Sous vide—the cooking method whereby vacuum-sealed food is cooked in temperature-controlled water—was once relegated to professional chefs and only the geekiest, tech-obsessed home cooks. But when we published our first sous vide machine reviews in 2017, all of that was changing: more and more home cooks were getting in on the sous vide game, in large part because a new generation of home-friendly immersion circulators (the tool used to maintain consistent water temperature) had hit the market. Now, as we revisit sous vide machines, this is even more true—immersion circulators are less expensive and more widely available than ever. We tested nine relatively affordable immersion circulators that are new to the market to find the best sous vide cooker for the money. Check out our picks below; for details about our testing methods, scroll to the bottom of the page.
The Best Immersion Circulator: The Joule
The Joule earns our top ranking because it's sleek, lightweight, and small enough to fit easily in a kitchen cabinet or drawer. That's less common than you may think: all of the other immersion circulators we tested were considerably bigger and bulkier. The Joule has a clever magnetic bottom, so it doesn't need to attach to the side of the pot with a bulky clamp like other circulators. This is good, because the Joule does come with a clamp, but it's flimsy and less secure than those that came with other circulators.
The magnetic bottom also means you can use the Joule in a wider variety of pots (many of the other immersion circulators we tested only worked in large containers or pots). And if you want to use a really big pot? No worries—the Joule boasts the highest power capacity of any of the sous vide machines at its price point (1,100 watts, while its neck-in-neck competitor, the Anova Precision Cooker, has only 900 watts). The Joule took 15 minutes to heat water to 149°, while the Anova took over 20.
As part of its compact design, the Joule has no screen or buttons. Instead, you set your temperature and time on the app that connects to the immersion circulator. On your smart phone, you can watch as the water temperature rises. The app notifies you when it reaches the proper temperature (so does the machine, via a series of beeps and light indicators). There are pre-set temperatures for various foods on the app, with recommendations based on the way you like your steak (or eggs, etc.), but you can also program your own temperature. When you click on a chicken breast recipe for example, the app tells you the Joule team's favorite temperature, the USDA recommendation, and other recommendations based on preference. Through the app you can also program the Joule to automatically switch to different temperatures at various points in the cooking process. In other words, the Joule app allows for maximum control and customization, which is great—unless you're looking for a less complicated machine that you can start using without learning an app first.
A Slightly Less Fussy Option: the Anova
Hey, look—a less complicated sous vide machine that you can use without learning an app first! The Anova immersion circulator is just as effective as the Joule, and even has some advantages over it, which is why several other publications list this model as their top pick. For us, though, the Anova just narrowly missed first place due to its bulkier design and slower heating.
To use the Anova, you simply attach it to the pot, add water, turn it on and adjust the temperature via the easy-to-use scroll button on the front. The Anova has a rotating knob that screws the machine to the side of the pot, so it can't accidentally move around. Additionally, the cylinder of the circulator can be adjusted, moved up and down vertically, and positioned at various heights depending on the depth of your pot. The temperate appears clearly and legibly on the front of the machine as you adjust it. Like the Joule, the Anova connects to your phone via Wifi or Bluetooth and has an app with recipes and recommended temperatures. The app is less well-designed and comprehensive than the Joule's, but in the end that's a small matter, because unlike the Joule, the app is not the only way to control the machine.
Budget Pick: Instant Pot Accu Slim Immersion Circulator
Like the Anova, Instant Pot's take on the immersion circulator is easy to use straight out of the box—no need to connect the device to wifi, or pair it with an app. In fact, there is no app! Simply clip the machine to a pot, set your temperature, and cook.
There are a few downsides: The Accu Slim only cooks in increments of ten minutes, and you set the temperature and time via touch-screen plus and minus buttons, which makes for a lot of repeated button pressing. Also, the lack of an app means you'll need to find recipes elsewhere (such as, uh, the free Joule app). Still, this thing is small, heats up just as quickly as the Anova, and is $50 cheaper than its competitors. For the casual sous vide cook, what could be better?
Other Immersion Circulators We Tried
- Anova Precision Cooker Pro: This luxe model boasts up to 1800 watts of power and came to temperature faster than any other machine we tried. But it's bulky (and at almost $400, so is the price.)
- Anova Nano Precision Cooker: Anova's least expensive offering also has the least amount of power (750 watts). It's a bit more streamlined and less bulky than the winning model, but it's slow to come to temperature.
- __Instant Pot Max (with sous vide capability)__: Can you sous vide in the Instant Pot Max (the one model from the company that officially has a sous vide function)? We found that the temperature ran about two degrees lower than what it was set for, and the water doesn't circulate, so...we don't recommend it.
- Monoprice Strata Home Sous Vide Precision Cooker: Easy to use, accurate, and, at $70, a good budget option. But we still prefer the Instant Pot circulator, thanks to its smaller profile.
- Kitchen Gizmo Sous Vide Cooker. This was our 2017 budget pick, but in 2019, the Strata Home and the Instant Pot beat it.
- The Nomiku: We tested this machine in 2017 and found it to be unnecessarily bulky and difficult to operate.
How We Tested
Using the recommended temperatures and times on the Joule app, we cooked skinless, boneless chicken thighs and breasts—each sealed in their own reusable silicone bags—for 55 minutes at 149°F. We cooked a half pound of flank steak for 1 1/2 hours at 129°F, and we cooked eggs—in their shell, directly in the water—for 1 hour at 147°F. We also tested the actual temperature accuracy of the immersion circulators by measuring the water temperature with a Thermapen.
We also evaluated design elements, like the size and weight of the machine, the efficacy of the clip that attaches the immersion circulator to the side of the pot, and the buttons and temperature adjustments. We evaluated the apps that come with the circulators, and the methods for connecting to the devices through Bluetooth or Wifi. Finally, we evaluated how easy the machines were to set up.
Ultimately, since sous vide is all about precision cooking at an exact, stabilized temperature, all of these machines cooked the eggs, steak, and chicken equally to near perfection. The steaks cooked in each machine came out a tender and juicy medium rare. The chicken was moist and cooked through to the desired temperature. The eggs had set whites and thickened yellow yolks.
Choosing the right immersion circulator for home cooks is more about design features, ease of use, and differences in the technology that accompanies the machine. These ended up being the central factors we considered in our rankings.
Buy the Joule: if you're a sous-vide enthusiast looking for a powerful machine that's small and easy to store. Go for the Anova if you prefer a machine doesn't require using an app. And if you just want to dip your toe into sous vide with making a big investment? The Instant Pot Accu Slim Immersion Circulator is the machine for you.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious