One of the most important decisions with sous vide cooking is the tool you use to control the water temperature. This item plays a key role in how easy sous vide cooking is but the decision can be somewhat confusing. One challenge is that there are so many expensive products on the market, including the water ovens that come from the Sous Vide Supreme brand.
These products may seem like the perfect place to start simply because they are specifically designed for sous vide cooking, but there are some cheaper alternatives to Sous Vide Supreme water ovens on the market, many of which perform just as well.
Choosing a cheaper option may also let you save money for fun tools to go with sous vide, instead of having to invest all your money in the actual machine.
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Water Ovens Versus Immersion Circulators
One of the most critical decisions about sous vide is what type of device you are going to get. There are basically two options. One of these is a water oven, which is often called a water bath.
A water oven is a relatively large device, often the size of a bread maker or a slow cooker. Because of the size, you would typically keep it in one place. Ideally, this would become a permanent appliance on your counter. However, some people actually end up keeping them on the floor (which isn’t great), simply because of how large they are.
The all-in-one style can be an advantage if you do have the space for the product. After all, this means you don’t have to worry about a separate container, evaporating water during long cooks, or spillage. Likewise, the lid and design mean fewer issues heat loss if it's cold in the house. The style also tends to be fairly quiet, which is another plus.
The alternative is an immersion circulator. These are smaller devices that you clip to the side of your own container and they will heat water and circulate. The process tends to be noisier than a water oven, although this can vary from one model to the next.
As a general rule, immersion circulators tend to be considerably cheaper and they will often heat the water faster because of the circulation. You also have more flexibility. For example, an immersion circulator lets you vary the size of the container based on what you’re cooking. The same isn’t true for a water oven.
My personal preference is immersion circulators and I’ve tested 13 of these to work out which ones are the best. Still, there are situations where a water oven may work better for your needs. If nothing else, they do require less setup and are entirely self-contained.
Cheaper Options For Your Kitchen
Regardless of whether you want a water oven or an immersion circulator, there are cheaper alternatives to the various Sous Vide water ovens. Here, I’m going to highlight my favorite choices for each style, along with why these particular models stand out.
The Gourmia GSV140 is a particularly inexpensive option for an immersion circulator. But, despite the price tag, it is also a surprisingly powerful model.
Like other immersion circulators, this product operates by drawing up water, heating it and then evacuating it into the container. This process heats and circulates the water, allowing the device to consistently maintain the desired temperature throughout the entire cooking cycle.
At first glance, the Gourmia GSV140 may not seem particularly special and it doesn’t have many snazzy features to rave about. But, it is actually a very appealing model for its balance of price and power.
In particular, the device circulates water at an estimated 1.5 gallons per minute, has a power output of 1200 watts and caters for up to 10 gallons of water. There are more powerful models out there, of course, but most models in this price range don’t perform nearly as well.
For that matter, many of the more expensive immersion circulators don’t match the specs of the GSV140. At the same time, the device is easy to use and simply works well overall.
==> Full Review
The ChefSteps Joule is a step up from the Gourmia GSV140, both in terms of price and function. So, this is a more expensive option but it is also much more interesting. In fact, this is my favorite immersion circulator out of all the ones that I have tested and it is a good choice for sous vide beginners and experts.
Visually, the Joule is smaller and more elegant than most other immersion circulators but it is powerful despite that size. As with the Gourmia model, it is effective for up to 10 gallons of water, although the gallons per minute is not listed. The power is 1100 watts, which is slightly less than the Gourmia but not dramatically so.
So, in terms of power, the ChefSteps Joule is fairly similar to the Gourmia GSV140, although it has the distinct advantage of being quieter when it runs. But, where the model really shines is in the extra features.
For one thing, the Joule is a wifi and bluetooth model. This means that you can control it remotely via your phone. In fact, you need to, as this particular product doesn’t have any settings on the device itself.
To control the immersion circulator, you use an app from the company. This gives you the ability to set the temperature and to monitor this over time. The app can also provide you notifications, if you want that, which offer additional insight into your cooking.
There are other models with similar features but the Joule stands out for just how well it manages this. The app itself is extremely intuitive and offers all of the information that you could possibly need. Likewise, the device itself works well and I have yet to run into any issues at all.
==> Full Review
One final immersion circulator is the Anova Precision. The general idea is fairly similar to the Joule but this is a slightly cheaper model with a few differences.
The first thing to note is design. This circulator isn’t as elegant as the Joule and it is a bit larger. But, the approach does means that you can control via an app or the device, which gives you more flexibility than the Joule. This model is extremely quiet and even manages to be quieter than the Joule.
One downside is that the Anova Precision isn’t as powerful as the other immersion circulators listed. In particular, I’m focusing on the 900-watt version, although there is an 800-watt one as well. The difference between 900, 1100 and 1200 watts isn’t huge and may not be relevant for many people. Still, it is something to weigh up, especially if you plan to cook large quantities of food at a time.
Nevertheless, even with the lower power, the circulator does work at 2.4 gallons per minute and works for up to 10 gallons of water. Those stats are on the higher end of the scale, so the device does perform fairly well.
Like the Joule, this is a bluetooth and wifi device, so you can control it remotely. The overall approach works the same for both devices. However, I did find that the Joule’s app is much better overall and has more detailed information.
Whether or not this makes a difference would depend on your needs. For an app-controlled option, both this and the Joule work well and you could go with either. I like the Joule better myself, but you might choose the Anova Precision if you prefer the standard design or if you want an especially quiet device.
==> Full Review
VonShef 8.4-Quart Water Oven
This model comes from VonShef and it seems to be strongly designed for small families and easy use. In particular, it holds around 6 sealed pouches of food, which is less than many other models. However, that capacity is still enough for most family meals and even for small dinner parties.
The model does also come with some interesting features. One is the presence of slots, which help to hold the food in place. Using these helps make sure that your food doesn’t float out of the water during cooking.
There is also a viewing window, so you can watch the progress. You don’t necessarily need this type of window to cook with sous vide but it does make the process more interesting. Plus, it reduces the temptation to open the lid and check.
The biggest disadvantage is the size of the product. But, you’ll find that most inexpensive water baths are on the small side and you have to pay more if you want something large.
Additionally, the size isn’t entirely a bad thing. One of the biggest issues with water ovens is the space they take up. The capacity of this model means that it has a much smaller footprint overall, making it more practical for many kitchens.
Gourmia 10-Quart Water Oven
At 10 quarts, this model is one of the largest water ovens that you’ll find at a reasonable price. The company estimates that you can cook up to 12 packages in it and comes with a rack that helps to hold these in place.
The water oven is also insulated, which makes it cool to the touch. That reduces the risk of burning your hands during the cooking process, which is always a plus.
The model also offers some interesting settings, including presets for temperature and a display that is easy to use. As with the previous example, the model also has a window, so you can watch the cooking as it occurs.
There are some complaints about the model being loud but the issue is mostly connected to water volume. In particular, you need to use the minimum amount of water to prevent excessive noise. Instructions from the company also talk about a trick to get the air bubbles out and reduce noise further.
Gourmia 9-Quart Water Oven
The size difference between this model and the previous one is small, so including both may seem a little strange. But, there are some key differences between them, which may impact the model that you choose.
The main variation is that the 9-Quart option doesn’t use a pump, while both of the other water baths listed do. The lack of a pump reduces the operating sound considerably but also means that the product isn’t as powerful.
This is most evident in the temperature range. In this case, the product has a maximum temperature of 194°F/90°C and a minimum of 113°F/45°C. In contrast, the Gourmia 10-Quart has a maximum of 212°F/100°C and a minimum of 32°F/0°C. The VonShef model was also very similar to the Gourmia 10-Quart.
So, the 9-Quart has a much smaller temperature range. This would mean that some recipes simply couldn’t be cooked in the model.
Customer feedback also suggests that the lack of circulation can mean that foods can overcook if placed on the bottom. That is a particularly significant issue for large meals (like a roast), especially as you do have limited space.
Despite the limitations, the 9-Quart model is still a good choice if you want something small and relatively inexpensive. Likewise, the quieter nature of the model could be appealing.