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Anova Precision Cooker review: Anova cooks up a smarter sous vide starting point

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After 24 hours, this flank steak came out cooked to perfection. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Performance and usability

First things first: you can make some truly great-tasting food using the Anova Precision Cooker. Poached eggs, salmon, flank steak -- everything I made in our test kitchen came out just the way I wanted it. Of course, the same can be said of the original Anova, or of Nomiku, or of the SousVant, or any sous vide cooker worth its salt, really. In fact, we've yet to test a sous vide cooker that was unable to hold a steady temperature, or cook a really tasty steak.

With solid performance across nearly the entire category, things like usability become significantly more important for differentiating between specific products. In the case of the Anova Precision Cooker, the basic usability is quite good -- just clamp it onto your pot with the new and improved clamp, dial in to your desired temperature with the new scroll wheel, and start cooking. Like the last Anova, the wide range between minimum and maximum water levels means that you won't have to worry as much about evaporation during long cooks as you will with a device like Nomiku, which has a much tighter range.

You can search for recipes in the Anova app. Once you've found one you want to cook, you can send the time and temperature settings to the cooker at the touch of a button. You can also adjust the time and temperature manually. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

But that's only half of the story. The other half sits with the app, which is the new, marquee feature with this second-gen cooker. In general, the app is simple and straightforward, with dials for timer and temperature control and a whole host of handy recipes. In practice, however, it's a lot clunkier than it would appear.

First off, the recipes are a nice touch, but they're too specific. What I found myself really wanting was an ingredient database. I didn't want to know how to make Sous Vide Salmon Cubes in Green Curry Noodle Soup -- I just wanted to know how to make salmon. Better still, I wanted the app to know how to make salmon, and just ask me how much I was cooking and how well-done I wanted it.

Even if you do find yourself drooling over a specific recipe, there's no way to save it as a favorite, and no way to rate it or leave a review after you've tried it. You can't enter your own recipes, either. In sum, it falls well short of the multitude of online recipe aggregators that tailor search results to the specific ingredients in your pantry, or that let you share recipes and experiences with friends. I can't imagine why I'd ever use Anova's app over sites and apps like those.

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Blah blah Bluetooth blah blah app. Let's look at that steak some more. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I didn't enjoy using the app to control the device, either. Find a recipe you like, and you can press Start to send the time and temperature settings to the cooker. That's cool -- except for the fact that the timer won't wait for the water to hit the target temperature before starting the countdown, which throws everything off. Manual controls are clunky, too -- you can select whatever you want in the app, but you'll need to pause the cooker and then resume heating before everything will sync up.

If I owned the Anova Precision Cooker, I think I'd ignore those smart features altogether and use the thing just like the original, dumb Anova. That might sound like an all-out failure on the part of those smart features -- and maybe it is -- but it's one that's largely beside the point. Thankfully, you don't need to use those smart features to use the Anova Precision Cooker. You don't even need to download the app. Ignore it all, and this Anova is just as good as the original -- slightly better, even.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

The Anova Precision Cooker fails to offer compelling smarts for the kitchen, but it succeeds where it really counts. Like the Anova One that came before, it offers legitimate sous vide cooking chops that are both affordable and easy-to-use. It's also got a refined build and a lower price point than the last generation. As the new baseline Anova, it's hard to find much fault with it.

If you've already got a first-gen Anova (or any sous vide cooker, for that matter), you almost certainly don't need to upgrade, and if it's smarts that you're craving, you're better off holding out for a cooker with Wi-Fi. But if you're looking for a device to dive into sous vide with, you'll have a hard time doing much better than this.

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