Sous Vide 101:
A History & Shopping Guide

September 13th, 2018

Food, and food trends, are constant.

There’s always some hot new dish, cooking technique, diet, or gadget that people need to get their hands on. And currently, the sous vide is all the rage.

A combination of technique and tool, the sous vide has been optimized using some of the most modern technology. The French name may sound a little intimidating, but don’t let it put you off. Meaning “under vacuum”, the sous vide cooking technique uses vacuum sealing and precisely heated water submersion to beautifully cook food. Sound complicated? It’s not—or at least, not anymore. Sous vide isn’t just for upscale restaurant kitchens anymore. It’s an approachable tool and technique, and can be easily implemented into home kitchens everywhere.


Let’s Break It Down

Sous vide is the name for the cooking technique, but also the name of tool used to achieve it. The technique, in theory, is simple: vacuum seal food with its marinade or seasonings and immerse the sealed bag into a temperature controlled water bath. Let the food sit in the hot water bath for the allotted amount of time, and your food will be cooked all the way through at the exact temperature of the water.

The risk of overcooking is minimal, even if you leave the food in the water for hours after the timer tells you it’s ready. Sous vide is a slow, gradual cooking process. Because of the vacuum seal, the food’s juices have nowhere escape and are reabsorbed back into the food, making the finished product exceptionally moist and tender.

Visual doneness guide settings from the Joule ap

Visual doneness guide settings from the ChefSteps Joule app.

Once the food has reached your desired doneness, you can add a very quick sear at very high heat on your stovetop or grill. Don’t spend too much time searing, otherwise you’ll risk overcooking your food.

But how do you control the precise temperature of the water? That’s where the sous vide tool comes in. You can try to adjust hot water temperatures manually on your stovetop with a thermometer, but it will need constant vigilance to ensure the temperature doesn’t drop or go too high.

Sous vide does all the work for you. You set the desired temperature for internal cooking, and the sous vide controls the cooking by heating and circulating the water to maintain its temperature. They even have timers to let you know when your food is ready.

The Evolution of the Sous Vide

There are several claims to the invention of the sous vide. Most will say that the technique was coined in the 1970s by two famous french chefs, Bruno Goussault and George Pralus. Although Goussault and Pralus can be credited to bringing sous vide to mainstream restaurant kitchens, many actually claim the technique was invented by an American.

Ambrose McGuckian, a retired Army colonel and then president of AGS Food System, Inc., claimed in a 1969 journal that vacuum sealing food and then boiling it optimizes flavor, especially in mass production. His ultimate goal was to improve the quality of hospital food service.

Cryovac, the company whose plastic bags McGuckian used to test his theory, also claims ownership of the technique since McGuckian was a contractor at the time. Cryovac vacuum sealers, to this day, are still common in restaurant kitchens for storing food, and in some cases, for sous vide.

Commercial Sous Vide

Due to quantity of production and food safety measures, the Cryovac machine makes sense for restaurant kitchens. The container that holds the water (usually made from polycarbonate or a deep, metal hotel pan) is larger, and the sous vide machine itself is more powerful than the home variety.

This commercial sous vide demo is a great example of the apparatus set-up and the cooking technique itself.

 

Home Sous Vide

It wasn’t until sous vides were finally seen on television by chef Wylie Dufresne, that the sous vide finally entered the minds of home cooks. Although commercial sous vide machines can cost up to several thousand dollars, more and more companies began manufacturing affordable home versions.

Most home sous vide machines are compact and can be easily stored in a kitchen drawer. The container that holds the water can be anything from a mixing bowl to a large pot, depending on what you have in your kitchen. Even a clean, sealed sink can do the trick in a pinch.

You don’t need a Cryovac machine to vacuum seal your food, either. A sturdy zip-tight bag with excess air pushed out with the water displacement method works perfectly. A binder clip, chip clip, or clothespin holds the bag over the edge of the container to keep water from getting inside.

Many machines themselves can be programmed through digital screens buttons, or even through a WiFi or Bluetooth connection and mobile app. This means that you can check temperatures and water levels, make adjustments, and even choose from pre-programmed guides without even being home.

Some home sous vide machines are all-in-one, meaning the container and water circulator are an individual unit. This means, of course, that it takes up more kitchen storage real estate and you have no control over the size of the container you use. It could be too big for one fish filet, or too small for a full rack of ribs, for example.


Best Home Sous Vide: Score Sheet

Our picks for our favorite sous vide machines includes analyses of real customer reviews, user experiences, and overall value.

Best Sous Vide Amazon Score Retailer Score Blueprint Score Overall Score
Joule by Chefsteps 4.4 4.6

(Sur La Table)

4.9 4.5
Anova Wi-Fi Sous Vide 4.0 3.8

(Williams Sonoma)

4.5 4.1
Supreme Demi Water Oven 4.3 4.5

(Williams Sonoma)

4.0 4.3
Crux Sous Vide N/A 4.6

(Macy’s)

4.2 4.4

Joule Sous Vide by ChefSteps

BLUEPRINT SUMMARY

  • The Joule sous vide is the most compact on our list, at 11 inches in length and weighs only 1.28 pounds
  • Plugs into power outlet and heats up to 10 gallons of water with 1100 watts of heating power
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatible, so you can control from anywhere
  • Controls, timer, settings, visual cooking guides, and recipes are all available through the Joule mobile app
  • Amazon Echo compatible, allowing for voice controls with Alexa
  • Includes a magnetic base so it holds itself in place in most metal pots
  • Extra accessories (pot cover, no-slip mat, heavy duty clamp) available for separate purchase
  • ChefSteps recently released a less expensive white polycarbonate Joule model for $179

CONSIDERATIONS

  • ChefSteps is great about making app and hardware updates, and both need to be updated for accurate performance and notifications
  • Using the app has a bit of a learning curve as there is a lot of content to navigate
  • One of more expensive machines on our list

Anova Wi-Fi Sous Vide

BLUEPRINT SUMMARY

  • Anova sous vide works with any container of your choice
  • Measures about 15 inches long and weighs 2.5 pounds
  • WiFi compatible, allowing you to make adjustments to the sous vide from anywhere with an internet connection
  • Can be controlled through the digital screen and buttons or through the Anova app via WiFi
  • Anova app has a growing library of cooking guides and recipes
  • Less expensive than the Joule sous vide, but still not the cheapest of our picks

CONSIDERATIONS

  • Reviewers have noted wifi connectivity issues
  • Login and registration is required to use the Anova app
  • Controlling the sous vide through the app is easier than using the digital screen, but difficult when you’re having connectivity issues

Sous Vide Supreme Demi Water Oven

BLUEPRINT SUMMARY

  • The Supreme Demi Water Oven was one of the first home sous vide models on the market
  • Dimensions are 13” x 11” x 11” and it weighs 9.8 pounds
  • Holds up to 2.3 gallons of water
  • This all-in-one sous vide machine is great for home cooks with the space to store it
  • Box includes the sous vide oven, vacuum sealer, 2 sizes of vacuum pouches, and cookbook
  • No container or stick sous vide required
  • Control cooking temperature and timer through the front digital display
  • Completely silent while cooking
  • Lid included to keep water from evaporating, so no need to monitor water levels

CONSIDERATIONS

  • No convenient WiFi or Bluetooth compatibility
  • You’re restricted with how much food you can cook at once due to the sous vide capacity
  • You must use a vacuum sealer with vacuum pouches. The food bag will need to be completely submerged since there is no way to clip a zip top bag
  • It’s bulky and is the most expensive machine on our list
  • It needs to be drained after every use so as not to build up calcium inside

Crux Sous Vide

BLUEPRINT SUMMARY

  • The most simple and affordable model on our list
  • Includes adjustable steel clamp that holds the sous vide in place in any pot
  • Can warm up to 20 quarts of water with 900 watts of power
  • Brushless motor is incredibly quiet
  • If water levels get too low, the Crux’s sensors will automatically turn the machine off
  • Interface has one-touch digital controls and screen to adjust water temperature and timer

CONSIDERATIONS

  • Not compatible with WiFi or Bluetooth
  • Apart from a few basic recipes in their manual, Crux doesn’t have an app to access content or other guides related to their sous vide
  • This is a bare bones sous vide—great quality, but the most basic functionality of all our pics

Final Thoughts

It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned chef or just getting started, cooking sous vide is accessible for everyone. No matter your kitchen size, your food preferences, or skill level, there’s a perfect sous vide for everyone and every registry. The sous vide is one food trend we can get behind.

 

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