If you’re interested in sous vide cooking, then one of the first steps is simply figuring the best sous vide machines for home use. After all, there are many different models out there and there are key differences between them.
In fact, this area can seem overwhelming quickly but it doesn’t need to be. Instead, there are a few key areas to pay close attention to. These can help you figure out which product is going to work best for your situation and your needs.
With most products, price tends to be an important consideration and sous vide machines are no exception. In fact, the price is particularly relevant here simply because it varies so much.
For example, immersion circulators are often relatively inexpensive, especially if you choose a basic model like the Gourmia GSV130. But, there are also models that come in at around $200, particularly those that have wifi and bluetooth capability.
At the same time, some brands (like PolyScience) offer machines at dramatically higher price points, including some that are upwards of $500 or even $1,000.
A similar pattern happens for water ovens. So, you can find some water ovens under $250, although these are typically small and limited in power. Likewise, there are premium water ovens and others that are more expensive again.
As you can probably imagine, these price differences are partly connected to power. So, as a general rule, the more expensive ones often have stronger motors and perhaps a larger capacity overall.
But, this difference won’t always be relevant. For example, if you’re only cooking for yourself and a few others, then you won’t need the most powerful machine on the market.
At the same time, some of the price differences just come down to brand and reputation. So, in many cases, you will find that there are less expensive models that offer similar advantages to branded counterparts.
Water capacity is one of the most important areas when considering a sous vide machine. This number refers to how much water your device can effectively heat and maintain the temperature of.
As a general rule, a larger water capacity will allow you to cook a greater amount of food. However, more water also takes longer to heat up, which can sometimes be frustrating. You do also want the size to reflect what you’re cooking. In particular, trying to cram food in a relatively small space could result in your meal not cooking correctly.
If you’ve looking at an immersion circulator, then the water capacity is mostly determined by whatever container you’re using. In fact, you can adjust the size of container you use, based on whatever you’re cooking. But, the device itself will have an upper limit as well.
For example, two of my favorite immersion circulators (the Joule and the Gourmia GVS140) will work for up to 10 gallons of water. In contrast, others may be less effective. One example is the Gourmia GVS130, which just goes to 5 gallons.
In contrast, a water oven has a fixed capacity, which is typically measured in quarts (1 gallon is 4 quarts). For example, some premium water ovens have capacities of around 12 quarts, which is roughly 3 gallons. Less expensive options may have a lower capacity again, like 10 quarts or around 8 quarts.
Now, in most cases, you would only need a few gallons to cook for a family or even to host a small party. So, in this sense, water capacity may not be too important. But, you should still be aware of the capacity, especially if the product you’re looking at is on the small side.
Besides that, the capacity will impact how much space the device takes up. So, you probably don’t want one that is larger than it needs to be.
Immersion Circulators vs Water Ovens
One final consideration is whether you want an immersion circulator or a water oven. Both of these devices have the same general purpose and they work to heat up water and maintain it at the desired temperature. However, they do so through very different mechanisms, which results in two completely dissimilar types of products.
Water ovens (sometimes called water baths) are an all-in-one device. As a result, they are fairly large and sturdy. This is an advantage and a disadvantage.
For example, the size of water ovens can make them frustrating in many kitchens. However, you do have everything all in one place, which is nice. Plus, it would be hard to knock over the machine or spill water, while this can happen with an immersion circulator.
Typically, water ovens make use of a heating element to warm the water. This process can be relatively slow, especially if you are working with a high capacity machine.
However, some water ovens do also use a motor that circulates the water. These water ovens tend to be a little noisier but are more effective at maintaining the temperature of water overall. Likewise, circulation can improve the speed of water heating.
Water ovens are particularly relevant if you want a permanent appliance for your countertop. Additionally, they can be slightly more efficient simply because there is less setup to do each time.
In contrast, an immersion circulator acts to heat the water and controls the temperature but it doesn’t house the water. Instead, it is a wand-like device that you attach to the side of a pot or another type of container.
Typically, one end of the immersion circulator is inserted into the water and the device will also have a control panel, allowing you to choose settings for time and temperature. The tool then operates by taking up water, heating it and then releasing it into the container. This process allows the immersion circulator to warm water to a specific temperature and ensure that the temperature of the water stays consistent.
Immersion circulators tend to be much smaller than water ovens and you would often just be using a large kitchen pot with them. As a result, the circulators tend to be easier to store than water ovens and are also much more maneuverable.
At the end of the day, both styles of device work for sous vide cooking and you could go with either. For that matter, the food you produce is likely to be similar regardless of whether you choose a water oven or an immersion circulator.
So, which is best?
Really, that depends on your own preferences. Personally, I find immersion circulators to be the best option. These tend to be less expensive and they are also much more maneuverable than a water oven.
In contrast, a water oven may be relevant for people who have more space in their kitchen or who want a permanent device. After all, the nature of a water oven would mean less time involved in setting up and tidying the device away.
The Overall Design
For the most part, the design of a sous vide machine can be broken down into either immersion circulator or water bath. But, there are some other interesting design elements that are worth considering as well.
One of these is whether the machine circulates. By definition, all immersion circulators will circulate the water in a container. After all, this is how they warm the water. However, only some water ovens will do so.
The circulation process does result in more noise and isn’t strictly necessary for cooking, provided the water can be kept warm without it. Still, a circulating machine will typically have better control over the temperature and this does help you to get better result overall.
Another feature is remote functionality.
Some devices allow you to control them from other parts of the house, using a combination of wifi and bluetooth. The idea works well and is much more practical than going back to check on the device regularly (not that you need to – but most of us would anyway).
Being able to operate your device from other rooms is a cool design feature and it would be an advantage for some situations. But, so far, only immersion circulators are wifi enabled, there are no water ovens on the market with this feature.
This may change in the future, as there is a market for remote control. Still, it’s hard to know what will happen or when, as this design feature doesn’t really impact your overall outcomes.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in controlling your device via wifi, then you have to go with an immersion circulator. The ChefSteps Joule is probably the best such option on the market.
For that matter, the Joule is also an example of an unusual physical design. It is smaller and lighter than most other immersion circulators, while still having considerable power. That design may be a reason for picking that specific model, although the design is mostly an aesthetic choice.
Choosing The Right Product
With so many areas to consider, choosing the best sous vide machine can seem confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead, it’s often just a matter of looking at what you’re willing to spend and how much you need to cook.
For example, if you only want to cook for yourself and your family, a few gallons of water should be just fine. In contrast, if you sometimes cook for more people, using an immersion circulator with a high maximum capacity may be a good idea. This would offer more flexibility and would allow you to use a smaller container when you needed to.
Because the general function of sous vide machines tends to be roughly the same, you may also choose to focus on features. For example, I love the ability to remotely cook, along with the app that comes with the Joule, and these are key reasons why this remains my favorite immersion circulator.
Other people may choose to focus on different features, like overall power or how easy the device is to setup and use.