by Craig Lloyd on
If you’re ready to move on from subpar coffee in the morning and want to start making a worthwhile delicious cup of joe, here’s some coffee gear that will help get you started.
The Anova Precision Cooker is the perfect sous vide device for anyone who’s not quite sure what sous vide is but is ready to revolutionize their cooking methods.
A sous vide—sometimes called an “immersion circulator” but let’s be real, “sous vide” is a cooler term—is one of our top three kitchen gadgets that can change the way you cook.
If you’re not clear on what, exactly, this fancy French word means for your cooking routines, let’s break it down first. Sous vide (French for “under vacuum”) is a cooking technique where you place food in a plastic bag or glass jar, then the bag/jar is placed in water. The vacuum bit comes from the practice of vacuum sealing the food storage bags but it isn’t strictly necessary (you can pick up a vacuum sealer quite inexpensively though, like this $60 FoodSaver model).
The water’s temperature is precisely controlled by a device—like the Anova Precision Cooker 2.0 that we’ll be reviewing today—to cook your food consistently every time. And when we say “precisely” we mean precisely.
A pressure cooker might have a high and low setting. Most ovens can only be set by increments (and often times the set temperature isn’t even accurate). A sous vide, however, deals in tenths of a degree. When you set your sous vide cooker to 140 degrees, then 139.8 just won’t do. Anova says its cooker is accurate to ±0.1 degrees, so you might see it slip to 139.9, but that’s as far is it goes before the cooker turns the heat back up. It will also stop adding heat when it gets to 140.1. In other words, it’s always the perfect temperature.
We can practically guarantee there is nothing in your kitchen that can cook with the same incredible precision as a sous vide cooker.
The result is a far more reliable cook than you’re used to. Have you ever tried to cook chicken only for it to turn out dry? Or undercooked? Or anything but the perfect texture you were going for? It’s a lot easier to get that cook just right with a sous vide.
Cooking temperatures are usually a lot lower, so if you don’t pull your food out at exactly the right time, it won’t be burned. In fact, it can’t be burned. You might, in the case of some foods, overcook the item through setting a too-high temperature, but you’ll never end up with a dry pot and burnt-to-a-crisp food.
And because the temperature is so tightly controlled, you can time the cook perfectly. If you haven’t experienced it, it might be difficult to imagine just how incredible this is. You can cook food to the exact temperature required for the exact flavor and texture you want. Meats, vegetables, even things like infusions, can all be cooked perfectly and consistently.
You can also safely leave a sous vide to cook while you do other things. There’s no watching the pan or babysitting it, you just drop the bag in and return at the appropriate time. It’s also handy for batch cooking. Cook all the food you need for a week in a single, large tub and get it all out of the way while you watch a movie.
Whether you want to cook a steak to the exact degree of perfectly medium rare you desire, prepare food in a foolproof hands-off fashion, or you want to go full mad scientist in your kitchen, sous vide cooking offers something for everybody.
So, now that you know what the deal is with sous vide, how do you get started? First you’ll need one of those immersion circulators we talked about. For this review, we’re looking at the Anova Precision Cooker 2.0 ($130), which pairs with your phone via Bluetooth. The same company makes another version that can also connect via Wi-Fi ($160), and a smaller, cheaper version called the Nano ($100) that also uses Bluetooth, but can only cook in smaller containers (5 gallons, versus 8 gallons for the more expensive versions).
The Anova app makes it relatively easy for just about anyone to get started. Pair your phone with the cooker and you can control it directly from your phone. The app comes with a selection of recipes that you can follow, if you’d like more thorough, step-by-step directions on making a whole meal. If you have your own recipe and just want to use your new sous vide to cook your meat, then the Guide section of the app has very basic routines to heat your cooker and get started.
This is the part of the app that stood out the most to me. Recipes are designed to be start-to-finish meals, but I have my own recipes that I like to use. All I really need to know is how long do I cook chicken breast for in the sous vide. The Guide section has detailed information about this. If I want very soft chicken breast, Anova suggests putting it in at 140 degrees for 2 hours. If I’d rather have firm, stringy chicken, 160 degrees for 1 hour.
Once I’ve chosen the version I want, I just tap “Start Cooking.” The cooker then starts preheating to the exact temperature the guide suggested. Once it gets to the right time, it can even set a timer for the prescribed cook time. Of course, you can set the timer manually on the device, and use whatever timer app you prefer, but if you’re already looking up the cook times in the app, it makes perfect sense to just let the app set it all up for you.
After the water reaches the right temperature, place your food in plastic bags and dunk them in the water. You can use any basic stockpot or saucepan as long as the water is at least 2.5 inches deep. It can also accommodate up to 8 gallons (or 32 quarts) of water, which is likely much larger than most pots you use. If you really want to get fancy with it, you can get larger, polycarbonate containers designed for a sous vide, like this 12 quart container that even includes racks to keep several bags of food separate.
The Anova Precision Cooker 2.0 model only supports a Bluetooth connection which, as I stated above, is a very useful tool…when it works. I did notice in my usage that it would occasionally flake out. For the most part, this isn’t a problem. The on-device controls work just as well, and Bluetooth isn’t strictly necessary. However, it’s easy to see how Wi-Fi connectivity as a fall back would be a lot more useful. It’s a slight bummer that this feature costs an extra $30 (or extra $60 versus the budget Nano version), but it is a bit of a luxury here, so it doesn’t detract from the experience too much.
You can use a sous vide to cook just about anything, but some things are better suited to it than others. Personally, my favorite thing to cook in a sous vide is chicken. Mostly because I hate cooking chicken. Half the time it’s undercooked, half the time it’s overdone and dry, and since chicken breast scan vary wildly in size, it’s hard to predict exactly how long to cook it just right.
Enter the Anova cooker. I’ve used this thing repeatedly to cook multiple chicken breasts and they almost always come out the same. Since the sous vide cooks slow and steady, there’s a much wider window when the chicken is cooked just right. It takes a little more time to cook than throwing it in the oven, but the reliability with which the chicken comes out perfectly cooked is more than worth the trade-off. Our Editor, Jason, is also a huge sous vide fan (he owns multiple Anova units so he can cook entire multi-component meals at once). While chicken is my favorite thing, his favorite thing is cooking roast meat (low-and-slow heat is perfect for breaking down the fatty tissues in roast meat). Here’s an example of a piece of chuck roast cooked for 48 hours at 130F and seared:
In addition to chicken I’ve also tried steaks in my sous vide, but I’ll be frank, I don’t care for these quite as much, though it’s largely due to preference. Cooking steak on a pan or grill puts a high amount of heat on the outside of the steak while it cooks through to the inside. This results in a searing, crisper texture on the outside of a steak (especially the closer to well-done you like your steak cooked). In a sous vide cooking, this doesn’t happen. Now, you can cook the cut of red meat in the sous vide and pan sear it to finish it (don’t do it the other way around, though, the beautiful sear will turn to mush during the cooking process). Personally, if I’m already going to pull a pan out to pan sear a steak, I’d just as soon spend the extra few minutes cooking it all the way. If you want to make better, more precisely cooked steaks (and if you’re an obsessive culinary tinker like Jason) the sous vide is still the way to go.
There’s a reason we bundle a sous vide with the likes of a pressure cooker or slow cooker: if you set out to use it regularly, it can change how you cook. Batch preparing large meals, or just more precisely cooking those sensitive foods that aren’t easy to cook just right. For this task, the Anova Precision Cooker is easily one of the most accessible, intuitive products for home use.
The $130 900-watt model is a really solid investment at $130. It’ll let you cook larger amounts of food as well as monitor the cooking by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. If you’d like to save a little you can also get the $80 Nano if you only plan to make smaller batches—it’s only 750 watts and leaves out the Wi-Fi. The 20 quart limit for the Nano is still probably higher than the average person’s needs, but it doesn’t hurt to have that extra capacity. Especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner.
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