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Best Sous Vide Machines of 2018
The sous vide cooking technique turns out perfect steaks, fish, chicken, and so much more. Use our shopping guide to help you find the best sous vide machine to spice up your cooking routine.
Shopping Guide for the Best Sous Vide Machines
You've mastered the cooking basics: roasting, baking, frying. You own and use a slow cooker and an Instant Pot. You're ready to add something new to your kitchen arsenal, so why not give sous vide cooking a try?
Once limited to professional chefs, sous vide cooking is accessible to everyone today thanks to home sous vide machines. This easy-to-master, water-based cooking technique turns out perfect steaks, fish, chicken, and other proteins, but that's not all. You can also use a sous vide machine to prepare potatoes, eggs, asparagus, custard desserts, yogurt, and so much more.
When it comes to buying this trendy kitchen appliance, however, you might be at a loss. After all, it's an unfamiliar method of cooking for most home chefs. That's why we at BestReviews decided to round up our favorite sous vide machines for your consideration.
If you're already familiar with sous vide and just want to get to cooking, go ahead and check out our three recommendations above. If you'd like to learn more about sous vide machines in general, including what they are, how to use them, and what foods cook best with this technique, read on.
What Is Sous Vide?
Sous vide—pronounced sue veed—is a French term meaning "under pressure." The technique is fairly simple: You place raw food into a heavy-duty plastic bag, vacuum-seal the bag, and drop it into a bath of hot water. The food remains there until it is completely cooked. If you're wondering how this differs from boil-in-a-bag frozen foods, there are two main differences: the water in a sous vide machine is not boiling, and the food has not already been cooked and then frozen as many boil-in-a-bag meals are.
But the real beauty of sous vide cooking is that the water bath, instead of getting hotter and hotter until it reaches a boil, remains at your chosen temperature; your food never heats beyond that point. For example, if you want your steak medium-rare, you set your sous vide machine between 135°F and 140°F—the temperature a steak needs to reach internally to cook medium-rare—and place your vacuum-sealed steak into the temperature-controlled water bath. Over time, the meat will reach 135°F–140°F, but it won't heat beyond the temperature you initially set. As a result, you get a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak without any fuss.
Two Types of Sous Vide Machines
While fine restaurants use large, costly sous vide machines to prepare pricey meals, there are two smaller, less-expensive versions available to the everyday cook: the sous vide oven and the immersion circulator.
Sous Vide Oven
A sous vide oven, sometimes called a sous vide cooker, is basically a self-contained hot water bath. You add water to the basin, set the machine to your desired temperature, and place your bags of food into the water. Sous vide ovens don't usually circulate water; rather, a heating element at the bottom of the device heats the water and holds it at the desired temperature.
- No need for a separate pot
- Large basin holds plenty of food
- Large appliance to store
- Cooking results can be uneven
- Very expensive
Cost: There are slow cooker/sous vide oven combination machines that cost less than $100, but if you're looking for a high-quality, standalone sous vide oven, expect to pay between $200 and $500.
The immersion circulator is by far the most popular type of home sous vide machine. These devices clip to the side of your large stockpot, bucket, or bowl and heat the water while simultaneously circulating it around the pot. Almost all immersion circulators are Wi-Fi compatible and include various apps that let you control the device from a distance. You can also use the Wi-Fi access to grab recipes and cooking tips.
- Heats faster than a sous vide oven
- Steadier temperature control than a sous vide oven
- Easy to store in a drawer
- Attaches to any vessel that can safely hold hot water
- Circulates water for even cooking
- Less costly than a sous vide oven
- Large cooking vessel may be required
Cost: You'll find many excellent immersion circulators that cost between $80 and $200. At the upper end of the price range, expect to find immersion circulators with remote controls and more elaborate apps.
Sous Vide Features You'll Love
Temperature Control: While all sous vide machines let you set a temperature, some have digital touchpads on the actual device. Others can be controlled via smartphone.
Timer: Some sous vide machines include a timer. If you're counting down the minutes 'til dinner's ready, this is a nice feature to have.
Magnet: Instead of a clamp, some immersion circulators have a magnetic bottom. You can stand this type of sous vide upright in the middle of a metal stockpot.
Adjustable Mount: This lets you adjust the height of your immersion circulator to the height of your cooking pot.
Precision: Sous vide cooking requires precise control over the water temperature. A device that cooks within 0.2 degrees of the set temperature is considered to be a good sous vide machine.
Other Items You Might Need
In addition to a sous vide machine, you may want to invest in a few other items before you get cooking.
You'll need a supply of heavy plastic bags that are safe for use in hot water. There are reusable bags specifically made for sous vide cooking, but many chefs simply use heavy plastic freezer bags.
Some cooks use a vacuum sealer to seal their bags, but this is optional. You can squeeze the air out of the bag yourself if you prefer.
Skillet or Torch
One downside to sous vide cooking is that while meat comes out tender, juicy, and perfectly cooked, it doesn't get browned. Rather, the meat tends to appear somewhat grayish on the outside. Most chefs give the meat a quick sear with a kitchen torch or cast-iron skillet once it's finished in the sous vide machine for that perfect browned crust.
Tips for Using Your New Sous Vide
- Some countertop materials can be damaged by high heat, so be sure to place your sous vide machine on a trivet or insulated pad before turning it on.
- Season your meat or vegetables as desired before sealing the bag.
- The cooking bag must be entirely sealed with no air spaces between the food and the bag. Otherwise, you won't get even cooking results.
- During the cooking process, make sure the bags are completely immersed in the water.
- Follow your machine's guidelines for temperature and cooking times.
- As a general rule, dry spices and fresh herbs are better than pastes and wet marinades for sous vide cooking.
- While it's true that your food won't overcook in a sous vide—even if you leave the food in the machine for longer than recommended—you'll get the very best results if you remove the food right after it has finished cooking.
- Give your cooked meat a sear before eating, and it will taste even better.
Q. Is food poisoning a concern with sous vide cooking?
A. While improper handling of raw or cooked food can always be risky, sous vide cooking is safe as long as you set your desired temperature to a level high enough to kill bacteria. This is generally 130°F or above. Many sous vide cookers have a warning signal that lets you know if the temperature isn't high enough for food safety.
Q. Could dangerous chemicals from the plastic bags leach into my food?
A. Bags designed for sous vide cooking don't contain BPA or phthalates—the chemicals that cause the most concern when it comes to plastic and food. Furthermore, the water is heated to a temperature below boiling, so no dangerous chemicals are thought to contaminate your dinner.
Q. Is sous vide cooking primarily meant for steak?
A. While it's true that steak is one of the most popular entrees prepared in a sous vide, you can use the machine to cook just about any type of meat and lots of delicious veggies, too. You can also use a sous vide to cook eggs, custards, yogurt, and other soft foods.