about cooking sous vide is the ability to cook at low temperatures. But, some of those low temperatures are also where bacteria thrive and multiply.
Using clean, high-quality meats and other ingredients that don’t have any dangerous bacteria in the first place is one way to help avoid this risk.
Can You Use Ziploc Bags For Sous Vide Cooking?
Yes absolutely. Ziploc bags are a great option that are easy to find and less expensive than vacuum bags. Cooking small items and liquids or fats are a few scenarios that can really benefit from a true vacuum-sealed bag.
Are They Used In Pro Kitchens?
Professional kitchens use sous vide cooking for everything you can imagine and many things you probably can’t.
They’re used to hold perfectly cooked steaks so that when one is ordered they can be quickly seared and on a plate in a matter of minutes. They’re great for cooking custards that will never curdle or break. Or, for keeping fragile sauces like hollandaise warm throughout a meal service.
Can You Overcook Meat When Using One?
Technically no, meat will never exceed the temperature that your bath is set to. A chicken cooking in a 160 F bath will never get hotter than 160 F.
But, after a certain amount of time meat will start to get increasingly mushy with a very unpleasant texture.
If you forget to pull a piece of meat out a few minutes or even hours too late, you’ll be fine. Some restaurants keep portions of meat cooking in a bath for an entire meal service, which is at least five hours but can be much longer.
What Should I Try To Make Using My Sous Vide Machine At Home?
Steaks are a great way to test out your sous vide machine. You can dial in the exact temperature of your preferred doneness so you’re not left poking, prodding, guessing when it’s a perfectly cooked medium-rare. Then, a quick sear in a very hot pan or grill, and you’re set.
Or, try placing whole eggs (in the shell) in a 145.4 F (63C) bath for one hour. This is the technique for the perfectly poached egg that restaurants around the world use.
The Anova Nano is really the best bang for your buck when it comes to sous vide cooking at home. It offers close to professional-level performance, in a small, easy-to-use package. And, the Anova app and wireless controls are arguably the best around.
If you’ll be using your circulator several times a week, or cooking large quantities for events, the PolyScience Chef might be the way to go. It’s durable enough for daily use, and it’s the only model that will heat water baths up to 8-gallons, almost double the other options.