Prepare yourself for freakishly perfect, restaurant-quality food every time.

By Susan Brickell
Updated December 18, 2018
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I've never been much of a cook (although I can make a mean pot of Southern-style chicken and dumplings... but that's it). So I was skeptical when my boyfriend introduced me to a smart kitchen gadget that resembles a miniature boat motor, or something that looks like it should be in the air and space museum. He knows I am totally that person who's always paranoid that the chicken or salmon I'm making is undercooked. In other words, I have a tendency to overcook poultry and fish to a not-so-tasty, dry texture.

Enter: the Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker, which has seriously changed my relationship with food and made me much more confident in the kitchen. This genius little gadget allows me to be hands-off while cooking, so I can entertain guests or chat on the phone, and makes cleaning up post-meal a breeze.

What is sous vide cooking?

Sous vide is the process of cooking plastic pouches filled with food in a temperature-regulated water bath, which requires a machine called an immersion circulator to keep the water at the designated temperature so food cooks slowly at a low temperature. Since the juices and seasonings remain in the bag, this style of cooking results in perfectly cooked food packed with delicious flavor.

A French term that translates to "under vacuum," sous vide was invented in France over 40 years ago and has been used in restaurants all over the world ever since. If you've eaten out recently, you've probably enjoyed a sous vide steak or perfectly poached sous vide eggs without realizing it. From veggies to fish to soup to desserts (like yogurt and crème brûlée), there's really nothing that can't be made sous vide.

How to use a sous vide cooker

To use the Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker, you stick the wand in a pot or container of water and pair with an app that tells you the desired temperature, how long to cook your meat or fish for, and when your food will be done. For those who don't spend a ton of time in the kitchen (hand raise!) it eliminates the guesswork, allowing you to cook everything to the exact temperature so dinner comes out perfect every time.

Once the water is at the set temperature, you seal your seasoned food in a bag. You can just use a sealable plastic bag (I like these BPA free Ziploc bags) or you can invest in an affordable vacuum sealer, which is great for storing meat, fish, and produce in the freezer. You'll seal everything except one teensy tiny corner of the bag, then slowly immerse the bag into your container with the water bath (this Rubbermaid 12-quart container is perfect). This technique, called "water displacement," uses the pressure of the water to force the air out of the Ziploc bag, creating a natural vacuum seal, and then you can completely zip the bag shut.

Clip the bag (chip bag clips or even office binder clips will do the job) to the side of your container, and allow it to sit until it reaches a uniform temperature. You can make the process more efficient by purchasing an insulating sleeve for your Rubbermaid container, or by simply wrapping the container in a towel. Covering it with a lid, aluminum foil, or even floating a bunch of ping pong balls (it may sound silly, but it works!) on the surface can help keep the water from evaporating.

Once your food is done cooking in the water bath with the sous vide wand, remove it and finish it off by flipping it a few times in a pan on the stove to give the outside a more appealing texture. Of course, you don't have to do this, but throwing meat onto a super hot cast iron pan or even crisping the top or skin of fish with a cooking torch for a minute or two can make all the difference in your final result.

Amazon.com

To buy: $90; walmart.com, amazon.comwilliams-sonoma.com

Anova Sous Vide review

I can't rave enough about my Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker. It heats water quickly and quietly and cooks everything to an exact temperature. I don't have to be tethered to the kitchen, either,  since the device has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, meaning I can control it through an app on my smartphone.

But if I want a phone-free evening or don't want to be constantly checking the app, I can also use the Anova manually without my phone. The device's clip mount allows me to attach it to a variety of different sized containers, which is great when I'm cooking for one instead of a group. The Anova has a temperature range of 32 to 210 degrees Fahrenheit (it can also be set in Celsius, which makes my European boyfriend very happy). The timer runs for 99 hours and can heat up to an impressive five gallons of water.

A sous vide wand makes a perfect gift for beginner cooks and culinary enthusiasts. I even gifted one to my sister and her fiancé as a housewarming present. The two usually grill on their Green Egg for dinner, but winter nights can be brutal for cooking outdoors. Shivering outside, cleaning the grill before you even put the meat on is not something anyone looks forward to. The Anova was the perfect solution, allowing them to easily cook from the comfort of a warm kitchen. My sister just sent me a photo of a mahi-mahi they made for dinner with the sous vide cooker, topped with a cilantro pesto sauce (yum!).

Where to buy a sous vide cooker

Scoop up the Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on Amazon (starting at $99; amazon.com) or Williams Sonoma ($100; williams-sonoma.com), and find the Bluetooth version at Walmart for a super affordable $89. 

If you're looking for something a little less hefty and wallet-friendly, the Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker Nano ($64; amazon.com) is perfect for city dwellers lacking kitchen storage. It has a lower power capacity of 750 watts (compared to full-size wands with 800-1100 watts), but this only affects how long it takes to heat the water bath.

The Nano uses Bluetooth instead of WiFi, but still allows you to set and control the cooker from your phone, as long as you're within 30 feet. The wand also has a touchscreen display with controls so you don't have to constantly be unlocking your phone with greasy fingers while cooking to check the time or temperature.

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