A sous vide machine can help you bring fine dining cooking techniques into the comfort of your home kitchen.
Sous vide — French for “under vacuum” — is a process that involves submerging plastic-wrapped food (preferably vacuum-sealed) into a water bath and cooking it at a steady temperature for a prolonged period of time. The process heats up the food evenly from all sides, which helps ensure a thoroughly cooked meal, while still retaining moisture. In other words, sous vide could make dry, overcooked chicken a thing of the past in your kitchen.
Because sous vide requires precise temperature control that most home cooks are not equipped to manage, the technique has mostly been the domain of fine-dining restaurants. However, the technique gained a lot of popularity in the last decade due to the appearance of sous vide machines for home use. While early sous vide machines were very expensive ($600+), prices have dropped in the last few years to make them accessible to the casual home cook.
Editor's pick: Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker Pro
Best small water oven: Vesta Precision Perfecta Sous Vide Water Oven
Best Wi-Fi sous vide machine: Breville Joule Sous Vide
Types of sous vide machines
There are two types of sous vide machines for home use: water ovens and immersion circulators. They both operate on the same principle, which is circulating and heating water at the same time to maintain a steady temperature. (This is in stark contrast to simply using a stove, which only heats from the bottom and produces uneven temperatures.)
Water ovens are exactly what they sound like. They’re boxy kitchen appliances (roughly about as wide as two blenders and about as tall as a microwave) that you fill up with water, which gets circulated and heated up to your desired temperature. This type of sous vide machine was the first one to be made available for home use and is also the more expensive of the two — generally $240+ for good models. The main advantage of water ovens is that they integrate lidded containers into the machine itself, which helps prevent minor temperature fluctuations and water evaporation for long cooking projects.
Immersion cookers are slim, stick-like devices that you place in water in a pot, pan or other container, which makes them considerably more versatile than water ovens. Immersion cookers also more affordable — generally under $250, and sometimes under $100.
The fact that immersion cookers can heat water just as well as water ovens while fitting into containers of different shapes and sizes makes them more popular with home cooks. The only concern with these models is water evaporation and temperature fluctuations in uncovered containers, though this happens rarely enough that it’s not a concern for most users.
Sous vide cooking: 3 things to know
While the siren call of perfectly tender steaks and chicken can be irresistible, there are a few things to keep in mind before you dive headfirst into sous vide cooking.
Unlike other popular home kitchen appliances such as air fryers, sous vide cookers take a long time to preheat — anywhere from 8 minutes if using hot tap water to 20 minutes or more if using room temperature water.
The cooking process itself takes quite a while, too. Something as basic as eggs can take anywhere from 15 minutes at 165°F for solid whites with a runny yolk, to several hours at lower temperatures if you want to sterilize them for recipes that require raw eggs. Other food items such as steak can take over two hours, depending on whether you like your meat rare, medium or well-done.
There’s also the matter of where you’re putting your food items for cooking. Ziploc bags work fairly well for most items, but really, you’ll want to vacuum seal food to get the best results possible. This usually means purchasing additional appliances like vacuum sealers, but there are also reusable plastic bags that are a little more durable than basic zip-top bags.
Sous vide machine buying guide
When shopping around for a sous vide machine, look for the following features and specifications to make sure you find the right fit for you:
• Power output. A higher wattage rating means your sous vide machine will heat water up faster, shaving off precious minutes from the lengthy sous vide cooking process, which can take anywhere from 15 minutes for eggs with a slightly runny yolk to upwards of 2 hours for steak (and also eggs, prepared differently). While lower wattages can work just as well, it is recommended to pick models capable of 600 or more watts to keep the preheating process as short as possible (that would be under 30 minutes for room temperature water).
• Capacity. The amount of water your sous vide machine can heat up is important if you want your food to be thoroughly — and safely — cooked. Consider models with a minimum capacity of 2.5 gallons for small meals (up to 3 people) or 4 gallons and up for families of four or large groups.
• Model type. There are two kinds of sous vide machines: immersion cookers (compact) and water ovens (countertop appliance). While both types of machine serve the same function, you may not have the counter space for a water oven, or you may live in a region that’s too cold for immersion cookers (at least for one without a sealed container). Unless you’re attempting complex recipes that require absolute temperature precision, the type of model you choose comes down to personal preference.
• Wi-Fi. Sous vide machines with smartphone apps can be very convenient, particularly if you want to start preheating water while you’re otherwise occupied or out of the house. If you have a hectic schedule that requires you to juggle multiple tasks a day, consider a Wi-Fi enabled model.
Best sous vide machines
1. Editor's pick: Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker Pro
Anova Culinary’s Precision Cooker Pro is a powerful sous vide immersion cooker that can heat up to 13.5 gallons of water, so it's perfect for preparing meals for large groups. Its 1200-watt output can bring water up to temperature in around 18 minutes, which is quicker than the lengthy warmup period of many sous vide cookers (23 minutes or more).
The Precision Cooker Pro is slightly taller than other immersion cookers at 13.8”. It can still be put away in a small kitchen drawer, though you might want to make a little extra room for it.
This model features manual and smartphone controls, which makes it a versatile choice for both quick meals and longer projects.
The Precision Cooker Pro also has an adjustable clamp, which lets it work with pots and pans of various shapes and sizes (as long as they’re deep enough for the minimum water line). The only drawback is that its timer can be fairly quiet, which can cause you to overcook certain items — particularly eggs, which are very time-sensitive.
2. Best small water oven: Vesta Precision Perfecta Sous Vide Water Oven
The Perfecta water oven by Vesta Precision is a relatively affordable model that includes Wi-Fi control features for added convenience. At around $350, it costs more than a typical immersion cooker, but is not as expensive as other water ovens or even some high-end immersion cookers.
The Perfecta holds up to 2.5 gallons of water and features a transparent lid that is handy for keeping an eye on your food as it cooks. Though the power output is relatively low at only 650 watts, this model’s smartphone control features make up for it by allowing you to start the preheating process no matter where you are. This can be useful in many scenarios, from heading to the grocery store to tackling outdoor home projects, ensuring your water oven is ready to cook whenever you program it to be preheated.
Overall, the Perfecta is a solid performer, though users have noted two minor inconveniences to look out for. The first is its transparent lid, which can accumulate some condensation during cooking, making it hard to observe food during the cooking process. The second is the rare glitching of the smartphone app, which requires you to unplug the sous vide machine in order to force a “hard reset.”
3. Best Wi-Fi sous vide machine: Breville Joule Sous Vide
Breville’s Joule Sous Vide combines form and function with a 1100-watt output and its fairly short (13” tall) profile that fits snugly in just about any kitchen drawer. It can handle up to 10 gallons of water under ideal conditions (i.e., a covered container), though if you’re using it with uncovered containers, it’s recommended to limit yourself to 2.5 gallons for best results.
Like many immersion circulators, the Breville Joule includes a clamp to attach itself to the sides of taller containers, though it’s a little flimsy and could snap off if you’re not careful. To help it stay upright in metal containers, it has a magnetic bottom that keeps it steady during operation. If it tips over for any reason, the Joule automatically shuts off to avoid damage to its electronics. The Joule’s smartphone app includes a large number of recipes designed for cooks of all skill levels, which is especially handy for sous vide newcomers.
Oddly enough, the Joule’s most popular feature is also its main drawback: it can only be operated through its smartphone app. That’s right, despite all of its convenient features (timers, programmable cooking schedules, recipes, etc.), the Joule will not work unless you use it through a smartphone. While this may not seem like a major inconvenience to some, the lack of manual controls can be a hassle, especially if you’re an old-school chef or you’re cooking where internet connectivity may be a problem.