Attractive, minimalist aesthetic
Powerful and quick to preheat
Can only be controlled via the app
With the introduction of more manageable appliances like the Joule Sous Vide by ChefSteps, sous vide cooking is becoming more common in home kitchens. The Seattle-based startup ChefSteps first entered the sous vide market in late 2016, and its Joule looks quite a bit different from other gadgets in this category. Unlike clunky competitors, the Joule is uniquely compact and minimalist, yet powerful.
Sous vide cookers work by heating a large vessel of water to a precise temperature, maintaining that temperature, and circulating the water around the container. Users can then cook proteins or other foods that are vacuum-sealed in a bag or a jar in the water bath to a precise level of doneness.
While sous vide, which means “under vacuum” in French, is often used to cook meat and fish, it can also be used for various egg dishes and a number of desserts including ice cream bases and crème brûlée. The immersion circulation method is also great for those looking to cook more healthfully, as it requires little to no fat. We wanted to see how efficiently this super-sleek model prepared a variety of foods—and how easy it was to control via the smartphone app.
Design: Sleek and compact
If Steve Jobs were to design a sous vide, it might look something like the Joule. The smooth white cylinder with a silver stainless steel top is beautifully minimalist, with nothing to interfere with its clean lines other than a small green light. It weighs less than 2 pounds, making it easy to grab from the cupboard; you could even put it in a larger knife bag to take on the go. All the sleekness does mean, however, that the temperature isn’t displayed on the device itself; users must look on the app, which may not be ideal for some.
If Steve Jobs were to design a sous vide, it might look something like the Joule.
The cooker affixes to the pot via a springy, heavy-duty clip on the side. The bottom of the cooker is also magnetic, which lends stability if you’re using it in a metal pot. We found this design much better than some competitors, such as the Anova Precision Cooker, which features a screw-on clamp. The Joule also claims to be the only sous vide circulator that’s completely sealed, so if you accidentally dunk the entire thing in water, it will be OK. Still, that’s not something users should make a habit of doing, as it’s not totally waterproof—only water-resistant.
Setup Process: Simple but sometimes buggy
To get cooking, you first must download the Joule’s free app from the Apple App Store or Google Play store, then connect your smartphone to the Joule using Bluetooth. The process isn’t complicated, but, as with any Bluetooth gadget, things can be a bit buggy at times. Users who aren’t well-schooled in the ways of Bluetooth might find it a bit challenging at first.
Once we connected, we fired up the app. It made a few suggestions for what to cook first with the Joule, which, depending on what you want for dinner, is either helpful or annoying. We found it a bit annoying, as the protein we’d planned to cook, a salmon fillet, wasn’t suggested for maiden voyages. We had to click around a bit in the app to find how to cook our meal.
When it was time to prep dinner, we placed the Joule in our largest stockpot filled with cool tap water and clipped it to the side of the pot. We then used the app to heat up the water to 122 degrees, the recommended temperature for “tender and flaky” salmon.
We placed our small salmon filets with some herbs and olive oil in a food-safe plastic bag and zipped it almost all the way closed, leaving about an inch open. We then submerged the bag partly, pushing the excess air out, and fully sealed it. You can also use a vacuum sealer, but we found this water-sealing method surprisingly easy.
Performance: Fast and easy
The sous vide method is quite forgiving. Because the water bath is the exact temperature you desire your food to be, overcooking food is very unlikely, even if you leave your dinner in the water bath longer than needed. However, while it’s precise, it’s not quick, no matter what brand of appliance you’re using; this isn’t your Instant Pot!
In our tests, the 1,100-watt Joule heated a stockpot of water to 130 degrees in less than 12 minutes. To compare, the Anova we reviewed took nearly 20 minutes to accomplish the same task. Once the water was warm, it held the temperature and did right by our salmon, which we cooked for the recommended 40 minutes; the device really shined, however, when we prepared pork chops later in the week.
The 1,100-watt Joule heated a stockpot of water to 130 degrees in less than 12 minutes.
For reference, to cook a large ribeye steak to medium rare required about an hour in the water bath. Note that after each session, we still had to quickly sear the meat in a hot pan to give it some texture on the outside.
The app didn’t always work perfectly; sometimes the timer paused while we were doing other things on our phone, and the interface could be awkward, but it was never a huge deal.
Features: App, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth
We were able to easily connect to the Joule app via Bluetooth every time we used it, though we sometimes lost the connection. The app is fairly easy to use, though not always intuitive, and it has dozens of recipes, along with tips and tricks and a “cook history” function that journals every time you use the Joule to prepare a meal.
It’s a nice app, but we preferred the Anova app slightly. Several of the recipes on the Anova app are credited to noted culinary professionals, and the “Guides” section is more useful. Some of the Joule app’s features include “Visual Doneness,” which allows you to select an image of how “done” you want your food to be.
The app is fairly easy to use, though not always intuitive.
Given that the Joule can only be controlled via an app, some customers may be concerned about how the machine would function if ChefSteps ever stops maintaining that service. At this point, that doesn’t appear to be an issue: According to the version history in the Apple App Store, it is regularly updated, a sign that it is being continually developed.
The Joule also works with Alexa, so you can control it with your voice—handy when your hands are busy with other meal prep.
Cleaning: Simple, but don’t put it in the dishwasher
Since the Joule, like all sous vide machines, is only immersed in water, maintenance is pretty simple. The manufacturer suggests simply wiping it clean and drying it off after use. If hard water scaling becomes an issue, a small amount of white vinegar can be added to the water bath when cooking. If further cleaning is required, simply unscrew the bottom foot of the Joule and clean the interior workings with a small brush. The Joule should never be placed in the dishwasher.
Price: One of the priciest options
With an MSRP of $199 for the white stainless steel version or $179 for the white polycarbonate model, the Joule is one of the most expensive of these types of sous vide cookers. The most likely competitor, the Anova we discussed earlier in this review, has an MSRP of $159, and a version without Wi-Fi is only $129. Anova makes a smaller Nano version for $99, but it’s far less powerful than the Joule.
Competition: Plenty of cheaper—but less attractive—options
Anova Precision Cooker: One of the most popular immersion circulators of this type, the Anova looks quite different than the Joule. At 14.75 by 2.75 inches and 2.5 pounds, it’s much bigger and bulkier than the Joule, which is just 11 by 1.85 inches and a little over a pound, allowing it to easily slip into a drawer.
The 1,100-watt Joule is also more powerful and heats up water more quickly than the 900-watt Anova. One advantage the Anova does have, depending on your preferences, is that it can be controlled via an app or on the appliance itself, and the temperature is clearly displayed on the tip of the gadget. Still, the Joule’s lack of a display and controls on the actual device allows for the beautiful, streamlined aesthetic. One final thing we appreciated about the Joule’s design was the fact that its power cable was slightly longer than the Anova’s.
Anova Precision Cooker Nano: If small size is a priority and you don’t want to spring for the Joule, consider Anova’s more diminutive model. At 1.6 pounds and 2.2 x 12.8 inches, it’s similarly compact, and it only costs $99. Of course, it’s also less powerful than the Joule—750 watts compared to 1,100 watts—so it will need more time to preheat.
- Product Name Joule Sous Vide
- Product Brand ChefSteps
- UPC 855869006003
- Price $199.00
- Product Dimensions 11 x 1.9 x 1.9 in.
- Color White stainless steel with silver top or all-white polycarbonate
- Material Stainless steel or polycarbonate
- Power 1,100 watts
- Temperature Accuracy 0.2 °F
- Maximum Water Temperature 208 °F
- Maximum Bath Volume 10+ gal
- Minimum Water Depth 1.5 in.
- Maximum Water Depth 8 in.
- Warranty 1 year, limited