I don’t cook steaks often, but when I do, I love using the sous vide method. It’s the best way I’ve found to get them to the perfect level of done-ness all the way through, rather than overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside.
A few years ago I wrote about trying the “poor man’s sous vide” hack. Since then, sous vide has gained popularity, and recently I’ve tried two devices that are more precise than the cooler-and-meat-thermometer method, but still more budget-friendly than full-fledged sous vide cookers.
First up: the Codlo. I wrote about the Codlo when it was launched on Kickstarter in 2013, and backed the project at the time. There were some manufacturing difficulties and delivery was later than expected, but I received mine in December 2014. The Codlo uses a temperature probe to turn your crockpot or rice cooker into a sous vide cooker.
The Codlo plugs into the wall, and has an outlet at the bottom. The temperature probe wraps around the unit and clips to itself for storage. Basically, you plug your cooker into the Codlo, drop the temperature probe into the water, and then set a temperature and time. The cooker heats up the water (and the food inside), and the Codlo cycles the outlet on/off to maintain the desired temperature, and lets you know when time’s up.
I haven’t actually tried cooking steaks with my Codlo yet, because I’m limited by my small rice cooker. Since the Codlo regulates temperature by simply turning the power on and off to the cooker, you need something that automatically turns on when the power is on. Rice cookers generally work, and crockpots with mechanical switches work, too. But my crockpot is a fancier one with some buttons, and when you first plug it in it does nothing until you push some buttons to pick a setting–which means the first time the Codlo cycles it, it just turns off. I do have a larger rice cooker but it has a funny lid so I haven’t tried that one yet.
The Codlo is a cool idea and I like that the device itself just plugs into the wall instead of taking up space on the counter, but I haven’t used it as much yet simply because of the device limitations. It’s compact, and comes in a variety of colors (if that sort of thing matters to you), and additional probes are available in case you need a spare. The retail price is $185, and is available directly from Codlo or through Amazon.
The Nomiku immersion circulator is an older Kickstarter-funded device–it was funded in 2012 and delivered to backers at the end of 2013 and middle of 2014 (it appears those who needed the 240V model had a longer wait). I didn’t know about it at the time but I was sent a sample to try out.
The Nomiku not only maintains the temperature of the water, but also has its own heating unit and circulates the water. There’s a large rubber clip on one side so you can attach it to whatever container you’re using–a pot, a large plastic tub, a bucket. The metal cylinder houses the heating unit and turbine. At the top is a small touch screen, and the green plastic ring is a dial that turns to set the temperature.
Using it is pretty easy: attach it to your container, fill up your container so the water level falls between the minimum/maximum indicators, tap the screen to turn it on, and then turn the dial to the desired temperature. You can tap to switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit display, and tap and hold to turn it off again.
The display screen shows your desired temperature at the bottom and the current temperature larger in the middle. The nice thing about the circulator is that you don’t get hot spots and cold spots in the pot, though it’s a good idea to weight down your food bags so they don’t shift. I also tried not to have the plastic bags in direct contact with the metal cylinder, just in case.
When I made steaks, I found that the water heated up fairly quickly. I had the pot on the stove, though I realized later that it didn’t really matter where I put it, as long as it was on a heat-proof surface. I could do this in the sink, even. The cord is fairly long, and there’s a large transformer box about a foot down the cord, so you’ll have to make some room for that. The cord is a pretty heavy gauge so it’s a little stiff, and I found that the clip did tend to wiggle a bit if I was trying to shift the cord around, at least on this particular pot.
The shape is a little strange–it sticks up quite a bit over the pot and angles toward it, so the knob is actually over the water. I clipped it to the side farther from me so that the screen is facing me.
The Nomiku sells for $199, and is available from Nomiku directly or on Amazon. There are plans for a new wi-fi version due out this year that lets you control the Nomiku with your smartphone, but since it’s a set-and-forget sort of device, I’m not really sure what the advantage is there. However, it will also have a stronger heater and a clip that faces away from the pot rather than angling over the pot, giving it a smaller profile.
The proof, of course, is in the steaks. After cooking the steaks at 135°F for about 2 hours, I took them out and finished them on a hot cast iron skillet very briefly. Cutting into them revealed a nice pink from edge to edge, just the way we like it.
There’s one other similar device I’ve seen on the market, the Anovo. It looks quite similar to the Nomiku but slides into a holder that clamps onto the side of the pot. I haven’t gotten to try it out, though.
Overall, these devices make it much easier to make sous vide than the “poor man’s” hack, but at a price. If you already have a big crockpot that will work with the Codlo, it’s the more compact device and has a timer–but it doesn’t circulate the water. The Nomiku and Anovo are more versatile because they heat the water so you can use it with nearly any container as long as you have an outlet handy. While none of these are cheap, they’re still a good deal less expensive than the full sous vide cookers, yet they provide most of the same utility.
Sous vide can also be used for a variety of other dishes, but I’ve barely scratched the surface so far. It’s hard to break out of my old cooking habits, but I’m looking forward to trying out other types of meats and also seeing what else we can make.