They say you never forget your first sous vide precision cooker. Actually, nobody says that. Even now, in an era when vacuum-sealed food bags having become the latest benefactor/victim of the app-guided cooking trend, most people genuinely don't know what I'm talking about when I tell them I sometimes cook with a sous vide wand.
But there's a good reason why home chefs—or those who fancy themselves chefs—have embraced sous vide, a method of cooking that involves dropping food (meat is an optimal choice, though you can cook other things) into vacuum-sealed plastic bags and submerging it for an extended period of time in a temperature-controlled water bath. The result is meat that's incredibly tender, juicy, and evenly-cooked. Cook a fine piece of salmon sous vide, and it can come out looking so perfect that it resembles the fake food you see in display cases. Also, many sous vide dishes are finished off with a light sear from a blowtorch. That's the fun part.
Low-temperature cooking is an ancient technique. And sous vide, as established by the French, has been around since the 1970's. But modern sous vide machines, like so many other home appliances, come with Wi-Fi radios and Bluetooth chips. You stick the wand in a pot of water, then pair it with an app. The app tells you the desired temperature, tells you how long to cook your meat for, and tells you when your food is done. Much of the guesswork is eliminated.
The $99 Anova Precision Cooker Nano is the newest entry into this category of connected sous vide wands. Anova Culinary has been making sous vide wands (also known as immersion circulators) since 2013. WIRED food writer Joe Ray called an early version of an Anova immersion circulator the "one to beat." That product is no longer made. The company does sell a newer circulator that ranges in price from $130 to $150, depending on where you buy it and whether it's an 800-watt wand or a 900-watt model.
The thing that sets the Nano apart is cost: it's just $99. That's a bargain compared to almost all of its competitors, including the $200 ChefSteps Joule, which I have at home and like. The Anova team has made some design sacrifices to keep the cost down, but if you're a novice looking to dip your toe into sous vide, $99 is a sweet price for tender eats.
Like previous version of Anova wands, and unlike the Joule, the Anova Nano has a touchscreen display. This is one of its best features, as it means you're not constantly picking up and unlocking your phone with grubby fingers while you're cooking just to see the time or temperature. In my experience with the Anova Nano, I mostly used the app to look up suggested times and temperatures for foods, but after that did everything on the wand itself. Sure, it means the top of the wand can get gross, but it's easy to wipe clean when you're done with it.
The device is made of heat-resistant plastic. Anova says it considered using metal, which almost certainly would have given it a more refined look, but opted to cut that cost. Still, it feels durable. The front of the wand features a thin strip of light, which indicates when the water is heating up, or when it's hit temperature. The Nano also has a speaker, and chimes when it's ready. (The Joule doesn't have this.)
One of the sacrifices Anova has made is the exclusion of Wi-Fi. The Nano connects to your phone app via Bluetooth, but it doesn't work over Wi-Fi. This isn't a deal-breaker, but it can result in asynchronous information being exchanged between the wand and the app.
For example, in one instance I initially set the bath's time and temperature from the Anova app; then later changed the time and temp on the wand's touch interface after Googling for some sous vide salmon suggestions. The new time and temp weren't immediately (or ever) reflected in the app during the cooking session. A spokesperson for Anova confirmed that the settings in the app won't change if you manually overwrite them on the Nano's touchscreen, though she did add it's a feature that customers have been asking about, and one the company is looking to solve.
The Nano has a power capacity of 750 watts, compared to competing wands that have 800, 900, or even up to 1,100 watts. The amount of wattage affects how long it takes to heat the water; though Anova claims that its new algorithm, which pulls cooler water through the upper vents and distributes it out of the lower vents at 1.25 gallons per minute, means the 750-watt Nano heats water more efficiently than its previous Bluetooth device does. I wasn't able to do a controlled test of multiple cookers with different wattage, so I couldn't say exactly whether 50 watts makes a huge difference. But here's the thing to know about sous vide in general: it can feel unfriendly for weekday cooking, when you’re pressed for time.
Much of this also depends not just on the power of the wand, but on the size of your water bath—and the kind of end result you're looking to achieve with your food. As I discovered, cooking farro sous vide was not worth the time it took. Heating up the bath to 185 degrees with the Nano felt endless; actually cooking it (in a Ball jar, with some water and seasoning) took 30 minutes. Sure, the sous vide farro was nutty and delicious, but all in all, it took nearly an hour.
It's worth noting that the clip on the Nano wand, the thing you use to clamp the Nano to the side of your pot, is non-adjustable, meaning you can adjust the clamp but you can't move its position up or down on the wand. It's positioned right at the Max line for water levels. I happen to use an eight-quart stock pot for sous-vide-ing, and this means filling the pot nearly to the top with water in order to get it somewhere between the Min and Max lines printed on the Nano. It can feel like a tremendous waste of water, but such is sous vide, where your food needs to be submerged.
Anova's mobile app could also use a re-think, especially when compared to the ChefSteps Joule app. For example, Anova's app doesn't make time and temperature recommendations based on how thick your cut of meat is. I sometimes found myself cross-referencing the Joule app just for that. Since Anova is aiming the Nano at sous vide novices, I do think the company needs to add more granular instructions to its app's Guides section. Also, the Anova app searches for your nearby precision cooker immediately upon opening the app, which in some instances is a good thing. But if you're at work, trying to plan that evening's dinner ahead of time and browsing through recipes in the Anova app, you'll have to deal with the constant "Looking for Anova…" text at the bottom of your app screen.
App aside, the Anova Nano is a solid choice for the sous-curious, and even for people who have a little more experience with sous vide and are looking for a lower-cost option.