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Anova vs. Joule: Which sous vide machine has the edge?

In our latest smart-home showdown, we put immersion circulators from Joule and Anova head to head.

You're sold on sous vide cooking. You love the precision using a temperature-controlled water bath to cook food, the convenience of leaving your vacuum-sealed dishes in that water bath without fear of overcooking, and the promise of buying even more periphery appliances to master this newish style of food preparation.

So which product should you buy to get you started with sous vide?

For this Smart Home Showdown, I'll focus on immersion circulators, specifically, the $200 Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi and the $200 Joule, a product from the company ChefSteps. Immersion circulators heat your water bath to your desired temperature and maintain that temperature while your food cooks in a vacuum-sealed bag. These devices are a great point of entry into the world of sous vide: they're less expensive and often more accurate than entire sous vide systems, you can use them with existing containers and pots you already have, and they're small and easy to store between meals.

Let's take a look at these products' features to decide which one is the best addition to your kitchen.

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Appearance and functionality

(From left) The Joule and the Anova Precision Cooker.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The most noticeable difference between Anova and Joule is their appearance. The black and stainless-steel Anova is 14.75 inches long and 2.5 pounds. Its larger size accommodates an LCD control screen and scroll wheel that you can use to set the temperature right on the unit without needing the app (more on that in a bit).

The Joule's design favors a streamlined, petite look over onboard functionality. It's 11 inches long and weighs about 1.3 pounds. The only control on the Joule is a silver at the top to turn the product on and off, so you're dependent on the Joule's app to operate it.

Both immersion circulators can clip to the side of the pot or container that you're using for your water bath. But the Joule also has a magnet at the bottom so you can stand it up right in the middle of a pot (as long as it's magnetic, like cast iron or steel).

Winner: Tie. The Joule is smaller and easier to store than the Anova, and the magnet works well if you're using a smaller pot that's not very deep. However, the Anova's sturdy body and controls make it easier to set the temperature right on the unit rather than relying on an app to be your middleman. And speaking of ...

Apps

Both the Joule and the Anova are Wi-Fi-enabled, which means you can connect each device to your home's Wi-Fi network and control them from smartphone apps. The connectivity won't completely remove all the work from sous vide -- you'll still have to prep your food and prepare a water bath. But the connectivity adds convenience since you can monitor your device, even when you're not home, and the apps guide you through the basics of sous vide. Plus, push notifications in both apps let you know when your water has hit temperature, when the temperature has dropped too low, or when your cook time is up.

On the right, the welcome screen on the Joule app. On the left, a still of a video that shows the doneness of salmon.

Ashlee Clark Thompson/CNET

Since there's not much on the body of the Joule, the heart of its controls are located in its iOS- and Android-compatible app. This is where you set your temperature and cook timers once the Joule has heated your water. The best part of the app are the videos ChefSteps uses to illustrate each part of the sous vide process: how to season your food and seal it in a plastic bag, how to decide what temperature to set your water to cook a steak to your preferred doneness, how to finish your meal on a cooktop, and more. These videos make it easy to follow along to the app's recipes and perfect your sous-vide skills.

Anova partnered with the website Serious Eats for its cooking guides and recipes available on the Bluetooth app.

Ashlee Clark Thompson/CNET

The Anova's app, also available on iOS and Android, is helpful in a different way. Anova partnered with the Food Lab of the cooking website Serious Eats to create guides for the app that advise you on the water temperatures you should use for a variety of foods. The Anova app also includes some videos, such as a basic tutorial of how to use the Anova and some videos to accompany a section of recipes from Chef Ming Tsai, a James Beard Award-winning restaurateur and cookbook author.

Winner: Joule. Anova includes still pictures in each of its guides and recipes, but it lacks the consistent visual appeal of the Joule's app, where snappy videos accompany each step in a recipe or guide. The Joule's app would be most helpful to newbie sous vide enthusiasts.

Performance

This steak that I cooked with the Joule came out to medium doneness.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I've cooked steaks, salmon and corn with both the Anova and Joule and recorded the water bath temperatures while the dishes cooked. Cuts of meat that I prepared with each device were cooked to the doneness I expected based on the water temperature I used and tasted delicious, as did the ears of corn. Both cookers also maintained a steady water temperature while they cooked, with a maximum variance of about 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit between the set and actual temperatures, not substantial enough to impact the final results.

Winner: Tie. You'll get delicious food from both of these immersion circulators.

Bonus features

The Anova and Joule each have their own set of extras that add to the sous vide experience. The Anova will connect to the company's soon-to-be-released Anova Precision Oven, a countertop oven that will sear, convection bake and steam cook. At one point, Anova added instructions to its app that guided you through how to keep your food cold in an ice bath before you cooked it. (You'd use this if you want to start cooking your steak while you're at work, but don't want food poisoning from leaving your steak unrefrigerated.) Unfortunately, that feature has since disappeared from the Anova app.

Unlike Anova, Joule integrates with the greater smart home via Amazon Alexa, the retail giant's digital assistant that operates based on voice controls. Once you enable the Joule Skill in your Alexa app, you can ask your Alexa-equipped speaker (I used an Echo Dot for testing) to set the Joule for a certain temperature, check on the progress of the water that's heating or turn off the Joule. The integration is still a little wonky at times, but when it worked, it provided an easy, hands-free way to get your cooking started without the need to access the Joule's app.

Winner: Joule. Voice commands are a natural progression for kitchen technology. (God forbid you have to change the temperature of your immersion circulator and your hands are covered in steak juice.) Joule's integration with one of the most popular smart-home platforms is a wise move that will appeal to folks who are already Team Alexa.

Verdict

The Anova and Joule circulators are both good products that have earned more than eight out of 10 points when we gave them full reviews. Each immersion circulator creates a water bath that hold a relatively steady temperature and cooks food evenly. And each product's app provide useful instructions and recipes that will come in handy, especially for the new sous vide cook. But there can only be one winner...

Winner: Joule. This was a tough decision. But Joule has a slight edge over Anova because of its integration with Alexa, smaller body and video-filled app. The lack of controls on the Joule might turn off a lot of people. And I'm not gonna lie -- I was irritated when I first started testing the Joule and realized that I would be attached to my phone to use the immersion circulator. But here's the thing: I'm on my phone all the time anyway. Using an app to control for the Joule isn't a stretch if you spend most of your time focused on your phone. If you're a connected cook, the Joule is the best way to get into sous vide cooking.