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View All Modernist Equipment Written by Gary Logsdon

Inexpensive Immersion Circulators - I'll Help You Chose the Right One For You!

Immersion Circulators

I initially became interested in sous vide cooking in 2009 when my son Jason wrote his first book on it. Since that time the sous vide technique has not changed much at all. In contrast, the equipment available for the water bath has improved dramatically. None more profoundly than in the last 12 months which saw numerous inexpensive immersion circulators come to market.

With these new circulators the sous vide enthusiast can now have a high quality water bath without needing to make a large financial commitment. For $200-$300 these circulators operate the same as ones costing 2-3 times as much not too long ago. I believe the availability of these inexpensive immersion circulators will be the tipping point which will drive a more rapid increase in the popularity of sous vide cooking in the near future.

If you're a sous vide enthusiast, and don't already have an immersion circulator, the decision to purchase one of these new units is close to a no-brainer. They operate so well, and are so inexpensive, that the greatest challenge is to determine which of the units to purchase. The primary purpose of this article is to assist you in making that decision.

Updated Content

I also have a detailed review of the new Anova Precision immersion circulator.

The three new inexpensive immersion circulators I will cover in this article are the: Anova, Nomiku and Sansaire. While researching these units it became obvious that there were more similarities than differences. Therefore, I will first briefly cover the similarities of the three circulators. Then I'll spend more time delving into the differences of the units since those are key to assisting you in making your determination of which circulator is best for you.

There are many factors that can be considered when deciding which sous vide unit is best suited for you but you can go directly to my Recommendation if you prefer.

Inexpensive Immersion Circulators - Similarities

The parameters listed in this section are not always identical between the circulators. However, the differences are normally relatively small and would be difficult, if not impossible, to detect in the way the unit actually operates.

Temperature Range

Although the temperature range covered by the three units may vary slightly, all more than cover the temperatures used in sous vide cooking.

Temperature Accuracy

All units are accurate to at least ±0.1°C. This level of accuracy is adequate even for sensitive items like eggs.

Pump

It is the availability of a pump on these units that makes them so attractive. The pump circulates the water in the bath resulting in an even temperature throughout. Pump speeds are about 3 gallons per minute (11 liters per minute) in all of the units.

There is one difference in the pumps that I wanted to mention here since I didn't think it was significant enough to list in the differences in the next section. But the Anova unit has the capability to direct the output of the pump by turning the bottom piece of the unit. This can sometimes come in handy depending on the size and shape of the water bath and/or the placement of bags in the bath.

Water Bath Capacity

The units will all work with a water bath of approximately 5-6 gallons (~ 20l). This is more than enough for most home uses, whether it be with a large stockpot or plastic container.

Water Level Sensor

All of the units will shut down if the water level in the bath drops below the minimum required for the circulator. This will protect the circulator from any damage from overheating. Both the minimum and maximum water levels are clearly marked on all three of these units.

Power Input

These units will all be available in both a 120 and 220 VAC models now or in the near future.

Heating Power

Each of these units uses approximately 1,000 Watts to heat the water in the bath. This is a typical power level for most immersion circulators and will raise an average water bath from room temperature to 140°F (60°C) in about 20 minutes.

Size

All of these immersion circulators are about the same size. The Anova and Sansaire circulators are approximately 15" (38cm) tall and 4" (10cm) in diameter. The Nomiku claims to be the smallest of the group, which is true of the main unit, but it also has a fairly large "power box" which adds to its overall size.

Noise Generated

Although the amount of noise generated by the units does vary to some degree, essentially they are all silent once you get about 3' (1m) away.

Warranty

A limited 1-year warranty is standard with each unit.

I believe you can conclude from reviewing the similarities listed above that all of these immersion circulators have the characteristics required to provide a high quality sous vide water bath.

Inexpensive Immersion Circulators - Differences

In order to assist you in making your selection of one of these fine immersion circulators I will now focus on the differences between the units. Some of these differences, such as Pricing and Water Level Spacing, are quite objective in nature. Others, like User Interface and Styling, are much more subjective. Consequently, after reading these differences you may draw a different conclusion than I do on my recommendation.

Pricing

Anova

The Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is available on Amazon for $200.00.

UPDATE: The new version of the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker/Immersion Circulator is available on Amazon for $179.

Nomiku

The Nomiku Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is available on Amazon for $300.

Sansaire

The Sansaire Sous Vide Immersion Circulator can be purchased on Amazon for $200.

Water Level Spacing

Each of the immersion circulators have marks indicating the maximum and minimum water levels for safe operation. The water in the bath must be over top of the minimum mark to be sure that the unit does not overheat. The maximum indication is there to be sure that water does not get into the electrical complements of the circulator. The location and spacing of these marks has a impact on the type of container you can use for the water bath. A greater distance between these marks will provide more flexibility in choosing a water bath container.

The distance between these marks also come into play for foods which have long cooking times. This is because the water in the bath can lower due to evaporation. The amount of water loss depends on the temperature of the bath and whether it is covered. Obviously, the greater the distance between the marks the better.

Anova

The minimum mark on the Anova is at about 2.75" and the maximum mark is at 6.25"; for a total distance between the marks of 3.5" (89mm).

Nomiku

The minimum mark on the Nomiku is at about 3.5" and the maximum mark is at 4.75"; for a total distance between the marks of 1.25" (32mm).

Sansaire

The minimum mark on the Sansaire is at about 2.75" and the maximum mark is at 6.5"; for a total distance between the marks of 3.75" (95mm).

Timer

Whether an immersion circulator should have a timer, and how it should work, continues to be heavily debated in the sous vide community. Those arguing against the availability of a timer site safety as their primary issue. They raise the scenario in which the timer shuts the circulator off and allows the food to cool to the point where it enters the danger zone for some amount of time. Proponents of timers believe they are convenient and totally safe when used judiciously.

Anova

The Anova is the only immersion circulator of this group which includes a timer. The timer can operate in one of two modes: either shut off the circulator at the end of the time period or simply sound an alarm. Personally, I have used a PolyScience immersion circulator for years and have never taken advantage of the timer it has. However, if you believe that the timer is important for the way you use the device, then the Anova is the unit for you.

Nomiku

The designers of the Nomiku chose to not include a timer due primarily to the safety issue.

Sansaire

The designers of the Sansaire chose not to include a timer due primarily to the safety issue.

Attachment Mechanism

The attachment mechanism is what keeps the circulator secured to the side of the water bath. This is one of the areas where the circulator units are quite different. Each design has its advantages and disadvantages that I will highlight below:

Clamp.png

Anova

The attachment mechanism for the Anova is a rubberized screw clamp similar to the PolyScience immersion circulators. The greatest advantage to this particular attachment mechanism is it is by far the most secure of the three. It opens to about 1.25" (32mm) which should fit over the sides of most containers.

This particular approach does have one disadvantage. The container you're attaching the circulator to must be at least 7" (18cm) deep in order for the clamp to be used. I normally use a 12-quart Cambro food storage container for my water bath. It is plenty deep enough for this circulator. But I also checked around and I could use my pasta pot and 8-quart pressure cooker as well. So you may want to check your own containers to see if this would be an issue for you.

Clamp

Nomiku

The Nomiku has a rubberized plastic clip that looks like a large clothespin. This is much quicker to attach than the screw mechanism on the Anova, but it's not as sturdy. Similar to the Anova, it also needs a pan with a depth of approximately 6" (15cm).

Clamp

Sansaire

The Sansaire attachment mechanism looks like a large alligator-style hair clip. The clip is metal and reaches down almost to the bottom of the circulator. The greatest advantage of this approach is that you can connect the Sansaire to a pot of any depth.

The clip itself is probably the least supportive of the group. However, this is not too large of an issue since the base of the circulator itself is very wide and provides plenty of support as well.

User Interface

Certainly the user interface is one of the more subjective features of these devices. Since there is a very limited number of operations that need to be accomplished I believe all of the immersion circulators are quite easy to operate. But some are definitely more intuitive/simpler than others. Below for each of the units I will list the steps required in order to get it up and running. This will give you an indication of the complexity of the user interface.

Lcd touch screen

Anova

The Anova unit has a nice size LCD touch screen and an on/off switch in the back. In order to start the circulator you perform the following steps:

  1. Attach the unit to the water bath.
  2. Plug the unit into the wall.
  3. Turn the unit on with the on/off switch.
  4. Press the red "Set Temp" pad on the screen.
  5. Press each of the digits repeatedly as needed to enter the temperature desired, then press the green "Checkmark" pad. This will take you back to the startup screen.
  6. If you want to set the timer, you would press the "Set Time" pad and enter it now.
  7. Press the green "Start" pad and you are up and running.

Once the unit is running the water temperature, the set temperature and the timer value are displayed along with a red "Stop" pad. After a bit of time the display turns itself off. So if you want to check on the water temperature you have to touch the screen again to get the display to come back alive.

Control screen and knob

Nomiku

The Nomiku user interface is comprised of a small OLED touch screen and a green temperature control knob. In order to start the circulator you need to perform the following steps:

  1. Attach the unit to the water bath.
  2. Plug the unit into the wall. The Nomiku does not have an on/off switch.
  3. Press the touch screen and the Nomiku will come to life briefly displaying the logo and the water circulation will start.
  4. Rotate the green temperature control knob, either clockwise or counterclockwise, to set the target temperature registered on the screen. The faster you rotate the knob, the greater the increments of temperature change. Conversely, the slower you turn the knob the smaller the increments in temperature.

The small screen on the Nomiku displays the water temperature as well as the target temperature. The display is always on when the Nomiku is plugged in.

Buttons and knob

Sansaire

The Sansaire has three buttons on top, a large blue display and a large knob to control temperature. The three buttons on top are used to turn on the unit, switch between Centigrade and Fahrenheit, and to display the target temperature when running. In order to start the circulator you need to perform the following steps:

  1. Attach the unit to the water bath.
  2. Plug the unit into the wall.
  3. Press the power button on the top of the unit.
  4. Rotate the temperature control knob, either clockwise or counterclockwise, to set the target temperature.

The blue temperature display is easy to read even at a distance and is always on when the Sansaire is running. To check the target temperature you press the target button on the top of the unit.

Safety

All three immersion circulators will protect themselves if the water level drops below the minimum required. But there are some differences in other safety related features that may or may not be important to you. I will highlight these differences below:

Anova

The Anova immersion circulator has been self certified for the CE marking for sale of their units in Europe. They also have been NSF certified, which is an international third-party certification entity. However, they do not currently have either UL or ETL certifications. These are not required by law but you may feel more comfortable purchasing a unit that has obtained one of these certifications.

Nomiku

Clearly the designers of Nomiku have taken safety very seriously and have included numerous features which differentiates their unit from the others in this area. The Nomiku circulator has earned both UL and ETL certifications. The technology used for the heater in the Nomiku is different than the other two units and it cannot overheat.

The Nomiku designers also chose to use a power box approach in order to keep the high-voltage away from the water bath. This also allowed them to make the immersion unit a bit smaller than the other two. Personally, I'm not sure this was a wise trade-off. The power box is still in the general area of the bath and is nearly as likely to get splashed on as if it were in the immersion unit itself. The power box also takes up counter space when in operation and storage space when stored. The power box also emits a high frequency hum when in operation.

Another unique safety feature of the Nomiku is a lightning bolt warning icon that indicates that power has been lost during the cooking cycle. Unfortunately, it does not tell you for how long the power was out or if the temperature in the bath dropped into the danger zone. So I'm not sure exactly how useful this feature is.

Finally, the Nomiku readout turns yellow when you are adjusting the temperature to let you know that you are in the FDA danger zone between 40 and 126°F (4-52°C).

Sansaire

The Sansaire immersion circulator doesn't have any additional safety features like the Nomiku but it has earned the ETL, CE and RoHS safety certifications.

Cleaning

When determining which immersion circulator to purchase most of us don't give a lot of thought to the ability to clean the unit. But after quite a bit of use or if a sous vide bag springs a leak, the ability to clean the unit gains added importance. I will highlight the differences in this area below:

Anova circulator cleaning web

Anova

The Anova immersion circulator is arguably the easiest of the three to clean. With a slight twist the stainless steel skirt can be totally removed from the unit exposing all of the parts which come in contact with the water including: the heating element, impeller, and sensors.

Nomiku

The Nomiku does not provide any simple mechanism for getting to the parts that are normally in the water.

Sansaire

With the Sansaire unit a portion of the base is removable making access to the internal parts relatively easy.

Design

There are clearly some differences in the designs of these immersion circulators. I will highlight the differences in the units and you can decide if they are advantages or disadvantages in your opinion.

Anova

The Anova unit is consistent with its heritage (see below) and is built like a tank. The build quality is outstanding and the metal and plastic parts feel like they will last forever. The clamp is quite substantial and holds the unit securely to the water bath. The rubberized material around the screen feels and looks rugged and high quality. The screen is easy to read and works well even when your hands are wet. Being able to remove the stainless steel sleeve in order to clean the unit is a plus. This design is also the only one which allows you to direct the path of the pump to help facilitate water circulation.

Nomiku

The Nomiku is perhaps the most unique design of the three. It has both a control knob and a touch screen for displaying temperatures. The green control knob is a very intuitive and easy way to set the target temperature. As mentioned in an earlier section, the design decision to use a power box has been met with mixed reviews by users. I believe the most important disadvantage of the Nomiku design is the relatively small range between the minimum and maximum water levels.

Sansaire

One advantage of the Sansaire's immersion circulator design, that you don't see in the specifications, is that it drains very rapidly once you pull it out of the water. This allows you to set it on a drain board or a towel and get on with your work. Similar to the Nomiku, the control knob on the Sansaire makes it very easy to adjust the temperature. Cleaning of the unit is also facilitated by removal of the back panel. Perhaps it's just my personal opinion but overall to me the Sansaire's unit did not feel as rugged as the other two, especially the Anova.

Style

This is perhaps the most subjective of all the categories I cover in this review. You may prefer one style over another.

Anova

The Anova essentially looks like a piece of lab equipment - which it is. It's a very functional design that looks like it's built to last. And let's not forget it's the only unit available in three colors: black, red, and blue.

Nomiku

The Nomiku has a more "friendly" style with its colorful green control knob. In comparison to the Anova you might call the Nomiku "cute". It will definitely attract a different following than the other two circulators from the styling standpoint.

Sansaire

The very clean lines and hourglass shape of the Sansaire make it appear very contemporary in style. The large blue temperature readout also adds a touch of "class" to the design.

Heritage

When comparing these three immersion circulators it also makes sense to consider their heritage, since this has had a large impact on each of the units.

Anova

Anova is the first product from Anova Culinary, LLC, which is a subsidiary of Anova Inc. The parent company has been the biggest competitor of PolyScience in the area of precision temperature controlled water bath systems, refrigerated/heating circulators, and immersion circulators. Anova Inc.'s products are designed for laboratory, biotech, analytical equipment control, and industry processes cooling, and culinary industries. It is from this heritage of extremely reliable and accurate equipment that the Anova immersion circulator was born. Clearly the supplier of this unit has experience in designing, testing, manufacturing, and supporting equipment of this type. If the company has any shortcoming it is knowing how to market this product to the sous vide community. This is why the Anova circulator flew under the radar for an nearly an entire year before its popularity finally began to emerge.

If this is important to you, the Anova immersion circulator is the only one of the three units that's manufactured in the good old US of A. The other two units are manufactured in China.

Nomiku

The Nomiku was born from a very successful Kickstarter campaign in July of 2012 which raised $586,061 from 1,880 backers. This was a record at the time for a food-related project and clearly indicate the interest in a low cost immersion circulator for sous vide cooking.

Because of the amazing success of the Kickstarter campaign the product achieved amazing notoriety. And with the unique design it is clearly a "sexy" product. Keep in mind, however, that this is the first product that this company has designed, tested, manufactured and supported. The "hype" will not have any impact on these critical factors needed to bring a high-quality and reliable product to the marketplace.

Sansaire

Similar to the Nomiku, the Sansaire also had a very successful Kickstarter campaign in September of 2013 which raised $823,003 from 4,084 backers. This project was the brainchild of Scott Heimendinger, a well-known blogger (Seatle Food Geek) and now the Director of Applied Research at Modernist Cuisine. Scott is a long-time sous vider and is well-known for his DIY Sous Vide Heating Immersion Circulator for About $75.

The outstanding Kickstarter campaign brought immediate interest to the Sansaire from the sous vide community. Like most startups, delays were experienced, but the first units started to ship in January 2014. Similar to the Nomiku, this is a brand new company with limited experience in product development and support. Whether the high expectations for this device will be realized is yet to be seen as more units make their way to eager buyers.

Recommendation - Inexpensive Immersion Circulator

Frankly, you will not go wrong by selecting any of these inexpensive immersion circulators. All of them will perform admirably for sous vide cooking in the home kitchen. Your final purchasing decision may come down to one of the more subjective factors such as the human interface, styling, or heritage of the unit.

When making a decision that's based on a large number of factors I prefer to use a decision matrix. I have employed that technique in order to make my recommendation of which unit I believe is the best inexpensive immersion circulator. For each of the differences in the units I have rated them on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best (essentially the familiar Amazon five-star scale). Then for each of the differences I assigned a weighting from 1-10, with 10 being the most important. As shown in the decision matrix below, using my ratings and weightings, the Anova immersion circulator comes out on top, followed closely by the Sansaire unit.

Immersion circulator decision matrix.png

When considering the recommendation, using a more qualitative approach, I would also go with the Anova immersion circulator. Perhaps because I am an engineer, I prefer the more rugged "industrial-type" design of the Anova unit including the generous use of stainless steel and rubberized components, the heavy duty attachment mechanism, and the ability to easily clean the unit when necessary. I also feel more comfortable purchasing a unit from a company that has an outstanding reputation for designing, manufacturing and supporting high-end laboratory equipment of a similar type.

As you would suspect the other two units were superior to the Anova in some of the differences. However, the Anova did not have any critical shortcomings and led the way in the areas that were most important to me.

I understand that each of you might have different ratings than I used. More importantly, the weighting of each of the differences could be very dissimilar to mine. So to better assist you in finding the best inexpensive immersion circulator for you I am making the decision matrix available as a spreadsheet so that you can enter your own values and reach your own conclusion. I just request that you subscribe to the Modernist Cooking Made Easy Newsletter and I will email you the spreadsheet (if you are already a subscriber, simply fill out the form to get the spreadsheet). I hope this decision matrix will assist you in making your decision of the best inexpensive immersion circulator for your use.

If you purchase an immersion circulator you may want to obtain a water bath as well. There is some additional information on Sous Vide Water Bath Containers you may find helpful.

Where To Buy

If you are in the market for an inexpensive immersion circulator I hope this article has helped you decide which one is the best unit for your needs. If you have found this article valuable in making your decision I would appreciate you using one of the affiliate links below to make your purchase. Thanks.

Anova

The Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is available on Amazon for $200.00.

UPDATE: The new version of the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker/Immersion Circulator is available on Amazon for $179.

Nomiku

The Nomiku Sous Vide Immersion Circulator is available on Amazon for $300.

Sansaire

The Sansaire Sous Vide Immersion Circulator can be purchased on Amazon for $200.

Which inexpensive immersion circulator is your favorite? Which one do you use? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Enjoy your new immersion circulator - happy cooking!


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.