Technology makes it virtually impossible to not have a perfectly cook meal expertly prepared with minimal effort using fresh ingredients. That juicy and tender steak you had at the restaurant can easily be made using a sous vide appliance, a category of kitchen tool designed for the home cook that has been rising in popularity in recent years. And the latest company to enter this space is ChefSteps with an immersion cooking device called the Joule.
Joule enters a growing field of new sous vide devices that makes it even easier for home cooks to achieve restaurant results. Like the $199 Joule, some of these devices—Anova’s $149 Precision Cooker and Nomiku’s $249 Immersion Circulator come to mind—come with Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to start your cooking remotely to save even more time in the kitchen. There are plenty more models from Sansaire, InstantPot, Magic Mill, Gourmia and others that come in a variety of shapes, sizes and price points.
But at its core, all these devices help to circulate and maintain the temperature of a water bath to keep your meats, fish, poultry, vegetables and even desserts cooking at a precise temperature for a set amount of time. This turns cooking into essentially a fool-proof science, and the benefit is that you’re not overcooking your meals, resulting in more nutrients retained in vegetables, perfectly cooked cuts of meat that is tender and not tough, flavorful fish and neatly executed desserts.
Compared to the immersion cookers that I had previously reviewed from Anova and Sansaire, ChefSteps’ Joule is by far the most compact. The Joule shares the same tubular design with Anova’s Precision Cooker. However, it sheds Anova’s controls for a more simple design, like Sansaire’s cooker.
The simple design with a white hue and chrome accents on the top and bottom ends gives the Joule an Apple-like aesthetic. At 11 inches tall, the Joule weighs only 1.2 pounds and its 1.85-inch diameter dimension means that the device won’t take up much counter space or drawer space when you’re not using it. It’s also significantly lighter than its rivals. The Sansaire clocked in at a hefty 3.2 pounds while Anova’s unit was double the weight of the Joule. To me, Joule reminds me of a magic wand, and I charmingly refer to it as my chef’s wand when friends ask about its presence in my kitchen.
And while Sansaire and Anova straddle the analog and digital divide by offering on-device controls for cooking, the Joule is completely dependent upon a smartphone or tablet. You won’t be able to adjust the cooking temperature or set cooking times without a smartphone. Shedding on-device buttons and controls helps make Joule compact, but there are drawbacks in embracing a fully digital strategy. By default, I set my phone’s screen to timeout after 30 seconds of inactivity, which could lead to awkward juggling, hand washing and toweling down my wet paws to get my phone to turn on again in the kitchen if I don’t remember to change the screen timeout setting.
Having a control Nest Thermostat-like wheel to adjust the temperature, like the Sansaire, or buttons, like the Anova, would make it easier to operate the sous vide cooker when handling wet ingredients, raw meats or foods with the possibility for contamination.
In French, sous vide means under vacuum. The process requires you to vacuum seal your food before placing it in a water bath. If you don’t own a vacuum sealer, you can place your marinated meats, vegetables or food in a ziplock bag, slowly submerge in water and seal the bag just before the bag gets fully submerged. The pressure from the water will push out excess air in the bag in lieu of a vacuum sealer.
As a sous vide utensil, the Joule would help to circulate and monitor the water temperature. You’ll use your smartphone to set how hot you want your water bath, depending on the recipe, and Joule should do all the hard work for you by moving the water around and heating the water temperature to keep it constant if the sensors detect a drop in heat. All sous vide machines work similarly, but compared to the Anova, the Joule’s 1,100 watts of power heated up the water more quickly than the slightly weaker Anova. With the Joule, you’ll save some time preheating the water to the desired temperature, but the time difference is negligible in the grand scheme of cooking.
Given the Joule’s minimalist design, you’ll need to connect the sous vide to an app on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet to control the cooking process. Fortunately, if you’re new to sous vide, Joule’s clean app design and presentation makes the process approachable and less intimidating.
The app provides videos to guide you through the cooking process. The videos will give you cooking time and temperatures that you’ll be able to adjust using the controls inside the app. It seems more friendly than competing apps that guide you with images and texts. One of the great parts about the app is that Joule gives you times and images to show you how your food should look like, which is useful when you’re trying to gauge the doneness of a steak in the cooking process. If you want a medium rare steak, for example, Joule will show you an example in the form of a picture, along with the proper time and temperature for a cut of steak.
Joule’s app includes notifications and a timer, making it easy to place your food in the bath, forget about it and multitask by doing other errands. Given that sous vide cooks slowly, you’ll need a few hours of cooking. With a steak, there was really very minimal preparation required—you’ll want to season the steak with salt and pepper as desired, some olive oil and if you want even more flavors, you can add in fresh herbs or other seasonings. After you season, you’ll want to vacuum seal the steak, preheat the water and then submerge the meat into the water bath once the desired temperature is reached in the bath. Most of the time that’s required will be cooking, so the process does require a little bit of planning.
Similar to its rival sous vide cooking wands, the Joule comes with a clip on the side that helps to keep it upright and stable in a pot. However, if you’re using a small pot, perhaps for a smaller meal, then you can even stand the Joule on its own without having to clip it to the pot. The base of the Joule comes with a strong magnetic disc that keeps it securely attached to a pot. The feature, however, won’t work if you’re using a plastic tub for your sous vide cooking, but I found the feature versatile and handy when using smaller pots to preparing meals for myself.
The magnet is also a useful feature given that the built-in clip on the Joule is rather shallow, so it won’t be able to accommodate thicker pots.
The way that Joule circulates water is by drawing it in on the bottom and pushing it out via a small opening on the side. If your water bath is shallow, it will create some noise as water cascades out and down the side, but it’s a fun little effect that makes it look like you have a small fountain.
After the meat is cooked under water, it really looks unappetizing—your steak comes out with a grayish tone—but you shouldn’t worry. Pat the steak down and sear or char it and it turns into a very attractive slab of meat. Add in your favorite sides and you have a tasty dinner that rivals anything you can get at a fancy restaurant. The beauty with sous vide is that all you need are fresh ingredients. You won’t need much seasoning, and the meals you prepare are fresh and healthy.
The Joule comes with both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Bluetooth pairing is great when you’re cooking at home and your phone is within range of the Joule, but WiFi is extremely useful if you want to start the cooking process remotely.
For example, before you leave work in the morning, you can marinate your steak and prep your sous vide cooking setup ahead of time. Instead of lowering your meat into a water bath, you can fill your pot with ice or an ice bath. Then, you can start your cooking before you leave work, timing the process so it completes when you arrive home. By the time you get home, all you’ll need to do is sear your steak and add the sides and you’ll have a meal without having to wait the few hours that it takes to cook a steak fully under a water bath.
WiFi connectivity also helps Joule communicate with Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant for hands-free control. Rather than juggle with the app, you can beckon Alexa to heat the water to a certain degree, which is useful if your hands are dirty or otherwise occupied in the kitchen. Alexa integration is a feature that really sets the Joule apart.
There is little difference in how meals prepared between the Anova, Joule and Sansaire turned out. The result between the devices are the same. For my pick, however, I chose the Joule because it is compact and won’t take up much space in your kitchen or on your counter. The Joule comes with a clean, minimal design, and the app really shines to make cooking less intimidating for novices.
Joule also comes with some neat features that set it apart from its competitors in the sous vide space. Despite its compact size, Joule packs in a powerful 1,100 watt motor heats up the water bath quickly, and the innovative magnetic disc keeps this immersion cooker upright and stable while it’s used in a pot with a metal surface. If you’re the owner of a smart home, Joule becomes even easier to use—you can tell Alexa to set Joule’s temperature with your voice.
The Joule wins our editor’s choice for the best immersion circulator for home cooks available to date, and it’s the sous vide to beat.