A lot of people in the tech community love food, especially when they’ve had a hand in making it. The marriage of tech and food has been fruitful, with a number of app-connected gizmos popping up to do such things as tell you when food is at the correct temperature, Internet-connected slow cookers and coffeepots, and much more. Today I’m looking at the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker ($179), an app-controlled sous vide immersion circulator.
An app-controlled what? Sous vide is a method of cooking in which the food is put under vacuum (“sous vide” in French) in a plastic bag, usually with some seasoning, and then immersed in water circulating at a specific temperature. That temperature is usually lower than you’d expect for cooking — steaks cook at 131°F, for example — but the cooking goes on for longer. The result is foods that are cooked perfectly all the way through, juicy, and delicious. Sous vide is used at many high end restaurants, as it ensures consistent and perfect cooking. When cooking meat, the end of the sous vide “bath” is usually followed with what is called finishing. Finishing generally entails doing something very quickly to the food to provide flavors and textures that cannot be produced in the water bath. An example is taking a steak that is cooked sous vide, then placing it in a very hot pan for a minute on each side to sear it. That searing provides caramelization to the meat surface, while not further cooking the rest of the meat.
Temperatures are relatively low in sous vide cookery, so you can use unusual containers for your water — like an old ice chest or a fish tank — provided that the circulator is placed into the water correctly. With the Anova Precision Cooker, I used a large pasta pot, filled it about 3/4 of the way to the top with tap water, plugged it in, and then used the free iPhone app and a recipe I found to pre-heat the water to the cooking temperature of 131°F. That took about 20 minutes, at which time the Anova Precision Cooker and app both notified me that it was time to put the meat into the water. The “review meat” was a trio of 6-ounce top sirloin steaks, which were given a liberal coating of salt and fresh-ground pepper, then placed into separate Zip-loc bags with a teaspoon of butter. To remove most of the air from the bag, a lot of sous vide cooks use a vacuum food sealer; I just dunked the plastic bag into the water bath up to just below the zipper, which forced most of the air out before closing.
The cooker and app both provide continuous monitoring of the temperature of the water — initially, the temperature varied up and down about two degrees, but then it locked in on 131° and stayed steady. The recipe I was using was in the app, and there was a “start” button that I tapped when the bags went into the water to start the timer. The Anova Precision Cooker has a clear, bright display showing the temperature, time left on the timer, Bluetooth status (it uses Bluetooth to communicate with the app). and that same “start” button for manual control.
Two hours later, the app pinged me to let me know that the meat was ready for finishing, and at the same time the precision cooker beeped. I unplugged it, fished the three bags out of the water, and prepared to finish the meat. In the bag was a “juice” consisting of beef blood, salt, pepper, and some of the butter — some people keep this for use in making a pan sauce, but I tossed it for the purpose of the review. While a pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil was heating up over high heat, the steaks were patted down with paper towel to remove any liquids from the surface. Then it was into the pan for a minute on each side, providing a perfect sear and caramelization without further cooking the interior of the meat.
I’ve been cooking for about 35 years, and I have to say that the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker created the best-tasting steak I have ever cooked. In fact, the only steak I’ve ever had that I would consider to have been better was one at the JW Steakhouse in London, England. It certainly cost quite a bit more than what I was able to cook with the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker and the accompanying app. I do a lot of grilling on a gas grill, and the steaks were much more tender, juicier, and more flavorful that what I’ve ever gotten off of the grill.
The circulator is quiet, keeps the temperature precisely where you set it, and the display and controls on top are bright, clear and easy to read. As for cleanup, the stainless steel sleeve surrounding the heating elements can be removed for hand-washing, and that’s about all you need to do. There’s a handy clamp for holding the circulator in place on your “tub”, and a nice long power cable.
What a great app! It has a huge and growing list of sous vide recipes, and when you use one of those recipes it’s a snap to tap the start button and have your food cooked to perfection. There is a video tutorial about sous vide cooking for beginners to watch as well. And speaking of watching, I would love to see an Apple Watch companion for this app that would display current temperature and remaining cook time.
After cooking several meals with the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker, I can vouch for just how good sous vide cooking is. Every meal has been cooked perfectly, full of flavor, and nice and juicy. I’m glad I have several fitness apps on my iPhone and Watch to help me keep track of my weight, because eating what I’ve cooked with this is going to make me want to eat more.
The Anova Culinary Precision Cooker is a wonderfully designed and implemented kitchen tool that evolved from a Kickstarter campaign into a full-realized product. I’d recommend this device without hesitation to any iPhone owner who loves to cook.