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This is a detailed review of the Anova Precision Cooker, an inexpensive immersion circulator manufactured by Anova Culinary LLC. This circulator, attached to a suitable container, will provide an excellent water bath for sous vide cooking. If you are interested in getting involved with sous vide cooking, this review will give you all of the information you need to determine if the Anova Precision Cooker is the right immersion circulator for your needs.
Since reviewing the leading Inexpensive Immersion Circulators several years ago, I have been regularly using the original Anova I recommended and have been very pleased with its performance. So have the majority of Amazon's 502 reviewers who have given the Anova an impressive rating of 4.6. Now Anova Culinary, LLC has come out with a new and improved version of the immersion circulator called the Anova Precision Cooker, a name chosen to reflect more accurately its function. The original unit is now referred to as the Anova One, to differentiate it from the Precision Cooker.
The Anova Precision Cooker has also been very well received by more than 181 Amazon reviewers, rating it a 4.6. The updated Anova has quite a few changes from the original, some relatively minor, others more impactful. Throughout this review I will highlight the differences when I feel they are important.
If you're not into details you can go directly to my Anova Precision Cooker Summary and catch all the highlights of my analysis.
Sous vide is one of the most popular modernist techniques and one that is pushing modernist cooking into the mainstream. From fancy chefs like Thomas Keller and hit television shows like Iron Chef America and Top Chef to everyday restaurants like Panera, sous vide is popping up everywhere.
Sous vide can initially be an intimidating type of cooking and conceptually it can be very difficult because of its differences with traditional cooking. The various types of sous vide equipment, questions about vacuum sealing, and the science of the safety of sous vide can all play a part in confusing new cooks. If you are new to sous vide, I highly recommend you first read through the Beginners' Guide to Sous Vide.
Now let's get started with the Anova Precision review!
The chart below lists the basic specifications for the Anova Precision Cooker as well as for the Anova One for comparison purposes. Please refer to this as necessary as I highlight some of the specifications.
Since I have been using the Anova One for a while I was quite surprised with how "nimble" the Precision Cooker seemed when I pulled it from the box - or perhaps I should say from the "tube". There are several factors which contribute to making the Precision Cooker feel more compact and agile. One of the important ones is that the attachment bracket is not permanently connected to the unit so you can handle each of them separately which is much more convenient.
The new unit has a diameter approximately 3/8" (1 cm) smaller than the Anova One. It also has a plastic cap at the bottom rather than the stainless steel one on the older unit. These changes coupled with a few others results in a circulator that is significantly lighter weight. Finally, the cord on the Precision Cooker is shorter, lighter weight and goes directly into the circulator unit rather than going into the back of the attachment bracket with a plug. This makes the new unit seem much less unwieldy than the original.
I felt that the attachment mechanism on the Anova One was excellent since it was so sturdy that I could actually dump the water out of the water bath container without having to remove the circulator. But I have a dedicated polycarbonate container in which the Anova One fits perfectly. I know that there have been other users that were frustrated by the original mechanism since it didn't work well with numerous other types of containers.
One of the most fundamental changes to the Anova Precision Cooker is the way in which the unit attaches to the water bath container. The new design allows the immersion circulator to slide up and down in the attachment bracket allowing it to be used with a much wider variety of containers. For example, the Anova One needs to have a pot which is at least 7" (17.78 cm) deep, whereas the Precision Cooker only requires a pot 4.25" (10.79 cm) deep.
There are two other advantages of the new two-piece attachment mechanism. First it makes it a little easier to connect the immersion circulator to the water bath container. The empty bracket can be securely attached first and then the circulator slid into place and tighten down.
Second, the circulator can be rotated in the bracket in order to direct the pump output in a different direction if necessary. It's great that the designers were able to maintain the strength of the original attachment mechanism while significantly increasing its flexibility and ease-of-use.
The Anova Precision Cooker has kept the "built like a tank" feel that I mentioned in my previous review of the original unit. The top of the unit is made of sturdy polycarbonate and the portion in the bath is stainless steel with a polycarbonate cap on the bottom.
Often when considering the purchase of an immersion circulator we don't give much thought to cleaning the unit. But if you have well water like I do or have experienced a sous vide bag leaking on a long cook, then you know that cleaning can be an important factor in your purchasing decision. The removable stainless steel skirt on the Anova units makes it extremely simple to get into the "working" parts of the unit and keep them clean.
Over the last few years the popularity of sous vide cooking has increased significantly. This is due in large part to the availability of low cost, high quality, immersion circulators. Fortunately for sous vide enthusiasts like us, the competition in this market has really heated up. In addition to the Anova circulators, Nomiku and Sansaire have also brought inexpensive immersion circulators to market. Taking a different approach Sous Vide Supreme and Caso provide a dedicated water bath. All of these companies are competing to obtain market share in this growing movement.
Anova Culinary LLC has taken a major step in capturing market share by introducing this latest version of their immersion circulator. They have accomplished the fairly challenging task of improving on the original, while at the same time, reducing the cost to the consumer. Although there are many factors to consider when purchasing an immersion circulator, one that is usually fairly important to most of us is price.
At the time of this writing the unit is priced at $179 at both locations. We were fortunate to see a great deal on the Anova store that allowed us to purchase ours at $129 and there are often similar deals on Amazon as well. This makes the Anova Precision Cooker the least expensive way for an adventurous cook to enter the exciting world of sous vide cooking.
The primary function of a sous vide water bath is to maintain a precise low temperature during the entire duration of the cooking cycle, which could be minutes or days. There are numerous factors that go into determining how well the Anova Precision Cooker performs this function. I will cover those in this section and highlight where some trade-offs were made in the new circulator. Please refer to the chart below as needed as you read through this section.
The designers of the Anova Precision Cooker made two trade-offs. The first was to reduce the heating power used by the circulator from 1,000 W to 800 W. The second was to reduce the speed of the circulator pump from approximately 12 liters per minute down to 8 liters per minute. In the following paragraphs I will present how I believe these trade-offs have impacted the ability of the immersion circulator to accurately maintain the temperature in the water bath.
The 200 W reduction in heating power will impact how quickly the temperature in the bath can be increased. The designers of the circulator have indicated that by controlling the heating element in the device more "effectively" they have been able to partially mitigate the impact of the power reduction but that it is still approximately 20% slower than the original. I suspect, however, that the time is required to bring the water bath up to temperature (startup time) will be increased by some amount. The extra time required will be longer in water baths with higher volumes of water.
The reason these devices have pumps is to circulate the water throughout the water bath, thus maintaining a consistent temperature throughout. This assures that all the food in the bath is being cooked the same. By reducing the pump speed from 12 to 8 liters per minute the amount of circulation in the water is similarly reduced. It is a bit difficult to estimate what the potential downside of this reduction might be. Obviously, it's also dependent on the amount of water in the bath and how densely the food may be arranged.
Because the negative impacts of these two trade-offs are exacerbated by the volume of water in the bath, the designers have reduced the recommended tank capacity appropriate for the Precision Cooker from 5-6 gallons (22 L) down to 4-5 gallons (19 L).
You need to determine if these tradeoffs will impact your sous vide cooking - if at all. Personally, I don't believe they are going to affect me much at all for a few reasons. I do all of my sous vide cooking using the 12 Quart Camwear Polycarbonate Container. Therefore, I have less than 3 gallons of water in the container which is well within the capability of the Precision Cooker. Moreover, when starting a sous vide meal I typically start with fresh tap water which comes in around 130 °F. Then I get the sous vide machine running while I prep the item I am going to be cooking. So by the time I'm ready to insert the food into the water bath it has had plenty of time to get up to the target temperature. Also, I am normally cooking for two so I don't have more than a couple items in the bath at any one time allowing the circulation to easily flow freely.
If you have occasions that require cooking in a larger container crowded with numerous items these trade-offs may impact your sous vide cooking experience. The one thing that you can do to help mitigate any impact would be to be sure that the container you use is covered and well insulated, so that the demands for heating power are minimized.
The Anova Precision Cooker is the first to take the inevitable step of linking the immersion circulator to a smartphone. This essentially means that there are two user interfaces to the device; one on the device itself and the other through the app on the smartphone. I will present both of those interfaces below. Please refer to the following chart as necessary.
The user interface to the Anova Precision Cooker is a significant departure from the original Anova One, which had a LCD touchscreen. The Precision Cooker interface is comprised of two LCD displays and three "buttons" on the head of the circulator and a scroll wheel located on the front.
The top, and larger, LCD shows the current water temperature. The lower LCD typically shows the set temperature, but alternates with the Timer value if it is being used. The temperatures can be shown in either Fahrenheit or Celsius. One advantage to these over the original unit is that they are always showing the temperature which makes it convenient if you want to take a quick glance from a distance to see how things are going.
Below the LCD displays is the "Play/Start" button which turns the unit on or off with a single push. It also has other functions if pressed and held. Unlike the Anova One, the Precision Cooker does not have a "real" power button that totally removes power from the unit. As long as it is plugged in, the unit is powered up. This is not an issue since the unit only draws about 1.4 watts when it's not "running".
The "Bluetooth" button, to the left of the lower LCD display, is pressed to pair the unit with your phone. The "Timer" button, to the right of the lower LCD display, is used to operate the timer function.
Finally, the scroll wheel on the front of the circulator is LED backlit making it glow blue. It is normally used to adjust the set temperature but can optionally set the time. The temperature can be set in half-degree increments (either Celsius or Fahrenheit).
The actual user interface to the Anova Precision Cooker is a bit of a dichotomy; some operations are simple and intuitive while others are perhaps the worst thought out I've seen on any electronic device. Fortunately, the operation that's performed most often is quick and easy. In order to start up the Precision Cooker you simply need to plug it in, scroll the wheel on the front of the device until the set temperature is what you desire, and then press the "Play/Start" button. You are off and sous viding!
It's worth highlighting another improvement that the Precision Cooker has over the original when starting a sous vide cook. The new circulator will beep to indicate when the set temperature has been obtained. This is a reassuring sound that the cook is going as planned.
Two other operations are also straightforward. To toggle the display between Fahrenheit and Celsius you simply need to hold down the "Play/Start" button for 3 seconds. You just press on the "Bluetooth" button in order to enter the pairing mode.
However, if you plan to use the Timer, prepare to be frustrated and confused. I considered whether to write several paragraphs about everything that's wrong and convoluted about this simple procedure but I decided not to take the time. Just take my word for it - it's pretty ugly. I would strongly recommend that you do not attempt to set this Timer from unit itself. We all have timing devices on our phones, watches or elsewhere in the kitchen these days and they are much easier to operate. If you have a Precision Cooker, and would like to use the Timer, I suggest you set the Timer with the app (see below) or search on Google to get the assistance you will probably need.
From this point forward no review of an immersion circulator will be complete without a description of how it can be controlled remotely via the associated smartphone app. Unfortunately, the review of any smartphone app will quickly become obsolete as (hopefully) additional functionality is added and shortcomings are removed.
Currently the Anova culinary app on your smartphone is connected to the Precision Cooker using Bluetooth 4.0. This has a range of approximately 100 meters. This will allow you to check on what's cooking from around your house, but you won't be able to start dinner from your office. Pairing your smartphone with the precision cooker is as simple as pushing the Bluetooth symbol to the left of the lower LED display.
In the picture above you can see that the Anova Culinary app displays the "Set Temperature", "Current Temperature" and "Set Time" across the top of the screen. This picture also indicates how the bottom LED display alternates between the set temperature and the value of the timer. The values in the app and on the unit itself stay synchronize fairly well during the cooking process so you can monitor it from a distance.
On the bottom of the app display you can see that it's also possible for you to set the temperature, pause the cook, and set the Timer from the app as well.
At the time of this writing I am reviewing version 1.7, released April 1, 2015. This app even stretches the concept of a "Minimal Viable Product" to the limit. It is comprised of three sections which I will describe briefly below.
As strange as it may sound, this section is sorely lacking while at the same time holding enormous potential! It provides time and temperature guidelines for 3 different categories of food: chicken (2 types), hamburger (1 type), and steak (4 types). The list of these is followed by a statement, "More categories coming soon!" - I certainly hope so. In Jason's Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide book he provides time and temperature information for 8 different categories with more than 180 types of food. This gives you an idea of how minimalistic the current Anova app is.
However, I have high hopes that this section of Time and Temperature Guides could develop into an outstanding and useful tool in the future. Why? Anova Culinary has teamed up with Serious Eats to provide exclusive content for their Anova app. It appears that the Managing Culinary Director and creator of The Food Lab, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt., will author the content. If the limited content in the app today is representative of what will come in the future it will be well worth waiting for. The information in this section will be particularly valuable to newbie sous viders because of its educational emphasis.
The subheading for this section is, "Tons of recipes from pro-chefs all over the globe." There are quite a few recipes and there appear to be more added all the time as the app goes online to pick up more. Each recipe has an associated picture, an "About", "Ingredients", "Directions" and "Finishing Steps" sections. And of course it provides the recipe temperature and recipe time which can then be programmed into the Precision Cooker.
My biggest issue with this particular section is that the recipes appear to be put in relatively randomly. They really need to add some way to either search and/or filter the recipes so you can find what you're looking for. Most people don't want to browse through a "ton" of recipes looking for something that looks appetizing.
This section contains "Recipes from the world-famous chef" Ming Tsai. Right now this section contains five recipes which are also included in the "Recipes" section. So I'm not quite sure why they chose to pull these out to a separate section.
Clearly the Anova Culinary app is a "work in progress". But I am relatively confident that at some point in the future it will live up to its full potential.
The factors I have discussed thus far have been primarily objective in nature. However, there are a few factors that are more subjective. I will present my view of them in this section. Since they are subjective by nature you may totally disagree with my assessment - which is fine. But these are at least factors that you may want to consider as part of your purchasing decision.
The Anova Precision Cooker looks like a piece of laboratory equipment. The critical information is displayed clearly. I believe the styling of the Precision Cooker is an improvement over the Anova One. The size is more compact and the rounded head of the cooker, with the always-on instrumentation, is a vast improvement over the original. Finally, the shiny stainless steel skirt speaks to the overall quality of the device.
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.
Perhaps the most profound change in the design of the Precision Cooker was the rethinking of the clamping mechanism. This seemingly simple change has provided three new benefits to the circulator. First, it will allow the Anova to be used in a much wider variety of container sizes and shapes. Second, it is now possible to redirect the flow of the pump by simply turning the entire circulator in the bracket. Finally, it simply makes it easier to attach the device to the water bath by first attaching the bracket to the container and then easily sliding in the circulator. All of these benefits were accomplished while maintaining the strength and security of the original clamping mechanism.
As mentioned earlier, being able to remove the stainless steel sleeve in order to clean the unit is a plus. This design also provides two ways to direct the path of the pump to help facilitate water circulation. The cap on the bottom of the circulator can be mounted in one of four directions and, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, the entire unit can be rotated in the attachment bracket.
The Anova Precision Cooker is the second 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.
Like many "high-tech" products it is sometimes prudent to wait until the next version comes out before making your purchase since it may contain additional features. I will share with you what I know regarding future products in this section.
As you would suspect Anova Culinary announced a new version of the Precision Cooker at CES 2015. The new unit will be called the "Anova Touch" because it is going to feature a full color capacitive touchscreen which will provide a look and feel similar to their smartphone app interface.
It also sounds like the head of the device will pivot making it easier to view from a variety of angles. Arguably the most important new feature may be the inclusion of a Wi-Fi connection replacing the current Bluetooth one. Obviously, this will allow the remote connection to be much more useful since you will be able to communicate with the device from just about anywhere. Pricing and the delivery schedule has yet to be determined.
Nomiku launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring their next circulator to market. It is referred to as "WiFi Nomiku" and boasts a WiFi connection as one of its important new features. Using their "Tender" app, anyone can create, share, and send sous vide recipes with the time and temperature directly to the WiFi Nomiku.
It appears the design has been simplified some and that they plan on providing 1200 W of power, 8 L/minute pump speed, and a much lower minimum immersion depth (1.5") in the new unit.
I have not heard of a redesigned version of the Sansaire circulator coming to market in 2015. However, if you know that they are working towards a new device I would appreciate it if you added some information in the comments.
These are just a few minor issues that bug me personally. They may not impact you at all. But for completeness I thought I would mention them briefly.
As part of the redesign the power cord was shortened from 47" (119.4 cm) to only 30" (76.2 cm). This length works great if you have the circulator positioned at the back of your water bath and the bath is on a countertop close to a wall socket.
However, in my case I like to position the water bath on my island with the circulator at the rear of the bath. In this configuration the cord is not long enough to reach around the bath, over the edge of the island, and into the socket like the original Anova cord did. So I need to use an extension cord for the extra foot required. Depending on how you set up your water bath, this shorter cord may or may not be an issue for you.
I am confident that the designers of the Precision Cooker had many good reasons for selecting the angle of the display on the head of the circulator. And I presume that the majority of people have not given that particular characteristic of the device much thought. Unfortunately, I am in a fairly unique position in that I am in a wheelchair and thus my eye level is quite low. Although the display on the new Anova is better than on the original, it is still somewhat difficult for me to see the various display items from my level. If the angle were changed to be 10-15 degrees more vertical, it would be much easier for me to view and control the circulator.
I also feel that a more vertical angle would make it easier to view the temperatures from across the room. The potential negative would be that occasionally taller people might have to bend down a little to get a straight on shot.
As I mentioned above the setting of the Timer is an ugly wart on an otherwise simple to understand and intuitive interface. Hopefully, they can upgrade the firmware in the device to solve this issue. Setting the timer from the Anova Culinary app is easy and can be used if you'd like to take advantage of the timer in the circulator.
I knew the bottom cap of the circulator was removable so, as any engineer would do, I immediately tried to take it off to see what was under it. I struggled for a while without any success - I didn't want to break it the first day I have it! Finally, I took off the entire stainless steel skirt and took a look inside it. As I studied the bottom of it I realized that in order to unscrew the bottom cap you had to turn it clockwise. I had been trying to turn it counterclockwise as you normally would in unscrewing something. I'm not sure why they did it this way but it is definitely counterintuitive.
As you would suspect the Anova Precision Cooker has many similarities with its predecessor the Anova One. It is slightly smaller and lighter making it easier to manipulate and store. The redesigned attachment mechanism has several benefits, the most important of which is that the circulator can now be connected to a wider variety of water bath containers.
The Precision Cooker preserves the removable stainless steel skirt from the original Anova which makes it easy to clean the "workings" parts of the circulator which are typically submerged.
Two trade-offs were made by the Anova team in the design of the Precision Cooker. The first was to reduce the heating power used by the circulator from 1,000 W to 800 W. The second was to reduce the speed of the circulator pump from approximately 12 liters per minute down to 8 liters per minute. For the vast majority of sous viders these trade-offs will have little, if any, impact on their cooking experience.
However, if you use a large, greater than 5 gallons (19 L), water bath then you need to evaluate to be sure that the Precision Cooker is powerful enough to handle your requirements. Similarly, if you often cook with your water bath crowded with numerous food pouches, further consideration regarding this circulator is warranted.
The user interface to the Precision Cooker has been redesigned and is, for the most part, more intuitive and easy to use than on the original. The current water bath temperature, set temperature, and optionally the remaining time are constantly being displayed.
One of the "flashy" new additions to the Anova Precision Cooker is the Bluetooth interface to a smartphone. This provides the sous vider with the capability to monitor and control the immersion circulator when in close proximity. The content and capability of the current version of the Anova Culinary app is rather limited. However, the partnership with Serious Eats gives us reason to believe that it could be developed into a very useful tool.
Many of the subjective factors that I liked in the Anova One have been carried over into the Precision Cooker. The circulator looks and feels like a reliable and well-designed piece of laboratory equipment, which you would expect given its Anova heritage.
In my opinion the Anova Precision Cooker design team has accomplished the difficult challenge of adding useful features and improvements to the new circulator while at the same time reducing the manufacturing cost of the device. This allows the Precision Cooker to be priced lower than any of the other immersion circulators currently available. It is typically found on Amazon at $179, but I've seen it sell for as little as $119.
I believe it's awesome that the popularity of sous vide cooking continues to increase at a rapid rate. This growth has encouraged numerous companies to develop products for this emerging market. This competition has led to sous vide solutions with higher quality and lower cost, which greatly benefits sous vide cooking enthusiasts.
Most of the sous vide solutions available in the market will provide the capability, capacity, and accuracy most of us need to successfully cook sous vide. We are all in that enviable position that it would be hard to make a "poor" purchasing decision. Having done this detailed analysis I will continue to recommend Anova as my immersion circulator of choice. But now I will suggest the Anova Precision Cooker because of the extra features and benefits it provides as well as its unbeatable price.
Happy sous viding!