SousVant Circulating Sous Vide Oven review: SousVant assures your command of the cooking
The flank steak won me over. It's a flavorful cut that's not as tender as your typical sirloin or ribeye, so it's cheaper. The SousVant Circulating Sous Vide Oven helped me fix that issue using the primary weapon of the sous vide style of cooking: time. I let the vacuum sealed meat soak in the heated water bath for 24 hours. Since the SousVant held the water temp at an exact 131 degrees Fahrenheit -- the desired mark for medium rare -- I didn't have to worry that it would overcook. Instead, I could just let the heat break down the tendons and work on that infamous flank steak toughness.
The result -- a delicious and tender steak that impressed everyone in the office. The sous vide style in general deserves much of the credit for my culinary delight, but the SousVant made it easy enough for a novice cook like myself to pull it all off. A self contained, circulating water bath, the $400 SousVant is easy to use and a consistent performer. It didn't invent the method, and since the $180 Anova Precision Cooker and upcoming $250 Nomiku are so much less, it's not a clear winner. That said, it's the best and least expensive water bath model we've tested. If you're ready to invest in sous vide and want a full sized machine, it's well worth your consideration.
Between two styles
SousVant tries to skirt the line between the industrial bulk of other self contained sous vide water baths and the science experiment feel of sous vide immersion circulators. It succeeds.
With an unassuming plastic tank that rests on a simple metallic base, the SousVant doesn't leave a huge footprint on your counter in either space or appearance. It blends in, and that's a lot more than you can say for either the Caso SousVide Center or the SousVide Supreme . Those self-contained water baths are giant metal boxes that would stick out anywhere.
On the base of the SousVant, you'll find four buttons for raising and lowering the temperature and starting and stopping the cook. Above those, a simple LED display shows the temperature setting and a timer, and that's it. It's simple and elegant, and I was quite pleased with the overall look of the SousVant.
The best part -- it looks less bulky than the other water baths, but it actually beats them in capacity. The carafe, as the instruction manual calls it, holds three gallons of water, besting the 2.6 of the SousVide Supreme and the 2.25 of the Caso SousVide Center.
It's also easier to use. You don't have to lift the whole machine to fill up the tank or dump it out. With the SousVide Supreme, you have to hoist all 13 pounds of it, and that's not accounting for the water weight. The Caso Sous Vide Center has a hose in the back to make dumping out the container a bit easier, but you still have to get the 12.8 machine near enough to a sink for the hose to reach.
All together, the SousVant weighs a comparable 10 pounds, but the water tub is only 4 pounds and easily lifts free from the base. I found it comfortable carrying it to and from the sink by the sturdy handles on the sides.
In terms of appearance and ease of use, the SousVant easily bests the other sous vide water baths we've tested, and gains an edge on the popular immersion circulators. The lid forms a nice seal on the container. Throughout a two day long cook, I never noticed any water loss, and never had to worry about a refill as a result.
With immersion circulators, you're clipping a heater to a stock pot you already own. The control of the circulator rests well above the top of the pot, so you can't cover it with a normal lid. Over the course of a long cook, quite a bit of water will evaporate and escape. The circulators have maximum and minimum water levels, so you'll need to make sure your volume stays within the required range to keep things running smoothly.
You can find a few hacks to work around this. Ping pong balls covering the surface can keep the water from escaping, but with the SousVant, you don't have to worry about any of this.
You can order the SousVant from the company website now. At $400, it's priced favorably compared to the $500 Caso SousVide Center and $430 SousVide Supreme. You are still paying a premium over the new $250 Nomiku due out later this year, as well as the $180 Anova Precision Cooker , and especially the $100 Dorkfood Control Switch you can use with an old fashioned slow cooker.
If you're ready to splurge on the SousVant, expect a bit of a wait. The SousVant Kickstarter campaign missed its crowdfunding goal. Thankfully, the product is still being released, but manufacturing units without those funds has caused delays. Right now, a company representative estimates a 90-day turnaround after an order.
If SousVant can catch up and gain some momentum, the company plans to distribute it for sale by multiple online and brick-and-mortar retailers. Eventually, a 220 VAC international model will follow. No pricing on this has been announced but the cost converts to about £260 and AU$512.
Prepping the cook
To get cooking, fill the tub with however much water you need. The instructions recommend an extra half inch of depth above the top of your food. Place the full container on the plugged in base. You'll see bubbles rise to the top as a small amount of liquid flows from the carafe to be heated in the base below.
Use the arrow keys to set the temperature and hit "cook." More bubbles emerge as the machine whirs to life and the temperature display switches from what you've set to it's current temp along with the word "warm." The preheat process will take between 15 to 30 minutes depending on your desired temperature and the amount of water you've tasked it with heating.
The SousVant can hit anything from 95 to 194 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 90 degrees Celsius). That's a tighter range than either the 86 to 194 degrees offered by the Caso SousVide Center or the 86 to 210 degrees of the SousVide Supreme, but it's plenty to accommodate the majority of cooks.
Setting the temperature is slow. You can adjust to the tenth of a degree, but that also means holding the up button for awhile when you go from 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 Celsius) for a medium rare steak to 165 degrees F (74 C) for a quick poached egg. The scroll doesn't speed up much when you hold it like on the other water baths we've tested. And the immersion circulators offer the best solution with a wheel that you can spin fast when you have a big adjustment to make.
It's also counterintuitive to switch from Fahrenheit to Celsius. It's part of the tradeoff for an elegant and simple display, so this is more nitpick than issue, but there's no menu. Switching settings means holding multiple buttons down simultaneously, so keep that instruction manual around if you're going to have a need for that. Though, the only things you can adjust are the temperature units -- hold the stop button and down arrow together -- and the brightness of the LED display -- stop and up.
I wish you could do more with the timer. Once the preheat finishes, it'll start counting up. At first, it'll display minutes and seconds, then switch to hours and minutes. And it just keeps counting up. You can't stop it, reset it, or control it at all. Since the SousVant doesn't have an audible alert when it's done preheating, I always ended up putting in my food a minute or two after the timer started. On short, 15-minute cooks, that rendered it useless.
Neither the lack of timer control nor the missing preheat tone are big issues, but they feel like oversights that should have been simple enough to include, and they show a bigger problem for the SousVant -- it's feature poor.
The Caso SousVide Center comes with a vacuum sealer to help you prep your food. The Anova Precision Cooker connects to your phone with Bluetooth and lets you control the device remotely and send it some pre programmed recipes. The upcoming Nomiku will offer similar functionality over Wi-Fi for truly remote monitoring.
The simplicity of the SousVant is beautiful, but because it costs over $100 more than either Nomiku or Anova and has no extras or added functionality, it's also problematic. It's a good machine, but its features lack the punch to make it a great one, especially in terms of value.
Fortunately, once the food I made in the SousVant finished cooking, I was able to look past the lack of features. I started with eggs, and the SousVant helped me nail three different levels of firmness on three different batches. At 167 degrees (75 C) for 13 minutes, the yolk ran when I cut it. I hit a nice medium after 15 minutes, and the eggs held a shape well without being overdone after 18. Each result hit the expected and desired outcome.
The SousVant succeeds because it holds temperature extremely well. Over the course of a cook, it really only deviates up and down by a tenth of a degree or two. Even when I removed the lid to put in the food, the water bath only dropped by about a degree, and recovered quickly. It heats and circulates effectively throughout the volume of its container.
Putting the lid back on is a hassle. It doesn't snap into place neatly. A latch on either handle holds it steady once it's set, but getting it into the right spot always took some fiddling on my part. Still once it's in place, it's effective, helping to hold the temperature and the water level steady even over the course of 24 to 48 hour cooks.
As a safety measure, the SousVant shuts off after 72 hours, and in the case of a power outage, it gauges the temperature once it turns back on. If the bath hasn't dipped below 131 degrees F (55 C), it'll get back up to your setting. If it has, it'll give you an error message, deeming your food now unsafe.
For the most part, with a good seal and a reliably precise temperature, the SousVant lets you set it and forget it. That's one of the main benefits of the sous vide style. By soaking food in a water bath at the desired temperature, you can't overcook. With salmon, on our next test, it was able to get the whole filet to 140 degrees (60 C). We pulled the salmon out and pan seared it to delicious results.
Soaking the food keeps the flavor intact because it's vacuum sealed in a plastic bag, which proves extra beneficial on longer tests. Since airtight bags are also how you can keep your food safe as it heats for an extended period of time, you might want to factor in the cost of a vacuum sealer if you're considering sous vide. Good ones make prepping your food fast and easy, and they'll give you the most peace of mind on longer tests.
However, you can find plenty of workarounds to buying a vacuum sealer. A popular method involves zip locks and a tub of water to squeeze out the air. Even then, you'll want to make sure your plastic bags are good quality and PVC free so they don't leech as you cook.
Between the plastic bags, the long cooking periods, and the often needed extra step of searing the food once you pull it out of the bath, sous vide seems like a lot of work, but the greatest benefits became clear to me with that aforementioned flank steak test.
After 24 hours in the SousVant, the normally tough flank steak could be cut by a fork. It retained all of it's flavor, and the interior was a perfect medium rare pink from edge to edge, instead of the typical layers of doneness you get when you heat from the surface.
Over the course of that flank steak test, the SousVant held it's temperature, kept a uniform water level, and proved itself a top performer. Even better, the outer surface of the SousVant gets warm, but never too hot to touch. On long cooks, the SousVant truly lets you set it and forget it.
Both the $430, £350, AU$500 SousVide Supreme and the $500, £466 Caso SousVide Center perform well, but the $400 SousVant goes toe to toe with them on performance, is easier to use, and just looks much better as a kitchen appliance. Thus, it's definitely the best self-contained water bath sous vide cooker we've tested. Comparing it to immersion circulators is trickier.
Both Nomiku and Anova perform well and cost less. The most recent versions of each offer quicker controls and connected monitoring with apps. Since the SousVant can't match their features and does the same basic function, Nomiku and Anova both make a better purchase. But the SousVant is close enough to be in the conversation. If you want to try out sous vide, I recommend an immersion circulator. If you know this style is for you, and want to do long cooks frequently, the peace of mind the SousVant will give you might be well worth the extra $100.