The Instant Pot is all about saving time. Sous vide cooking takes the opposite approach. Plan ahead, wait a while—and you’ll be richly rewarded.

Restaurants have long used the sous vide technique. And in recent years, manufacturers have introduced sous vide tools for the home cook, promising succulent salmon, the best steaks, and impossible-to-screw-up eggs Benedict.

The term sous vide means “under vacuum” in French. And in sous vide cooking, food sealed in a plastic bag is placed in a water bath after the sous vide cooker has heated the water to a point that’s below, or even well below, its boiling point. 

Consumer Reports tested two sous vide tools, the Anova Precision Bluetooth model, around $100 to $149 (shown above; a WiFi version is also available), and the Joule, $199. Cooking times are longer than cooking the same food in an oven or on a rangetop, but our tests found that the investment in time pays off.

Here's how sous vide works. Simply plug in the sous vide device, place it in a pot of water, set your desired temperature, and, within minutes, it heats the water. Unlike food that’s cooked on a rangetop or in an oven, where the outside of the food cooks to a higher temperature than the inside and timing is everything, the water stays at that precise temperature throughout the cooking process.

More for the Kitchen

The water circulates so that the food is brought to (and maintained at) that same temperature, and the plastic bag ensures that the food inside holds on to its juices and flavor.

Food doesn’t have to be vacuum-sealed for this technique to work, and there’s no need to hover. "Put meat or fish, whatever you're cooking, in a high-quality, resealable plastic bag and season," says Bernie Deitrick, a CR test engineer. "Force any air out of the bag, seal, and drop into the pot of water."

CR Test Results

We cooked pork tenderloin at 140° F until medium doneness, which took an hour. Afterward, you can quickly sear the meat to give it a crispy finish. We also cooked thick skinless chicken breasts in water set to 149° F for 2 hours.

Both the Anova and Joule maintain set temperatures and deliver excellent results. Staffers raved about the juicy, tender meat and poultry. That’s because the food cooks to the same even temperature throughout. 

Here’s a comparison of the Anova and the Joule, either of which would be a great addition to your kitchen-equipment lineup or as a gift for any foodies you know. 

Anova Precision Sous Vide Cooker

Anova Precision Sous Vide Cooker

Price: about $100 to $149 (We tested the Bluetooth version. A WiFi model is available for up to $50 more.)

Pros: The Anova clamps onto any size pot, and displays temperatures in Fahrenheit or Celsius. “You can control this tool using just the scroll wheel,” says Deitrick. “So you don’t have to use your phone, but you can, so long as you’re cooking within Bluetooth range.” The WiFi model frees you to roam, of course. You can easily take apart the Anova to clean it, and the warranty covers two years. 

Cons: It draws about 750 watts at max, meaning its heater is less powerful and slower than the Joule’s. Our tests found that water circulates more vigorously when using the Anova.

Need to know: It’s 14.75 inches long and weighs 2.5 pounds.

Joule Sous Vide Cooker

Joule Sous Vide Cooker

Price: $179 for white plastic, $199 for a model with a stainless top (shown above).

Pros: At 11 inches long and weighing just over 1 pound, the Joule is smaller and lighter than the Anova—a small matter, but it does make the cooker easier to store. “The Joule draws more watts, about 1,000, so its heater is slightly more powerful, and water heats a bit faster,” says Deitrick. The warranty lasts one year.

Cons: It was harder to attach the Joule to a pot using its clamp compared with the Anova. The Joule does have a magnet in its base, however, so if your pot contains magnetic materials, the Joule will stick. You can’t take this model apart as easily, so cleaning the Joule isn’t as simple as cleaning the Anova. 

Need to know: You have to use the app on your iOS or Android phone to set the temperature and time—a plus for some, a drawback for others. The Joule works with a Bluetooth or WiFi connection. The manufacturer says it also works with Alexa—all you have to do is ask.

In the Bag

Anova recommends resealable freezer-grade plastic, silicone, or vacuum-sealed bags. Joule says you can cook in high-quality resealable bags for temperatures below 158° F. Higher than that and the seams can break, leaving your food floating in water, so use bags specially designed for sous vide cooking that can withstand higher temperatures. You can also use mason jars or reusable silicone bags for certain foods.

“If you don’t use a vacuum sealer, use only new, food-grade bags that are resealable and free of graphics to prevent possible contamination from the inks,” advises Don Huber, director of product safety at Consumer Reports.