When it comes to kitchen appliances, immersion circulators are still the new kid on the butcher block. You use these devices to sous vide, a relatively recent method of cooking that still invokes some head tilts when I try to explain it to friends. (In short, you put food in a plastic bag and cook it in a temperature-controlled water bath -- read more about the technique here.)
Though this niche cooking gadget still has some ground to gain before it becomes as common as the hand mixer, manufacturers of immersion circulators are beefing up their products' connectivity to attract tech-savvy foodies and stand out from one another. These aggressive tech additions have turned these gadgets, which often go for around $200, into one of the easiest ways to make your cooking smarter.
The Wi-Fi-enabled $200 Joule immersion circulator has just one-upped competitors like the Wifi Nomiku and the Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi with its integration with Alexa, Amazon's voice-controlled digital assistant. That integration, along with an educational app and good cooking performance, makes the Joule one of the best immersion circulators available, especially if you're interested in smart home technology.
The Joule, a product from the Seattle-based food and technology company ChefSteps, is a sleek, 11-inch long cylinder with a magnet in the bottom that allows it to stand up on its own. Like other immersion circulators, it also has a clip so you can attach it to the side of your pot.
Other than a power button on the top, there aren't any controls on the body of the Joule. That's where the Android and iOS Joule app comes in. You use the app to set the temperature for your water bath, check on the Joule's status and access sous vide recipes. The simple, instructional videos that show every step of the recipe (think BuzzFeed's Tasty videos) make it easy to sous vide, even if you're a newbie.
The lack of on-board controls could get annoying to someone who doesn't always want to look at their phone. This is where the Alexa integration comes in. After you add the Joule Skill through your Amazon Alexa app, you can ask Alexa to tell Joule to set a specific temperature, get updates on the status of the water bath and turn the immersion circulator off. This Skill is useful if you don't need to follow a recipe on the Joule's app or if you just get a kick out of hollering out commands to an inanimate object.
But the feature's not perfect. Several times, I told Alexa to tell Joule to set the water temperature to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and she responded with a breakdown of all the things the Joule Skill could do. I eventually got it working, but Amazon and ChefSteps have some tinkering to do.
The food that I cooked with the Joule was as good as I've had with other immersion circulators. Steak, salmon and corn all came out as expected, though the water temperature sometimes ran 0.5 degrees higher than the set temperature. I followed one of the app's recipes for a flank steak, but the cut of meat that was supposed to be medium came out rarer than I anticipated.
The Joule would be a good addition to your gadget drawer if you're interested in sous vide and you have an Alexa-powered Amazon Echo smart speaker. Not on Team Alexa or hate always checking your phone? The Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi, which is available for about $150, is a less expensive option with controls right on the unit, so you can cut out the apps and digital assistants.