Is one better, a water bath or a stick circulator?
- Doug Weller
Note: The following article is an edited transcript from the video.
That's a good question and part of it depends what you're trying to accomplish. I've used several water baths and they work really well. For most cooks and most uses a water bath (i.e. the Sous Vide Supreme) and a stick circulator (i.e. Anova, ChefSteps Joule or Gourmia) work just as well as each other.
Sous vide water baths are basically a self-contained temperature controller and heater with a set water bath. They used to be more popular when laboratory-grade equipped was commonly used for sous vide cooking. Now the most common water bath is made by Sous Vide Supreme.
I think the biggest benefit of using a water bath comes from the fact that it generally isn't circulating the water through a propeller or a machine. This means you can use it for things that might not just have water in them, that contain other stuff. For example, you could brew small batches of beer, make chicken stock, or infuse large amounts of liquid in it. You could also do butter poaching or oil poaching with a water bath. It opens the door to a few different preparations. They also tend to be better insulated which consumes less electrical energy.
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Stick immersion circulators also have their benefits. The sticks tend to be smaller than a water bath, so it takes up less storage room. Since a stick circulator weighs a lot less than a water bath, you don't have to leave the unit sitting on your kitchen counter all the time. If you live in a small New York apartment like I do, that can be a big one.
In addition, stick circulators give you the option to put them in variable sized containers. I have a normal 12-quart Lipavi container that works really well with a stick circulator. Since it holds 8 to 12 quarts of water, it's ideal for most of my cooks. But if I have a party or barbecue, I pull out either my 18-quart or 26-quart containers. That larger one can hold 4 or 5 racks of uncut ribs in it so I can sous vide them at one time. With this type of circulator, it allows you to move up or down to a container size that fits the job.
For more information you can read my comprehensive article on Sous Vide Water Bath Containers.
My biggest criticism of Sous Vide Supreme is just that they're more expensive than the stick circulators are. I know that's probably not really a fair criticism, the Sous Vide Supreme was a lot cheaper when it first came out. They were competing against PolyScience and the $1,000 commercial circulators, and now they are competing against an $80 Anova Nano. But that's still my take on it.
Most likely your selection will be swayed by your circumstances. Such as, if you cook for a varying number of people, or have a large kitchen with good counter space, or entertain a lot, or just cook for four, or cost is a large consideration, and on. For more information you can read my detailed article on Sous Vide Machines: What is Best for You.
Some people ask "I have a Sous Vide Supreme, should I switch to a stick circulator? I say, if you're happy with what you have, keep it. If you need a second unit, even if you just use that one for parties go ahead and get a stick for your second one. But they both work really well, and you will be able to enjoy a lot of really good sous vide food. I think you'd be happy with either one.
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