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What type of sous vide immersion circulator do you need?


Maybe you will be confused, to find a "mostly bar & beverage blog" talking about sous vide. However this technique helped me to really do major breakthrough in housecrafted cordials, syrups and infusions. 

Instead of days and weeks, things in the bar take as much as overnight and as little as a couple of hours - not only to be better than the classic version, but also safer and more convenient.

Why safer you might ask? Because cooking at a low temperature at a prolonged time kills most microbes (I would probably say all microbes which might be dangerous in the bar) - but also kills spoilage bacteria, aceto bacter (vinegar bacterium) and yeast. Hence if you are smart, it saves you a lot of work (big batches and then refrigerating or even freezing).

Please comment if you are interested in any recipes or further explanation how to prolong shelf-life with sous vide.

Now why can I tell you, which sous vide cooker to buy? I have worked in several hotel and restaurant bars over the years and owned several immersion circulators. Hence I have got a bit of experience - especially, when it comes to the commercial (bar) use.

Ok - which features you like to look after:
  • reasonable pricing
    • If you are procuring via the hotel, please try to buy a rather inexpensive model. Why? Because if you are buying a large professional item, the kitchen will always borrow it - and you never know where it is, if you need it. 
  • unite with a display
    • Guys - I am lucky that Joule of Chefsteps didn't came out in the 220V version, when I needed it. The WIFI and bluetooth settings in these apparatuses are prone to be tricky. If you have got a hotel WiFi which is protected (...), you might have no chance to use it with your mobile device. And with an immersion circulator without a display, you have basically a very expensive and very fragile muddler, It doesn't do much more without Wifi or bluetooth. Bluetooth is a bit easier than wifi - but think, that several people might want to use it!
  • Good customer service and a reputable product
    • I had several issues with my immersion circulators and I use them often. All my immersion circulator came from ANOVA, which are not great to use, but also the customer service is quick and helpful. 

Immersion circulators are never really super cheap. Either way you could go really inexpensive and buy a product starting at 70. The disadvantage: Probably no producer support, no app, no Wifi, no bluetooth - probably there are further downsides like noise and they are heating rather slow...

I purchased one for my son, who likes it and uses it (probably). But I would not buy it for myself... I use it too often, and the added features of more expensive ones, are well worth it.

The odd slightly more expensive "no name" options are in my eyes not really worth it. You might have apps, which are frustrating. They might be also heating slow. And it is too much money to spend on a less quality product.

My Nano: 
I have got an Anova Nano. I was thrilled when this immersion circulator came out, because I could buy a reasonable quality product for work, while I had my favorite circulator at home. It is also very small, which makes it ideal to put into a drawer and doesn't take a lot of real-estate in the kitchen.

But working with it often showed some issues:
  • Most of the cooker is made from plastic. And this might break (my clamp broke). 
  • The Nano (strangely only this specific circulator of Anova) needs a very high water level. That means, you always have to fill a lot of water into the basin (which means spillages, and if the container is too small and your "cook" is too much volume, it will overflow). That is probably the most annoying thing.
  • The display is limited - yeah it shows only one thing at a time: mostly actual temperature - then you have to press a button to see the remaining time or the target temp.
  • Oh - it is relatively noisy (if you compare to the "grown up versions".
  • please note, that I have the first Nano 220V version. Maybe Anova changed it to be better (I doubt, that they could make it work with less water, because it is due to the smaller size) - hope they improved the noise level...
It cost now $129  - but it seems that Anova made it cheaper by killing one feature (which my Nano still has) wifi! It is really convenient when you are at home to have a look onto the app and check how long your cook still takes - or even changing temperatures. That doesn't work with Bluetooth only. But it is great to take it with you on travels (you don't know, what you could all do with an immersion circulator, a couple of bags and a torch). Or just as second unite.

The "normal" Anova Precision cooker
I had the original version, which was the first and only version. Sadly after 4 or so years it broke. 
There is now a new version, which I would actually buy. It has WiFi it has bluetooth, a display (but also only one number at a time). It probably works with a "normal fill line. If I buy ever a new one, I will go for this one. It cost about $199 (this was the old price of my Nano!).

My Pro
Yes Anova caught me with their marketing. It was special offer and I purchased mine for $299 - but normally it is 399.
It is a beast. Its display shows all 3 important numbers (current water temp, target temp and time). It has bluetooth and Wifi. It is really quick heating the water. It is quite robust. And it is far more quiet as the Nano. But is it worth twice the price of the standard model? Absolutely no. Buy the standard model. Your wallet will thank you.

So I would definitely go with Anova. It is the most recognized company for sous vide cookers. 

But:
I have also a bit of a gripe with Anova. Yes, their app is probably one of the best ones in the business (except of Joule - but as said, in a professional setting with twitchy internet and not always accessible mobile devices I would not go for it), and the cookers are awesome - except of the Wifi set up, which can suck. To set up a new cooker takes normally several hours of trying. You have to have a direct wall power outlet - and your router has to be also close. And still might not work without issues. I got crazy about this - and weeks I was getting helped by the helpline (very patient guys) - only that one day I tried it again, and suddenly it worked without issue... but again, the support team is more than happy to help you - and that's why you need a display, because even though you have app problems, you can still use it.

And: For Nerds like me, who have several cookers and might want to do more complex cooks (e.g. using enzymatic temperatures and afterwards pasteurizing temps), Anova promised an update with exactly these features. Unfortunately I am still waiting after 3 or so years! I love their precision oven as well - but I would rather have an updated App than dreaming of a fancy new oven!

Oh - let's talk about the literal elephant in the room: The PolyScience immersion circulator. Why elephant? Because it is so large compared to my Anova tools, that it is justified. Also it is far more expensive. 
Don't buy one and don't tell your hotel buying one. Yes, the latest generation became less expensive (probably because nobody with senses purchased a multiple thousand dollar model). But it still doesn't have any advantages against e.g. Anova (even the normal precision cooker). It is bulky and expensive. The display is far more "yesterday" than the Anova models. Makes no sense at all. 

You might ask, have I been sponsored of Anova? No - I am just a fan! Unfortunately my Pro died a couple of days ago (well it had a technical issue, which could not be fixed remotely) and the guys just without any discussion offered me to send me a replacement unite! And while I am waiting, I am using my Nano to do the workload (well I hear it "summing"). 

But overall immersion circulators are super convenient and save - every bar (which makes housecrafted stuff) should use them.
.

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