LET’S face it: Thanks to technology, we are running out of excuses for not knowing how to cook.
Sous vide immersion cooking, which involves giving food a hot water bath, makes cooking too easy. Just use a sous vide gadget to heat a pot of water to a set temperature, seal the food in an airtight bag, drop it in — and presto, you are more than halfway to feasting on a juicy steak or a buttery piece of salmon that melts on your tongue.
Not only that, sous vide cookers are better and more affordable than ever before. Some newer models include Wi-Fi to let you cook a meal from afar and apps that hold your hand through each step of preparing a meal.
Enter Joule, the new sous vide cooker from ChefSteps, a recipe website and technology company in Seattle that is devoted to the cooking method. The cylindrical white device, which was released this year, is slimmer than competing devices on the market, and is controlled by a smartphone app hooked to ChefSteps’ extensive database of recipes.
I tested Joule for about two months and compared it to the top-rated sous vide cooker from Anova Culinary that I personally own. After using both devices to cook pork, beef, salmon and chicken, I eventually had to buy a Joule and add it to my eclectic collection of kitchen gadgets.
Joule beat the Anova in several ways. Joule looks more attractive, and its compact size makes it easier to store in a kitchen drawer. In addition, its mobile app is better designed, and the device heats water about 50 percent faster than Anova. The caveat is that Joule is more suitable for food nerds and early adopters of new technology, whereas Anova is probably a better pick for the average home cook.
Joule vs. Anova
Joule and the newest Anova model have much in common. They are both cylindrical gadgets with Wi-Fi connections, both have companion smartphone apps, and both cost about $200.
But the differences are major and will have an impact on your work flow in the kitchen.
For one thing, Joule requires use of a smartphone app for setting a temperature and timer. On Anova, the temperature can be set with a button panel and wheel on the face of the device. The lack of a button control panel is partly what makes Joule so much smaller than Anova, but using an app isn’t always ideal. When handling raw chicken, for instance, the last thing I wanted to do was touch my smartphone to start a timer.
Still, Joule’s compact size provided more versatility. Joule comes with a magnet so that its base can be stuck to some metal pots, and a small clip so it can be attached to the side of a container or pot. When I was cooking for one — a one-pound rib-eye, for example — I attached Joule to a small stainless steel pot, threw in the bagged food and quickly heated up the water.
Anova is bulkier and is mounted to a pot or container by means of a detachable clamp. A small pot would tip over with Anova attached, so you always have to use at least a medium-size pot no matter what you are cooking.
I also enjoyed that Joule heated water much faster. For instance, when I was cooking salmon, which takes only 30 minutes to cook sous vide, Joule took 12 minutes to heat a six-liter container of water to 121 degrees, from 65 degrees. Anova, by contrast, took 18 minutes.
The difference in power is by design: Joule draws 1,100 watts of power and Anova draws 900 watts. Joule also uses a thick-film heating element that helps heat water more quickly than the coil heating system that Anova and other sous vide cookers use.
In general, Joule’s app was a more helpful guide in the kitchen. When I was determining how to heat up steak, Joule’s app showed videos demonstrating what the inside of the meat would look like when cooked at 129 degrees or 133 degrees. Using notifications and a timer, the Joule app also guided me through each step of making the steak, including seasoning and searing.
Anova’s app shows photos and text with recipe instructions, which are not easy to read on a smartphone screen while prepping food in the kitchen.
When I prepared meals with Joule and Anova simultaneously, the food turned out the exact same way. So the journey, not the result, should drive your buying decision.
Part of what compelled me to buy Joule was its faster heating. Sous vide cooking already takes a long time. On average, Joule took around 10 minutes to heat water to the temperatures I desired, and Anova often took about five to 10 minutes longer. When you cook sous vide frequently, the extra minutes that Anova takes to heat water add up.
Another reason to go with Joule is its sleek size. Not only is it easy to store at home, but also I’m the type who totes a sous vide gadget to cook at a friend’s house or vacation rental.
But Joule’s downside is the need for a smartphone app to operate it. When preparing foods in a kitchen, fiddling with a phone screen is not ideal. Anova’s wheel and button panel are more approachable to average consumer, including Luddites who do not use smartphones.
Another benefit for Anova is that it has time on its side. Stephen Svajian, the company’s chief executive, said Anova had been making sous vide devices for over a decade, and the failure rates of its products are below 1 percent. ChefSteps said Joule’s thick-film technology would last longer than coil-heating methods like Anova’s, but time will tell.
Whatever device you choose, sous vide cooking will be a big step up from microwave dinners — yet almost as mindless.
The New York Times