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Will the minimalist Joule circulator overpower other sous vide machines? (hands-on)

The company ChefSteps stripped away controls and touchscreens on its Joule immersion circulator and packs them into a polished app to teach you how to sous vide.

Ashlee Clark Thompson Associate Editor
Ashlee spent time as a newspaper reporter, AmeriCorps VISTA and an employee at a healthcare company before she landed at CNET. She loves to eat, write and watch "Golden Girls" (preferably all three at the same time). The first two hobbies help her out as an appliance reviewer. The last one makes her an asset to trivia teams. Ashlee also created the blog, AshleeEats.com, where she writes about casual dining in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ashlee Clark Thompson
3 min read

Editors' note, August 9, 2016: ChefSteps announced this week that it reduced the retail price of the Joule to $199 and the preorder price to $149. People who preordered the Joule at the higher price will receive a refund for the difference.

There's not much to look at when you unbox the Joule immersion circulator. But that's the point of the latest connected sous vide machine that's on its way to American kitchens.

ChefSteps, the Seattle-based food and technology company that created the Joule, will begin shipping it in September to customers who preordered the $299 device. You use the Joule for a cooking method called sous vide in which you vacuum-seal food in a plastic bag and cook the food in a controlled environment, like a water bath. Like other immersion circulators, you put the Joule in water, and it circulates and heats the water to precise temperatures for cooking.

We got our hands on a beta version of the Joule, so I compared it to similar sous vide immersion circulators we've reviewed and cooked one steak. I still have more testing to do, but here are some initial observations about and first impressions of the Joule:

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The Joule heats water for a sous vide steak.

Chris Monroe/CNET

  • The Joule stands out by standing up. The device has a strong magnet on the bottom so you can put the device right in the middle of your water bath (as long as you're using a magnetic steel pot or induction-ready cookware). Most immersion circulators clip to the side of your container. Joule has the clip option, too, for other types of cookware, but it's nice to see a different design for this type of product.
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    (From left to right) The WiFi Nomiku, the Joule and the Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth Wi-Fi

    Chris Monroe/CNET
  • Speaking of design, the Joule has a much simpler look than its competitors. The device is an 11-inch tall, white column that looks like a mod-inspired lightsaber handle. A power button on top is the only sort of built-in control. This lack of physical controls stands out, especially when you compare the Joule with the WiFi Nomiku, which has a turn wheel for setting the temperature. And the Joule is also smaller than its competitors.
  • The Joule needs its app more than any other sous vide device. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled sous vide machines such as the WiFi Nomiku and the Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi let you set your desired temperature and adjust device settings from a smartphone app, but they always have some sort of controls built right onto the device. The Joule forgoes buttons and touchscreen controls and makes it mandatory to use the iOS and Android-compatible app to sous vide. The app has one of the most informative and polished interfaces I've seen on a sous vide-centric app. Recipes are divided into three categories: basic guides, ultimate guides for more advanced cooking and grilling guides. Each recipe has step-by-step instructions that include short video clips with each step that show you exactly what you're supposed to be doing. So far, the app is impressive, but it makes me nervous how heavily the Joule relies on the app. What if I lose my phone but want to cook a bomb pork belly?
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App instructions for preparing a sous vide steak (left), and a notification when the steak was finished (right).

Screenshots by Ashlee Clark Thompson/CNET
  • You can watch the Joule circulate water in a new way. The components that make immersion circulators like the Nomiku and Anova work are hidden away on the inside of the device with openings at the bottom end that let the devices heat and circulate the water. The Joule, however, brings water into the device and spits it out through a small hole on its side. It's like watching a small water fountain right in your pot.
  • I've only cooked one dish, and it was delicious. I followed the Joule's recipe for basic steak and cooked a strip steak for one hour in 136-degree Fahrenheit water. It came out medium, which was the intended result, and still juicy.