I’ve been cooking sous-vide for five years now, since even before I started this blog. Back then sous-vide cooking was virtually unknown to the general public, and only restaurant chefs and cooking ‘geeks’ were aware of the cooking technique that so far was being used only at upscale restaurants and was often called “roner” instead of sous-vide. (The “Roner” was named after two chefs from Girona in Spain, Joan Roca and Narcís Caner, who developed one of the first immersion circulators to be used for cooking in restaurants.) My first piece of sous-vide equipment was a SousVide Supreme “water oven”, back then one of the first aiming at the general public. I’ve been using it on a regular basis, at least once a week but often more, during all that time. Sous-vide cooking has become an integral part of my cooking style as it works so well to support my cooking philosophy to get good produce and allow it to shine by cooking it ‘just right’.
I’ve been holding back a bit on writing too many posts about sous-vide on this blog, as I was aware that only a small part of my followers own sous-vide equipment and I noticed that sous-vide posts got less likes and comments than others. But recently I’ve noticed that more and more of my friends and followers now own sous-vide equipment. And that they have all the questions that I had when I first started cooking sous-vide five years ago. So from now on I will try to transfer my know how and experience by not only posting recipes that use sous-vide, but also posts that explain how sous-vide cooking works.
As you may be thinking of asking Santa Claus for a sous-vide, too, I thought it’d be a good idea to review the two most popular pieces of sous-vide equipment, the SousVide Supreme water oven and the Anova Precision Cooker immersion circulator. This review will hopefully help make up your mind which one to get. I own both appliances and have paid for them myself. I am not affiliated to either company. I’ve owned the SousVide Supreme (SVS) for 5 years, and the Anova Precision Cooker (Anova) for 1 year.
Before I start with a detailed review, let me start with a brief explanation of the different possibilities for sous-vide equipment that are available.
Types of sous-vide equipment
For sous-vide cooking you will need three elements:
- A thermostat, or even better a PID (proportional–integral–derivative) controller, to regulate the temperature (a PID will hold the temperature more accurately than a thermostat)
- A heating element, that is to be controlled by the thermostat
- A container that will hold the water and insulates it from heat loss and evaporation
The three most common sous-vide solutions currently available are:
- A water oven (or water bath) that combines all three elements (thermostat, heating, and container) in one appliance, such as SVS, Oliso, Grant, Sunbeam, PolyScience, or Roner
- An immersion circulator (thermostat + heater) that can be used in any container, such as Anova, Nomiku, Sansaire, PolyScience, Roner, or Grant
- A PID temperature controller to be used with a rice cooker or slow cooker for the heating and container, such as Auber or Codlo. This used to be a cheap alternative with risk of uneven heating as a drawback, but now that immersion circulators are available for the same price as these PID controllers, this no longer seems to be a good alternative for either of the first two options.
Below I will compare the SVS and Anova. The SVS is the most popular water oven for home use, and the Anova the most popular immersion circulator for home use. Many of the differences between them will also apply to other water ovens and immersion circulators. An important point to note is that an immersion circulator is a partial sous-vide solution, as it provides only two of three elements needed (thermostat and heater), and not the third element (the container). Some characteristics such as capacity, evaporation, and insulation, will depend on what container you will use together with the immersion circulator.
The SousVide Supreme (SVS) is sold in two sizes, the SVS (€474 in Europe/$376 in the US) and the SVS Demi (€375 in Europe/$329 in the US). The difference is mostly in size (11 litres versus 9 litres).
The Anova Precision Cooker is now on sale for $179 in Europe/$129 in the US (regular prices $50 more).
Although the Anova “works with any pot”, it is not completely fair to compare the prices just like that. It is true that the Anova will work with any pot that you already own, but if you want to do longer cooks (of more than a couple of hours), you will need to do something about insulation and/or evaporation and you will probably spend about $25 on either a polycarbonate container or a beer cooler. Even with that added cost, you can buy two Anovas for the price of one SVS, so in terms of price the Anova is clearly the winner.
Ease of use: evaporation
The SVS sits on my countertop and is always ready to be used right away. It is insulated and has a cover to prevent water loss through evaporation. This is very important for longer cooks, as at the temperatures used for those (between 55C and 62C/131F and 144F), water evaporates a lot quicker than at room temperature. This means that the water level will drop, your kitchen will get steamed up, and it is less efficient.
I use the Anova in a stockpot or a beer cooler and I cannot use their usual covers, because the Anova sticks out on top. And so with the Anova evaporation is an issue, because it will shut off when the water level drops too low. I solve this by covering the stock pot or beer cooler with plastic wrap, but compared to the cover of the SVS that is quite a nuisance. Not only to apply the plastic wrap, but also to open and close when needed. Because of this, I prefer the SVS for longer cooks.
If you own an Anova or decide to buy one, I would recommend that you buy a polycarbonate container with a cover or a beer cooler, and then cut a hole in the cover of the polycarbonate container or beer cooler so that you will be able to use that cover to prevent water loss through evaporation.
Ease of use: controls
To switch the SVS on or off, you have to hold the power button for a couple of seconds. To set the temperature, you have to press “Set temp” and then press or hold the “+” and “-” buttons to set the temperature. When you hold them, the temperature first moves slowly and then more and more quickly. When changing the temperature from 60C to 84C, it happens often that it overshoots. It is not a big nuisance, but the controls of the Anova are a lot easier to use.
The Anova is switched on and off by plugging in or unplugging the power cord. It has a dial for the temperature, and there is a simple button to start/stop its operation.
The minimum capacity for the SVS is 6.8 litres (1.4 gallons), and the maximum capacity is 11 litres (2.3 gallons). The capacity of the Anova depends on the container that you use it with. It can be used with a smaller container than the SVS, so you will use less water and less energy to heat it and keep it warm. More important is that it can be used with a bigger container than the SVS, which means that you can cook almost twice as much food with it at the same time. The maximum capacity of the Anova is 19 litres (5 gallons).
Space and Portability
The SVS measures 29 cm by 36 cm by 29 cm (11.4” by 14.2” by 11.4”) and weighs 13 lbs (5.9 kgs). If you have a small kitchen, that is quite large to be sitting on your countertop when it is not in use. The Anova only measures 7 cm by 7 cm by 37 cm (2.75″ by 2.75″ by 14.75″) and weighs 1.2 kgs (2.5 lbs). This means you can store it in a kitchen drawer when it’s not in use, and it is easy to carry to a friend’s kitchen (or on vacation). When in use, the Anova will in many cases require a container that is as big as the SVS (depending on the size of the food you are cooking with it), or even bigger.
Calibration and temperature stability
Sous-vide cooking is all about precision, so calibration and temperature stability are important. Especially with longer cooks, a difference of 2 degrees celsius (4 degrees fahrenheit) is clearly noticeable in the end result and can make the difference between tough and tender or between dry and juicy. However, good is good enough. It is very hard to notice a difference in cooking temperature of 1 degree celsius (2 degrees fahrenheit) or less. And so it is not very meaningful that the Anova will hold the temperature to +/- 0.1 degree celcius, compared to +/- 0.5 degrees for the SVS.
Both appliances use a different technique for heat distribution. The SVS has a PID controller and heating element all over the bottom of the water bath, and relies on natural convection for the heat to be distributed. The Anova has a single point of heating, and has a pump to distribute the heat. Although the Anova’s system is superior from a theoretical point of view, from a practical point of view I have not noticed any difference in cooking results. This is also why this post does not include a side-by-side comparison, as I expect there to be no difference in the end result. I have never had issues with ‘cold spots’ or ‘hot spots’ in the five years I’ve been using the SVS.
To check the calibration, I mounted the Anova on the SVS so both appliances were heating the same water. I inserted the probe of a thermometer for good measure. In the photo you can see that at a set temperature of 55C/131F the SVS ‘thinks’ the water is warmer than the Anova by 1 degree celsius, which is substantial but not critical. Please note that the calibration of each individual SVS or Anova may be different, so if you do the same experiment you make get different results.
Interestingly, at a set temperature of 84C (183F), the Anova ‘thinks’ it is warmer than the SVS. Thermometer calibration is tricky business that I won’t go into any further, but in conclusion I do not believe that calibration and temperature stability should be factors to take into account when deciding whether to buy a SVS or an Anova.
Notice the plastic wrap? I added it, because even with the combined heating power of the SVS and the Anova together, they had a hard time getting an uncovered bath to 84C/183F because of the high evaporation rate at that temperature (and evaporation requires energy and thus cools off the water).
What does noise have to do with sous-vide cooking? Well, the SVS is absolutely silent, but the pump of the Anova makes a noticeable noise. Not very loud, but certainly noticeable and it may become a nuisance to you depending on your living circumstances.
I always fill the sous-vide with warm water from the tap, so heating time is not an issue for me when I cook fish or meat as my tap water is about 60C/140F (for vegetables, which are cooked at 84C/183F, heating time does come into play). I measured the heat up time anyway. I filled the SVS with 6.8 litres of cold tap water (this time of the year at about 11C/52F), which is the minimum amount of water. I put 6.8 litres of the same cold water in a stockpot and mounted the Anova on that. Then I set the temperature for both to 60C/140F. The Anova got there first, and heated the water in 36 minutes. The SVS took about 4 minutes longer. This is not a difference that I deem to be significant when deciding whether to buy one or the other. (The Anova would heat up even more quickly if an insulated and covered container were to be used.)
Cleaning and maintenance
The SVS is easy to clean and has no moving parts. The only maintenance I’ve performed in five years was to apply some silicone on the edge as the water that evaporates and then condensates on the lid, in part drips down on the edge and then should be held back by a small black edge. This edge had started to leak, and a bit of (black) silicone fixed that.
The Anova does have a moving part (the pump), and because the heating element is directly touching the water, mineral deposits will form on the element. After only a year of light use, my Anova clearly need a cleaning job.
If price and counter space are important factors — and I think they are for many of you — the Anova is probably the best buy today. Although owning both of them, I must say the SVS is my first choice because it is easier to use — especially for longer cooks. If you do get the Anova, make sure to procure a suitable container with a cover.