Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi review: Sous vide cooker adds Wi-Fi for connected cooking
Editors' note, June 9, 2016: Anova Culinary has updated the app that pairs with the Wi-Fi portion of this sous vide device. We tested the new features and updated the review below.
Anova is poised to make its precision cooker more than just a part of your kitchen. The manufacturer wants to use Wi-Fi to make its sous vide appliance an active part of your life outside the home. The company just released the Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi, a $199 sous vide device that heats and circulates water to cook vacuum-sealed foods. The price converts roughly to £130 in the UK and AU$275 in Australia.
This is the company's second connected product for home cooks; the previous Anova Precision cooker has just Bluetooth, which gives users the ability to control the cooker from across the house, but not across town. Besides the addition of Wi-Fi, the newest Anova isn't much different than the Bluetooth-only model, which costs $20 less. Both cookers are nearly identical, as is their cooking performances.
The most notable difference is the app that pairs with the Wi-Fi unit. When I first reviewed the Anova Wi-Fi in November, I knocked the companion app for being too spare with its features and limited in its commands, especially when I compared it to Anova's previous, more robust app for its Bluetooth-only models. However, Anova has updated the Wi-Fi app with cooking guides, pictures and an ice-bath setup feature that improve the way you connect and cook with the Anova Wi-Fi. Anova eventually plans to merge both apps so that Wi-Fi users can also access the library of recipes and guides that Bluetooth users have. This latest Wi-Fi app update is a successful step toward bridging this gap in features I lamented a few months ago.
Anova has aggressive long-term plans for its latest cooker. The Anova Wi-Fi has been available in select Apple stores alongside other connected home products such as the iDevices Kitchen Thermometer and Philips Hue light bulbs. This spring, the company began to bring the immersion circulator into some Target stores, and the device will start appearing on Best Buy shelves this summer. There are also plans to make the Anova compatible with HomeKit, Apple's software platform built into iOS 8 and iOS 9 that integrates with Siri to control compatible devices, the company says.
The Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi makes a strong case for adding sous vide to your kitchen routine. It doesn't have the versatility of countertop systems like the Paragon Induction Cooktop or the Oliso SmartHub & Top. Fortunately, an immersion circulator like the Anova comes with a lower price and takes up less room than bigger sous vide systems. Pair those advantages with an improving app that sous vide cooking more convenient, and you've got a product that hard to dismiss.
A sous vide primer
At last year's IFA electronics show in Berlin, at least one European appliance company executive was skeptical of the American appetite for sous vide. This cooking method, which has been around since the 1970s, involves two parts: vacuum-sealing food in a plastic bag and cooking the bag in a controlled environment with the help of an often-pricey device. Sous vide has seen enough success overseas to warrant the creation of built-in sous vide systems such as the KitchenAid Chef Touch Sous Vide Column. It could be years or even decades before Americans are ready to etch out a special spot in their kitchens for such an intricate system. But manufacturers such as Anova have spent the past several years creating sous vide tools that fit on countertops or in drawers to nudge curious American home cooks toward adopting sous vide.
Easy-to-use device gets the app it deserves
You don't need a lot of space or equipment for the Anova Wi-Fi. The precision cooker is identical to the Bluetooth version: a 14.75-inch-long column topped with a circular LCD display that shows the current temperature of the water and the set temperature the cooker is trying to reach. There is also a start-stop button and a Wi-Fi indicator on the display. The streamlined display is much simpler than the touchscreen Anova One Sous Vide Circulator. An LED backlit scroll wheel beneath the display lets you adjust the set temperature easily. The device slides into an adjustable ring clamp that screws onto the side of a pot and suspends the stainless-steel covered pump, heating coil and temperature sensors into the water.
It's easy to use the Anova Wi-Fi, and you don't even need the app to operate the device. Plug in the Anova, fill a pot or other container with water and attach the device to the side of the pot. There are marks on the Anova's stainless steel column that show the minimum and maximum water levels necessary for cooking (an important step I'll discuss later). Use the scroll wheel to set the temperature, press Start, and the Anova will begin to heat and circulate the water. The device will beep when the water has reached the desired temperature. You place vacuum-sealed bags of food into the water and let it cook for as long as your recipe dictates (or even longer). The temperature readings I took on with a separate sensor showed that the Anova kept the water at a steady temperature that was within a degree of its displayed reading.
The ease of use extends to connecting the cooker to your home Wi-Fi network. You download the Anova Culinary Wi-Fi app on your device, turn on the cooker and follow the instructions in the app. The updates Anova has made to the Wi-Fi app make it much better than the first iteration I tested last year. Though the Wi-Fi app doesn't have as many recipes as the Bluetooth app, the updated version includes time and temperature guides and accompanying pictures that show you exactly what your food will look like based on the water temperature in which you cook it. You still start or stop the Anova in the app. For example, if you wanted to put a frozen steak in a pot of water but didn't want the Anova to begin cooking until later in the day, you could start the appliance up right from your phone.
And speaking of steak, the Anova Wi-Fi app's best feature lets you keep that cut of meat and other foods at safe temperatures until you're ready to cook it, thanks to an ice-water-bath setup and monitoring. Here's how it works: You fill your pot with ice and water and put the Anova in place. When you select "Check Ice Bath Setup" in the app, the Anova will make sure you have enough water and that it is cold enough to safely chill food until you're ready to cook it (you put your food in the ice bath when it creeps below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4.44 degrees Celsius). You can also activate an alert that will send you a notification if the water gets too warm and suggest you begin cooking your food.
Overall, this feature blew me away. I didn't have to worry about food going bad while I was away from the Anova. It was easy to respond accordingly when I received alerts. I used this method to cook a couple of steaks that were the best we've ever had from a sous vide machine in the CNET Appliances Lab. I set the water's temperature to give me a medium-cooked steak, and that is indeed what I got. And the steak was cooked evenly throughout the entire cut, a feat that's hard to accomplish when meat doesn't have uniform thickness. Our theory is that the ice bath evenly cooled the steak more so than a refrigerator can, so it started off on the right foot before it was even time to cook. However, we still have more testing to do to prove that theory.
There are some downsides to using the Anova for a water bath before you sous vide. Depending on the size of your pot and how cold you chilled that water, the water bath's temperature will hit 40 degrees F before you get home from work. For my tests, this meant that I had about three hours before I received the alert that it was time to start cooking. And there lies the catch: The Anova doesn't keep the food cold, it just monitors how cold (or warm) the water is.
Right now, the ice-bath feature makes the Anova stand out from other connected sous vide machines that don't include those instructions on their app. But there is competition on the horizon from the Mellow, a connected sous vide cooker that is scheduled to ship this fall. The system, which will retail for $599, refrigerates food as well as cooks it, according its creators. The Mellow could take the ice-bath system beyond Anova's current offering -- if it lives up to its claims.
Tricky prep and finishing make for delicious food
I'll be the first one to admit that sous vide isn't my first choice for cooking. Sous vide is all about precision, from achieving the perfect vacuum seal to reaching the correct temperature to searing food for a more visually appealing finish. I'm more of an old-school, stovetop-and-oven type of gal who likes to improvise when I cook. But if you're willing to do a little prep before and some finishing after, the Anova Wi-Fi will cook food exactly to your preference.
I was a big fan of the Italian sausage I cooked according to a recipe in the Anova Bluetooth app, which came out of the bag juicy and tinged with the beer I placed in the bag along with the meat. The kernels on the corn cobs I cooked in the Anova water bath popped off the cob and burst with every bite. The biggest disappointments were the hamburger patties. I cooked four seven-ounce patties according to the app's instructions for medium-well burgers, but they came out very rare. The burgers and other meats came out of their vacuum seal resembling dollar-store play food, so they required a post-sous vide sear in a hot pan to increase the visual appeal and add a more appetizing outer texture.
If you love your Anova with Bluetooth, there's no need to run out and replace it just yet. The latest version of the precision cooker looks identical to the previous one and delivers just as impressive of a cooking performance. But if you're interested in sous vide devices, the Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi is a good investment. The company is invested in improving this device's app to make it easier to incorporate into your routine. And with HomeKit compatibility on the horizon, the Anova Wi-Fi might become a meaningful part of the connected kitchen.