Anova One Sous Vide Circulator review: Treat your taste buds to Anova's sous vide solution
Sous vide cooking sits firmly at the foodie/techie intersection. On the one hand, you're using laboratory-grade instrumentation to heat water to a precise, consistent temperature. On the other, you're just hungry for perfectly cooked steak.
The Anova One proudly plants itself at those crossroads, and promises to bring the technique to your kitchen counter for just $200 (a 220V version is available for international buyers at the same price, which comes out to roughly AU$225, or a little over £120 in the UK).
We tested one out in our own kitchen, and came away both impressed by the science and blown away by the food. As a sous vide starting point, Anova makes a ton of sense -- though you may also want to consider holding out for one of the yet-to-be-released next-gen smart cookers, like the Wi-Fi Nomiku, the all-in-one FNV Labs' Mellow , or Anova's own Bluetooth-enabled Precision Cooker . If you're on a budget, the $100 Dorkfood DSV (North America only) might also make sense, though you'll need to pair it with an old slow cooker or rice maker.
Sous vide so simple
The Anova One is an immersion circulator, which means you'll need your own stock pot. You'll clamp the device to the side of the pot with the stainless steel bottom half down in the water. A built-in thermometer will monitor the water's temperature -- tell Anova how hot you want to cook at, and the built-in heating coil and circulation fan will get right to work.
You'll control the device using its LCD touchscreen, which features large, plainly labeled buttons for setting the temperature and the timer. You'll be able to set the temperature to a degree, and set the timer in 5-minute intervals. Both seem like slight limitations -- for instance, the Nomiku , one of Anova's chief rivals, will let you dial in to a tenth of a degree.
All in all, I give Nomiku a very slight design edge over Anova. I preferred setting the temperature with Nomiku's physical dial as opposed to Anova's touch buttons. Nomiku's spring-loaded clamp was also easier to use than the screw-in clamp you'll need to fidget with on Anova -- although in fairness, Anova's approach does offer a tighter hold with most pots. I also appreciated that Anova has a much wider range between minimum and maximum water levels than Nomiku does, which makes for greater flexibility during long cooks.
Like Nomiku, Anova will take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to heat the water, depending on how high you set it. Once you've hit the target temp, all that's left is for you to do is drop the food in. Sous vide means "under vacuum" in French, and the pros will tell you to vacuum seal your ingredients to lock the flavor in. However, you can also seal your ingredients in a plastic storage bag -- just make sure it's BPA-free polyethylene and not cheap polyvinyl chloride (PVC), as the latter can leach harmful chemicals into your food.
Here's another plastic baggie tip -- with your ingredients inside and the bag open, slowly dip the majority of the bag into the water, leaving just the seal exposed. The water pressure will force most of the air out, and you can seal the bag shut with next to nothing but flavor locked inside.
Once your ingredients are in the bath, you'll simply need to wait. Some recipes will cook in as little as fifteen minutes, while others will call for a few hours (or even a few days). When you're done cooking, you can remove the stainless steel skirt from the bottom of the Anova and pop it in the dishwasher for easy cleanup.
If that sounds easy enough, that's because it is. I'm not an especially talented cook, and I'm definitely prone to a few more-than-occasional kitchen screw-ups. With Anova, messing up a recipe felt like a challenge. I wouldn't quite call it foolproof, but it's awfully close.
Ease of use aside, the real question is how good the food tastes. Sous vide products like the Anova One tend to make pretty bold performance claims, with promises of mouth-watering results from nearly any recipe. We wanted to put those claims to the test.
We started with eggs, which cook right in the shell and don't need a plastic bag. Most recipes I found called for the eggs to be cooked around 145 degrees F (about 63 degrees C) for 45 minutes. I didn't feel like waiting that long, so I found a recipe that upped the temperature to 167 degrees F (75 degrees C) and promised to cook my eggs in 15 minutes.
15 minutes later, I cracked my first test egg into a bowl, and found it to be pleasingly poached and perfectly situated in the yolky promised land between runny and firm. Each subsequent batch yielded the same results. If I took my eggs out at 13 minutes, they'd be good and runny -- if I pushed the cook time to 18 minutes, they'd come out mostly firm.
Next up was salmon, which also called for a 15-minute cook. After preparing three test filets, I vacuum sealed each one with some salt, some pepper, and a slice of lemon. With each cooker set to 140 degrees F (60 degrees C), I set the clock and started cooking.
The results here were also quite good. My taste testers found each filet to be tender, flaky, flavorful, and evenly cooked. The Dorkfood filet was a touch less done, probably because we lost a few degrees worth of heat when we lifted the Crock-Pot lid to drop the fish in. No lids to worry about with Anova and Nomiku.
That concluded the quick cooks -- now, it was time to push things a little longer. First up was London broil, which we vacuum sealed and cooked at 131 degrees F (55 degrees C) for 4 hours. At that temperature, our recipe promised meat that was perfectly medium rare, with juicy, edge-to-edge pinkness.
As it turns out, that's exactly what we got. Again, much to the delight of my taste testers, all three of the cookers nailed the test. For even better results, you can give the steaks a quick sear in a hot pan after the 4 hours are up.
Our final test was our longest by far: a 3-day recipe for pork spare ribs. For this test, I ran thermocouples into each cooker, allowing me to track the minute-by-minute temperature of the water. With results so close between the three cookers, I wanted to get a closer look at what, if anything, separated their performance.
The results were illuminating. The graph above shows day 2 of the 3-day cook, with the three lines representing the temperature in each cooker over time. The target was 135 degrees F (57 degrees C), and as you can see, the green squiggle representing Anova stayed right on target, only dipping at the end of day when I added some additional water to the pot before leaving for the night, temporarily lowering the temperature. Even after that, Anova got right back on target and stayed there.
That result was notably better than the other two. Dorkfood, while impressive in its consistency, ran about a degree hot, which makes sense since Crock-Pots are built to retain heat, making it easier for the controller to raise the temperature than to lower it.
With Nomiku, the less forgiving minimum water level came into play. Since both Nomiku and Anova are designed to shut off automatically if the water level drops below that minimum threshold, you'll need to add more water if things get too low. With Nomiku, I had to do that a lot more often, just barely making it through the first night without a shutoff (hence the temperature drop at 7 a.m., when Nomiku's pot needed a refill).
On the second evening, I tried covering the Nomiku's pot with foil to give me a better chance of making it through the night without a shutoff. That worked -- the water level barely fell at all -- but as you can see, the red line jumped up a degree or so, and also saw a slight increase in turbulence. That tells us that Nomiku wasn't cooking quite as consistently or accurately when covered. Clearly, for long cooks, the Anova is the cooker you want.
The Anova One delivers on sous vide's promise, and has certainly helped enamor me to the technique. After several days spent snacking on perfectly poached eggs and succulent cuts of steak, I've come away convinced that a sous vide cooker might be one of the best kitchen upgrades money can buy. At $200, the Anova One looks like a terrific value, especially compared with the $300 Nomiku (A 240V version ships internationally for about £186 in the UK, or about AU$340 in Australia) and with all-in-one water ovens that cost even more.
Still, the Anova One has a successor due out in the coming weeks which features an improved design, Bluetooth-powered smarts, and an even more attractive price point of $180 (converted, that's about £110 or AU$210). That sounds like a cooker worth considering before spending too much, as does the new $200, Wi-Fi-enabled Nomiku , due out in March (although it isn't offered overseas for the time being, the original can be shipped internationally). If you're on a budget and have an old slow cooker lying around, the $100 Dorkfood DSV definitely merits consideration, too (if you're in North America). Those alternatives aside, if your stomach demands you buy something right now, the Anova One looks to be a sous vide sure thing.