Serious Eats

Equipment: We Test the $199 Sous-Vide Circulator From Anova

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out our updated comparison of the Nomiku, Sansaire, and Anova here!

The great sous-vide circulator wars of 2013 have officially started.

Last month we tested the Sansaire, the very first sub-$200 sous-vide circulator to hit the market. Prior to that release, as a home cook you either had to settle for the sous-vide supreme, an all-in-one that costs around $450 and has the disadvantage of lacking active circulation; or you had to pay top dollar for a circulator made by a lab equipment company such as Polyscience, the current industry leader.

Well, Polyscience's biggest competitor in the field of lab heaters, chillers, and circulators, Anova, has dropped the price of their home-use sous-vide circulator from $299 to $199, placing it in square competition with the Sansaire.

Interestingly, the Anova sous-vide circulator has actually been on the market for over a year, but a nearly non-existent marketing strategy has let it fly under the radar for a long time. While the company denies that their price drop has anything to do with the release of the Sansaire, it seems a little bit too coincidental for it not to have weighed into their calculations.

I got my hands on two copies of the Anova and tested them out to see how they stack up to their competitor. Over the course of the last few weeks, I've slow-cooked pork shoulders and pork belly. I've cooked steaks, pork chops, and striped bass filets. I've slow-cooked eggs and cooked carrots in their own juice. Essentially, the same battery of tests I performed on the Sansaire.

Like the Sansaire, the Anova is a circulating water heater designed to attach to any large pot or container. It does this with a rubber-tipped screw that clamps it firmly in place. The build quality of this thing is top-notch, with heavy, tight-fitting metal and plastic parts that feel like they're built to last. The touch screen controller at the top features a rubberized trim that feels very nice in the hand.

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Compared to Sansaire's large metal clip, the screw mount is far more secure—you can turn a pot upside down with the thing attached and not worry about dropping it. However, because of the height of the mount, you won't be able to clamp the Anova to any pot shorter than about 8 inches, somewhat limiting its functionality.

Twice I brought it over to friends places to cook with to find that the pots they had in their kitchen were not tall enough, forcing me to balance the unit on its base rather than clipping it securely. The Sansaire's large metal clip is not quite as firm in its grip, but it's more versatile in terms of what you can mount it on.

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The interface is touch-screen based and the unit is responsive, even with wet fingers. Turn it on with a switch in the back, select °F or °C, set the temperature with a resolution to 1°F increments, set the optional timer, then hit start and it will begin circulating and heating water.

To be frank, the controls are the only place where I'd take a few marks off on the Anova. Touch screen is sleek and the readouts are fun, but I don't like having to go through a half dozen button presses in order to simply get the machine up and running. It kind of reminds me of when microwaves and ovens all started picking up numerical keypads in the 90's when the simple dial system was faster and easier in all respects.

The screen also has an auto-shutdown that initiates after a little while, which means that you need to press on it to double check that it's set at the right temperature and holding. They're minor, but existing, inconveniences.

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As for how the machine actually functions in terms of circulation and temperature-holding ability, I have no complaints. As a manufacturer of precision laboratory-grade equipment with a longstanding reputation in the field, you can bet your butt that it's accurate.

I had some minor issues with the first unit I received—it had been calibrated to heat to 3 degrees below what the readout displayed, but as it was a used model, I didn't dock any points off for that—anybody could have falsely calibrated it before I got my hands on it, and the new model that came with factory calibrations worked perfectly.

The speed at which it heats water up from the tap is a hair under what the Sansaire was delivering, but not enough to make it a major deciding factor. One feature I do like is the ability to adjust the flow direction of the pump, allowing you to point it outwards when you've got a lot of irregularly shaped bags in the bath for maximum convection, or towards the pot wall if you have delicate items like eggs that shouldn't be disturbed with too much turbulence.

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Check out how juicy that double-cut pork chop is! (Don't worry, there's a recipe coming tomorrow).

So the big question: Which $200 circulator should you buy? The Sansaire or the Anova? Unfortunately, I can't give a 100% definite answer on that yet. The original Sansaire I tested was their first working prototype and had an unfinished chassis. I'll be getting a completed model hopefully over the next few weeks.

For those folks asking about the long-awaited Nomiku, well the makers decided not to send me a tester model when I told them I was planning on testing and writing about the Anova at the same time. Hopefully I'll get my hands on one through different means so we can make it happen within the next few weeks.

If you're really itching to get a sous-vide cooker right this second, neither the Anova nor the Sansaire will do you wrong. But wait a few weeks and we'll have some even better advice for you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out our updated comparison of the Nomiku, Sansaire, and Anova here!

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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