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View All Modernist Cooking Blog Posts Written by Gary Logsdon

Do I Need A Sous Vide Machine With WiFi?

Wifi Anova

The Anova WiFi immersion circulator was the first sous vide machine with WiFi readily available in the market. But there are a slew of new ones scheduled to come to market in the second half of 2016: The WiFi Nomiku in August, ChefSteps Joule in September, and the Gourmia WiFi in the fall. And don't forget the unique WiFi enabled Mellow sous vide machine, coming this fall, that also includes refrigeration. So by the end of the year you will have numerous product choices if you would like to have WiFi. However, the really important question is. . .

"Do I need to have WiFi on my sous vide machine?"

Most of us enjoy having the latest and greatest tools and it goes without saying that the addition of WiFi is a really sexy feature. But other than being the latest "shiny toy", does that feature actually provide benefits that will make your life as a cook easier? After exploring the matter, I believe the answer to that question is, "It depends."

So What are the Benefits of the WiFi Feature on a Sous Vide Machine?

Wifi Nomiku

Frankly, I believe the WiFi feature on sous vide machines provide only two noteworthy benefits: 1) to delay the start time of your cook and 2) to provide remote communication with your sous vide machine. I will describe these below and also include some associated factors that you might want to consider. Once you understand the trade-offs associated with these benefits you will be better positioned to determine if you need a WiFi sous vide machine.

Depending on your lifestyle you may decide that WiFi on your sous vide machine would be a "nice to have" but you don't envision that you would use it often. Or you may determine that WiFi is a "must have" to simplify your life as a sous vide cook. Hopefully this article will assist you in making that determination.

Want Great Sous Vide Recipes?

Sous vide book cover large

My best selling sous vide cookbook will help you master sous vide and can be used as a reference for more than 80 cuts of meat and vegetables. It is also filled with inspiring recipes to get you on your way to sous vide success!

1) Delayed Cook Start Time

Anova in ice bath

This is arguably the greatest benefit to having a WiFi enabled sous vide machine. This benefit comes into play when you are cooking a meal sous vide but are going to be away from your kitchen for longer than the cook time for that meal. Delaying the start time prevents you from overcooking the food while still ensuring the food will be fully cooked by the time you return.

The most common example of this is people leaving home early in the morning and wanting to eat soon after they return in the evening. If the cook time of the food they are sous viding is shorter than the amount of time they are going to be away, it requires them to delay the start of cooking, often for an extended period of time (1-10 hours). This can be done most effectively by remotely starting the sous vide machine at the appropriate time using its WiFi capability.

With WiFi you can start your sous vide machine from wherever you happen to be so that the food that you are cooking is finished when you return home. This capability to delay the start time of the sous vide cook is the scenario most often espoused by the proponents of WiFi - and for good reason. Since this process is not as easy and straightforward as it sounds, I believe it's important to get into the details of this benefit so you can better understand both its advantages and disadvantages. Below I will address some important questions that you should consider.

When Is It Necessary to Delay the Start of a Sous Vide Cook Time?

Since the capability to delay the start time of a sous vide cook is touted as one of the important benefits of WiFi, it's important to evaluate exactly how often this capability would need to be used.

Wifi Joule

The biggest benefit to delaying sous vide start times using WiFi is for people with busy schedules who are away from their kitchens for more than 8 hours before eating. If you are someone who works from home, or has a spouse or partner that works from home, a lot of the benefits of delaying a start will be lost.

Medium Sous Vide Cook Times

The type of food that benefits most from a delayed start are ones with a cook time of 1 to 12 hours. With these cuts and cook times, the timing is more precise and the food more easily overcooks, even with just a few hours of extra time. Most people's schedules also seem to need more help with the timing of these types of foods.

This window encompasses some of the best foods to cook sous vide including: many steaks, chicken thighs and breasts, duck, several beef roasts, many lamb cuts, and several pork cuts.

Sous vide duck blackberry port agar pudding

Short Sous Vide Cook Times

When sous viding foods with short cook times, of say less than an hour, there is usually less benefit to delaying the start. These would include nearly all fish, shellfish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. In this scenario it's usually just easier to place the food in the sous vide machine immediately when you get home, and by the time you get all the accompanying food prepared, the sous vide component is ready.

Moreover, with short cooks of this type it's more important to make sure the water bath is at the correct temperature when the food is put in it and that the cook time is more accurate. You don't want to get hung up when you are out and come home to beautiful piece of salmon that's cooked for an extra hour or two!

Delaying the start does work well for some shorter cooks, especially reheating foods or when you are in a rush and don't have the time to cook once you get home.

Long Sous Vide Cook Times

For foods with cook times longer than 12 hours there also tends to be less benefit to delaying the start time. Most people have schedules that allow them to just start the sous vide machine for these cuts before leaving the kitchen. These cooks also have much more flexibility in their timing, allowing you to pull it out in a range of several hours, making a precision start less important.

However, if you have a schedule with odd hours, have a specific preference for timing, or will be away from the kitchen for a long time, you can easily delay these types of cooks as well. For example, many people use the delay to start the circulator for an 18 or 20 hour cook in the middle of the night.

Is It Safe to Delay the Start of the Sous Vide Cook Time?

As in all cooking, it's critical that sous viders remain vigilant about safety issues. In the case of delaying the start of a cook it's important to be cognizant of how long the food will be in the danger zone of 40°F to 130°F (4.4°C to 54.4°C), especially when cooking meats and other foods that are stored in the refrigerator.

Most safety recommendations suggest food shouldn't be in the danger zone for more than 2 to 4 hours all together. Since the majority of sous vide machines take between 45 and 60 minutes to heat from 40°F (4.4°C) to at least 130°F you don't have too much leeway, especially once you factor in the time the food was in the danger zone during shopping.

Note: You can learn more about the Danger Zone in our article Is Sous Vide Safe?.

Consequently, it's important that the water bath be at a temperature lower than 40°F (4.4°C) when the food is placed in it. Moreover, it's critical that the sous vide machine begins cooking once the water temperature warms up to 40°F (4.4°C) at the latest. The best way to do this with a traditional sous vide machine is to put "enough" ice in the water bath to maintain the low temperature until the desired starting time.

Ice

You might wonder, "Just how much is 'enough' ice?" I am in the process of doing some experimentation to determine that and it will be included in a future post. However, my initial testing would indicate that you need a 50% ice to 50% water ratio in order to maintain the temperature under 40°F (4.4°C) for around 6-8 hours.

If you are using a normal water bath container it typically contains around 10 L of water. That means that you would need 5 L of ice (See picture of the large container with 5 L of ice). I can tell you from experience, that's a lot of ice!

Are You Willing to Take the Time and Effort to Prepare for a Delayed Cook Start Time?

When folks give reasons for why they don't want to cook sous vide you may have often heard the excuse that it takes too much planning, "I barely know what I want to eat an hour or two from now - how am I going to figure out what I want to eat 2 or 3 days in the future?" If you are a spur-of-the-moment cook, then the benefit of having a delayed start time of a sous vide cook may not be that appealing to you.

As I mentioned in the above section, if you need to delay the start of the cook for a reasonably long period of time (5 - 10 hours) it takes a significant amount of ice to get the bath prepared and keep the food safe. In order to have enough ice you will typically need to accumulate ice in your freezer (If you don't have an ice maker, this could take days) or to purchase a bag from the grocery store. Either way it takes some advanced planning and having enough spare room in your freezer to store a relatively large quantity of ice.

Want Great Sous Vide Recipes?

Sous vide book cover large

My best selling sous vide cookbook will help you master sous vide and can be used as a reference for more than 80 cuts of meat and vegetables. It is also filled with inspiring recipes to get you on your way to sous vide success!

2) Remote Communication with the Sous Vide Machine

Remote control.png

An important benefit that WiFi provides is the ability to communicate with the sous vide machine from a remote location. This allows you to both monitor and control the sous vide machine, which has many valuable uses.

Having experimented with a WiFi immersion circulator for a while, here are some features that I think are most useful to getting the full benefit from remote communication with the sous vide machine.

Note: The features available for any specific sous vide machine are limited to those supported by the manufacturer's app, which is constantly changing. Be sure to email the manufacturer if you are interested in a specific feature discussed below as not all machines will support them.

Temperature Monitoring and Notification

The ability to monitor the temperature of the water bath remotely is one of the most important features of remote communication. Being able to check both the current temperature, and see a log of past temperatures, is very valuable. It not only allows you to double check that your sous vide machine is currently at the proper temperature but also that it has stayed at the proper temperature during the entire cook time.

Temperature Alerts

An important addition to temperature monitoring is the ability to ask the app to notify you when a particular temperature is reached. This feature is very important if you are going to delay the start of your sous vide cook. In that scenario you can set the notification temperature at 40°F (4.4°C) so that you know your food is going to be entering the danger zone and you need to respond appropriately by starting your sous vide circulator. In this scenario you would also probably want to know when your water bath achieves your target temperature after you started the delayed cook.

Another way to take advantage of alerts is by setting up one in case the temperature of the water bath drops back into the danger zone once it's reached the cook temperature. This is a great way to ensure that nothing has gone wrong with the circulator that you were unaware of.

Remote Control of the Sous Vide Machine

Wifi Mellow

The ability to control the sous vide machine from a far is another important feature of remote communication. Having the ability to set the target temperature and cook time, as well as turn the sous vide machine on and off, is very valuable.

Being able to delay the start of a sous vide cook is the most common use of this remote control feature. Whether you are delaying the cook by an hour or 10 hours, using an ice bath or not, you need to be able to start the cook from your remote location.

Another valuable use of this remote control feature is being able to change the water bath temperature if necessary. For example if you wanted to cook some acorn squash for 2 hours at 183°F (83.8°C), you might start it at 5 PM planning to be home by 7 PM. If however, you got unavoidably detained, you would have the option at 7 PM to reduce the water bath temperature to 130°F (54.4°C), just enough to keep the squash warm while avoiding turning it into mush.

Changing the temperature can also be used to cook vegetables at a higher temperature then change the temperature to be much lower for steak or chicken. Once you get home, you can put in the meat and cook it without needing to wait for the temperature of the water bath to drop.

Automatic Start Time

Since it is critical to reduce the amount of time the food is in the danger zone, it is useful to have the ability to optionally enable an "Automatic Start Time" to use with delayed starts. In this scenario, the app would automatically start the cook cycle once the water bath temperature reached 40°F (4.4°C). This would be a safer approach to use than depending on the user to notice the temperature has climbed into the danger zone and then respond in a timely manner.

Specified Start Time

Being able to control the machine remotely can also allow you to set a specified start time. It may be more convenient to specify when you would like the sous vide machine to start, rather than having to remember to start it manually.

For example, if you are using a delayed cook and know your chicken takes 3 hours, you can set the machine to start cooking at 3 PM so it'll be ready when you get home at 6 PM.

Elapsed Time in the Danger Zone

Since the app is constantly monitoring the temperature of the water bath it would be extremely useful if it kept track of the amount of time the bath was in the danger zone. Typically this would be the amount of time it takes the water bath to warm from the 40°F (4.4°C) until it reaches the temperature of 130°F (54.4°C) on its way to the target temperature.

This could also be a real lifesaver if the sous vide cook doesn't go exactly as planned. For example, let's say you plan to be home at 5 PM to enjoy a perfect medium rare ribeye steak. You set up the delayed start so that it begins a 3-hour cook at 2 PM. Unfortunately, your return home gets delayed significantly - we've all been there. Your timed cook stops at 5 PM and quickly cools into the danger zone. The app would then begin to add this additional time to the original amount that it took to get up to cooking temperature. When you finally return home you at least have an accurate measurement of the time the food was in danger. You can then make an intelligent call whether to eat it or not.

Connection/Power Loss Warning

With any long-term cooking processes, there are many things that can go wrong. A big concern with sous vide is power outages or cooking processes that stopped because of low water indicators or other issues. Receiving an alert when something went wrong, when the device shut off or is unavailable, and tracking the amount of time before it resumes working is a great way to judge whether or not the food you are cooking will be safe to eat.

Want Great Sous Vide Recipes?

Sous vide book cover large

My best selling sous vide cookbook will help you master sous vide and can be used as a reference for more than 80 cuts of meat and vegetables. It is also filled with inspiring recipes to get you on your way to sous vide success!

Concerns with WiFi Sous Vide

Concerned crop

Even though there are many benefits to WiFi enabled sous vide machines, there are many potential concerns as well.

Depending on Manufactures for App Features

The biggest concern when deciding to buy a WiFi enabled sous vide machine is how many features are actually available to you. Currently, unless you are really tech savvy, you will be relying on the app created by the sous vide manufacturer for all your features.

Many manufacturers have been treating the WiFi app and controls only as a marketing feature. They talk up the WiFi aspect but do not put any actual resources behind it. Many apps have very poor usability, push out updates without thorough testing, and have limited feature sets.

If the WiFi component and its benefits are very important to you, make sure you go with a sous vide device that fully supports them, or at least cares enough about their app to update it regularly. Because this information changes constantly, it's helpful to do a Google search for "[machine name] wifi issues" and see which results are current. It also never hurts to email the manufacturer and ask what features are available for their app.

WiFi Apps are Software

There's only so much that can go wrong with a piece of equipment, but once you add in an app, you greatly increase the complexity of the system and add in a lot of software. And as we all know, more software equals more bugs. This is especially true because most of the people building sous vide apps are equipment manufacturers, not software designers.

A lot can go wrong if the app isn't working as expected. For instance, the monitoring might be wrong, the remote start might not work, your machine might accidentally shut off, the temperature could change at random, or a whole host of other problems could be created. You are putting a lot of trust in an app and a sous vide manufacturer, so make sure they are doing what they can to earn that trust.

Recently, Anova's WiFi app decided to randomly set the temperature of people's water baths to 180°F (82.2°C). This ruined lots of food and many people were understandably upset. Until they could fix the problem, Anova had to shut off all remote accessing capabilities of their app, basically making the WiFi component useless. Scenarios like this will be become more common as more and more devices rely on software to run.

Lots of "Moving" Parts

In order for the communication between the sous vide machine and the smartphone app to work together, many fairly sophisticated pieces of electronics need to be operating flawlessly. And those of you familiar with Murphy's Law realize that this critical chain does not always function as expected.

For example, some things that could go wrong are: a power outage at your house taking down the sous vide machine for some amount of time, an issue with your house WiFi, and/or you going to a location without access to your smartphone. All of these failures, and many others, could certainly affect the success of your sous vide cook when you are doing it remotely.

Although there's nothing we can do to eliminate these possible problems, the ideal smartphone app would, at a minimum, let us know that "something" ran amok. And in some cases give us important information that could help us recover from the problem.

Conclusion

Hopefully the information presented above helps you understand the two noteworthy benefits the WiFi feature provides to a sous vide machine. It is now up to you to determine just how important those benefits are to you personally.

If you are fortunate enough to work out of your house like I do, or if you are frequently at your house for whatever reason, then the benefits of a WiFi sous vide machine are probably not that appealing. On the other hand, if you are often away from your kitchen for extended periods of time and would love to come home to a meal that is essentially ready-to-eat, then the benefits provided by a WiFi sous vide machine would be huge for you!

If you use a WiFi sous vide machine to simplify your life, it would be great if you could share your experience with the rest of our readers in the comments below. Thanks.

Want Great Sous Vide Recipes?

Sous vide book cover large

My best selling sous vide cookbook will help you master sous vide and can be used as a reference for more than 80 cuts of meat and vegetables. It is also filled with inspiring recipes to get you on your way to sous vide success!

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This article is by Gary Logsdon, my resident equipment tester, researcher, business partner, and most importantly, my Dad. He loves diving into the nuts and bolts of different pieces of equipment, researching what works best, and sharing that information with you.