Editors' note, Dec. 18, 2015: We've updated this review from when we originally published it on Dec. 5, 2015 after we discovered discrepancies the temperature readings from our first round of testing. We retested the Oliso's cooking temperatures and updated the ratings and review.
Sous-vide appliance companies have recently stepped up their precision-cooking prowess. These manufacturers, which often debut their products on crowdfunding sites, are cultivating their niche market by introducing connectivity into the kitchen. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have become the popular new additions for sous-vide immersion circulators such as the Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi and Nomiku Sous Vide Immersion Circulator. And now manufacturers of countertop sous-vide systems are adding the efficiency and precision of induction to their devices to improve water-bath cooking.
The Oliso SmartHub & Top consists of an induction-powered base that heats the water in the SmartTop, the vessel that fits on top of the base. (GE's FirstBuild microfactory initiative introduced a similar product, the Paragon Induction Cooktop, early this year on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, but it still isn't available.) The Oliso is an effective sous-vide system that has a special touch when it comes to beef, as evidenced by tender steaks that repeatedly came out of the test kitchen. The Oliso also offers tons of versatility. The hub doubles as an induction cooktop, and you can also use the SmartTop to cook foods such as soups or whole chickens.
But Oliso carries some of the same disadvantages of other countertop systems, such as the Eades Appliance Technology's SousVide Supreme: The water tank is cumbersome and heavy when it's time to remove it to use the induction burner or dump the water. And the Oliso's $500 price tag (which converts to about £330 in the UK and AU$680 in Australia) is on par with other water-bath systems, but double the price of immersion circulators that do the same job.
The Oliso is a solid purchase if you're interesting in a complete sous vide system. If $500 is too steep, go for a cheaper, go for a connected immersion circulator such as the Anova with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
The Oliso SmartTop is designed for sous-vide cooking, a style in which you vacuum-seal food in plastic bags -- the name means "under vacuum" in French -- and immerse it in a temperature-controlled water bath that cooks your dish. The SmartTop slides onto the SmartHub induction base, which uses as much as 1,500 watts of electromagnetic energy to generate heat for the water in the top. This is the same induction technology we've seen in ranges such as the Samsung and Kenmore, and it is considered a more precise, safe and efficient way to heat food.
The Oliso SmartHub & Top's structure makes this one of the most flexible sous-vide machines we've seen because each component can be used for other tasks. The induction hub works as a standalone cooktop for other pots and pans (as long as the cookware contains magnetic material, a limitation of induction cooking). Oliso also plans to roll out other tops that work with the hub; the first addition to the Oliso system will be the Griddle SmartTop for which the company launched a successful Kickstarter campaign. You can also connect the SmartTop to the hub and use the vessel for cooking foods without sous vide, such as slow cooking a whole chicken or making broth. These additional functions make the system more appealing than an immersion circulator, which contains a heater and circulator and attaches to the side of a pot.
The hefty SmartTop, which measures 13 by 11 by 9 inches (330 by 279 by 229mm), is stainless steel with black accents, curved sides and a removable glass lid. A series of lights on the front of the top turn red when water is heating and green when it has reached the set temperature. The generous volume is great for cooking, but creates logistical problems. The SmartTop takes up valuable counter space, and the unit is cumbersome when you lift it. On its own, the top weighs nearly 7.5 pounds (3.4kg), and that weight climbs above 20 pounds (9kg) when you fill the unit with water.
The SmartHub is also stainless steel and has a black base with a digital display as well as buttons on the front. As an induction cooktop, the hub was large enough to accommodate a 5-quart (5.7-liter) pot that's 9.75 inches (248mm) wide. The base's display changes depending on whether you're using the hub as an induction cooktop or in tandem with the SmartTop for sous-vide cooking. When the SmartTop is on the base, the display shows settings for cooking with sous vide: set temperature, actual temperature and a timer. A small picture of a fish in a bag appears on the screen when the water has reached the set temperature.
The temperature toggles between Fahrenheit and Celsius, but you can only adjust it by whole numbers. Some sous-vide devices we've seen, such as SousVant Circulating Sous Vide Oven, allow you to adjust temperatures to the tenth of a degree. When using the SmartHub as an induction cooktop, you adjust the power level that ranges from 0 to 10 using the same up and down arrow buttons you use to adjust the temperature in the sous vide mode. These buttons are sensitive, so one firm touch can send your numbers flying. You can also set the timer and lock the settings in both setups.
Sous vide is all about precision and consistency. It's a cooking method that requires maintaining a steady temperature to cook a wide variety of foods to tasty perfection. The Oliso SmartHub & Top produced good food that cooked in water baths that held their temperatures well.
I used Oliso's vacuum sealer to prepare strip, flat-iron and flank steaks. In all cases, I heated the water to 140 degrees F for meat that was cooked to medium. When I removed the steaks from the SmartTop, I seared the meat in a pan on the SmartHub's induction surface. Both parts of the Oliso system cooked the meat perfectly. The interior was juicy and pink throughout. The flank steak, a tough cut of meat I cooked for 25 hours, was tender enough to tear apart with a fork. After I was finished with the SmartTop, I lifted it off the SmartHub and used the induction cooktop and a pan to to give the steaks a good sear.
I also cooked salmon. Though the result wasn't as magical as what I found with the steak, the fish was still well cooked, if a bit dry. Same with four ears of corn I cooked in the Oliso: good, but not great.
I placed probes in the water along with my vacuum-sealed food to keep track of the water's temperature. The charts showed that the temperature of the water teetered within one degree above and below the set temperature, a pretty stable performance for such a large amount of water.
The induction hub was disappointing when it came to boil times. I heated 112 ounces of water on the induction top, and it took an average of 19.22 minutes for the water to begin to boil. This revealed the limitations of the 1,500-watt maximum power. Even though it's induction, the cooktop still didn't boil water as fast as induction ranges, which have more than 3,000 watts of power. The Oliso SmartHub's induction could be a handy addition to a kitchen, but I wouldn't rely on it as my primary cooktop.
There are big plans afoot at Oliso, thanks to the manufacturer's Kickstarter campaign. The company hopes to add more SmartTops that will connect with the SmartHub's induction burner for different types of cooking and developing a temperature probe that will attach to your own pot and let you set a specific temperature for the induction burner. It also intends to develop an app to let home cooks control their SmartHub from a distance and access recipes. If the Oliso SmartHub & Top are an indication of the company's future products, this company will be just fine.