This article, The Joule Sous Vide Circulator: Next Generation Cool, was last updated February 2017
If Apple made a sous vide circulator, it would be the Joule. Slim, white, minimalist, and powerful, the Joule sous vide circulator is the newest immersion circulator to hit the market. It's truly next-generation sous vide technology, and definitely worth taking a look at.
Price: About $200
The Joule sous vide circulator is designed with the user in mind. It's compact, lightweight, easy to use, easy to store, and at 1100 watts, more powerful than most other circulators in its class.
Joule uses a free app that guides you step-by-step through the cooking process, including photos that aid you in figuring out settings and cooking times to get your desired results (you can also bypass these tutorials and just set the unit where you want it). It's also the first immersion circulator you can use with Alexa, Amazon's voice-controlled personal assistant device.
The Joule was introduced by Chef Steps late in 2015 and became available on Amazon late last year. Chef Steps was founded by Chris Young, a co-author of Modernist Cuisine, so you can be certain that they knew what they were doing with the Joule and that it's a top notch product.
Here are some of Joule's coolest features:
- Small enough to fit in a drawer
- 1100 watts of power and its "thick film heater" technology make it one of the most powerful (that is, fastest) circulators on the market
- Controls temp within 0.2F/0.1C
- Works in water levels from 1.5 inches up to 10 gallons (wow!)
- 2 ways to attach to cooking vessel: clip and/or magnet (on bottom of unit)
- Free app compatible with any smart phone
- Works with Amazon Alexa (i.e., voice commands)
- Recipe apps with guides and pics to ensure perfectly cooked food.
This short video explains how the Chef Steps team came up with the Joule:
First Things First: What is Sous Vide?
Sous vide (pronounced "soo veed") is a French term that means "under pressure." It's a method of cooking bagged, sealed food in a water bath at a very precise temperature. Because you have total control over the temperature and cooking time, the result is perfectly done food every time. And because the food is sealed inside a bag, it retains all its juices and flavors.
Sous vide is a revolutionary way to never have dry chicken breast again, or lose the flavor of braised meat to its cooking liquids. The flavor stays in the food!
When choosing a sous vide device, you have two options: a water bath or an immersion circulator. The water bath is a self-contained unit that you fill with water to cook your food. (You can see what one looks like here.) An immersion circulator is a detachable pump/temperature controller that you can use on any container it fits into. There are advantages and disadvantages to both technologies, but right now, the circulators are more popular. They're smaller, easier to store, and easier to adapt to different situations. Most of them are also less expensive than the water baths.
The Joule, of course, is an immersion circulator.
What Makes the Joule Sous Vide Circulator Great?
When considering which sous vide immersion circulator to buy, these are the important factors:
- Ability to hold temperature
- Speed (that is, power)
- User interface
- Water level
- Aesthetics and overall quality.
Let's see how the Joule stacks up in each of these categories.
Ability to Hold Temperature
The whole principle underlying sous vide cooking is constancy of temperature. This is what makes sous vide so great at turning out perfectly done steaks, eggs, vegetables, creme brulee, and anything else you care to try with it. And not only can you get precise doneness, you can also manipulate the texture of foods by how long you leave them in the bath--because they're set to the exact temp of doneness, they will never overcook. One great example of this is the Modernist Cuisine recipe for 72 hour short ribs: sure, they're "done" after a few hours, but if you want them tender and flaky, yet still medium rare, you can cook them for the full 72 hours.
The Joule sous vide circulator holds temperature to two-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit (+/-0.2F). This is extremely accurate--as much accuracy as any chef will ever need.
Another benefit to the constant temp is that you can eat when you're ready. You are no longer a slave to your oven or stovetop. Overcooking, burning, and drying out your meat is a thing of the past. Most proteins can sit in a water bath for a few hours after they've fully reached temperature without adverse effects. So if you get sidetracked, no big deal. Your dinner is there waiting for you.
Power, measured in watts, is a measure of how fast an immersion circulator can bring a pot of water up to the set temperature. You may not think speed is important, since sous vide is not a fast-cook method to begin with. However, I've used both low-wattage circulators and high-wattage ones, and the difference is amazing. It can take up to half an hour longer for lower-powered circulators to heat a stockpot full of water.
At 1100 watts, the Joule ranks among the most powerful immersion circulators available. It also uses a different heating element than other circulators called a "thick film heater." This is quite efficient, so even though it's smaller than other circulators, the Joule is every bit as powerful.
In actual use, the Joule is able to heat up a stockpot full of room temperature water to 140F in about 20 minutes. (My Anova takes about twice that long!) It heated hot tap water to 140F in less than 10 minutes. These results will vary based on the variables of your kitchen, but this compares very favorably to other units on the market.
Immersion circulators can have buttons, dials, switches, and LED displays for the user interface. The Joule however, has none of these.
The Joule is unique in the world of immersion circulators. The unit itself has no controls, other than an On/Off button (the entire top piece) and one indicator light. All settings are done remotely, from an app on your smart phone, iPad, or via Amazon Alexa.
If you're an app lover or technology geek, this probably sounds great to you. If you're not, then you might be a bit reluctant to embrace this concept. And it's true that there are both advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages are that this is a big part of what makes the Joule small-yet-powerful. This is what makes it possible for the Joule to weigh just over a pound and yet have power comparable to circulators more than twice its size.
The cooking apps are also fabulous, especially for beginners. You can essentially "cook by pictures," selecting the doneness you want from a photograph, and let the Joule do the rest. This eliminates guesswork! Or, if you know your settings, you can just as easily set the Joule where you want it. You're just doing it remotely instead of on the unit.
The disadvantages to having remote controls are that you don't have a display on the unit itself to see what's happening--although the indicator light does provide the most relevant information: heating, at temp, and done (orange, green, and flashing green). You may also find using an app to be cumbersome--but I think that's mostly because it's new. In a year's time or so, I suspect all circulators will offer full remote operation.
And of course, there is always the possibility that you may be without your smart phone, for whatever reason. You can't run the Joule without it. So it requires an infrastructure that dumber circulators do not. And speaking of infrastructure, there is a learning curve, and all the other headaches that come with software-dependent devices: you have to register and get set up on the Chef Steps website, then learn to use the application. None of this is terribly hard, but I can't deny there's a curve to figuring it all out.
The apps are also constantly changing, so you have to download updates for the most current information. This isn't a disadvantage--in fact, it's pretty cool. But it does add another layer of complexity to using the Joule (although a very small one).
All in all, I find that the advantages to the remote-only controls outweigh the disadvantages. But this is really just a matter of preference. I'll take the minimalist design and easy storage over more cumbersome models any day of the week!
One thing I really love about the Joule is that it will operate in just a couple of inches of water. With its magnetized bottom, it is designed to sit on the bottom of a pot. This is nice if you're using small cooking containers, like half-pint mason jars filled with creme brulee (see my recipe for sous vide creme brulee), and also great if you're doing a long cook and forget to top off the water level before you go to bed.
Because the Joule can run in just a couple of inches if water, it will continue to run longer than just about any other circulator on the market. (Most shut themselves off when the water level gets too low.) This could mean the difference between saving a package of short ribs on a 72 hour cook, or having to throw them away (which I have actually had to do with another circulator--oops).
Aesthetics and Overall Quality
“Aesthetics” refers to the design of the circulator: heft, solidity, and overall look and feel. The circulator should appeal to you not only on a functional level and a price level, but should also be a joy to use.
You may think that aesthetics in everyday objects is unimportant, but I would argue that aesthetics are the most important in everyday objects. Because you use them every day! Cheap, crappy objects add to life’s drudgery. But everyday objects that have a nice heft and pleasurable feel can make daily chores feel almost luxurious. If you cook every day, you should try to surround yourself with kitchen tools that add pleasure to your life, not detract from it. (For more on this, see The Best Sous Vide Immersion Circulators and Water Baths.)
The Joule certainly gets a high rating on both aesthetics and overall quality. If the Joule is Cinderella, all other circulators are her dowdy stepsisters. It's sleek, petite, and modern, enough to make the other circulators jealous. It's the prettiest immersion circulator on the market.
The Joule does have one design drawback: its clip is a bit small, so probably not wide enough to fit on a cooler or other vessel with wide walls. If you find yourself needing to use a large vessel (like when you're cooking for several people), you'll probably have to buy a dedicated sous vide container. This is a nice one because the lid and sous vide balls (which decrease evaporation) are included.
Do I Need an Internet Connection to Use the Joule?
You will always need some way to connect the remote app to the Joule, but it doesn't have to be the Internet. Once you have the Joule paired to your smart device, you can use Joule with Bluetooth only. So while you'll need an Internet connection to download the Joule software, for subsequent updates, and to do the initial pairing, you need only bluetooth to actually operate the Joule.
How Do I Clean the Joule?
Immersion circulators tend to keep themselves pretty clean, as they have fresh water continuously moving through them. So most maintenance involves giving it a wipe down with a damp cloth and letting it dry.
If you have a bag break and the parts get gummed up, you can run Joule in a dilute vinegar bath, then remove the bottom to get inside and gently wipe down the parts. You can see these cleaning details on the Chef Steps site.
Never submerge the Joule completely, or put in a dishwasher. This could damage the Joule's electronic components.
Do I Need a Vacuum Sealer to Use the Joule?
No, you don't need a vacuum sealer. You can use storage bags and the water displacement method. However, a vacuum sealer makes sous vide cooking easier (just toss the bag in the water) and more convenient (you can freeze sealed bags of food with seasoning so they're ready to toss into the water). You also need one for best results when doing long cooks (more than a few hours). When you combine all of this with all the food savings you'll reap from owning a vacuum sealer, it makes sense to invest in one.
For more info, see Why Every Kitchen Needs a Food Vacuum Sealer.
Size: 1.85 in. in diameter x 11.0 in. tall
Weight: 1.3 lbs
Housing: Polycarbonate and stainless steel
Power: 1100W (standard 120VAC plug-in)
Temperature Range: 68F-208F (20-98C)
Temperature Variance: +/-0.2F (0.1C)
Min/Max Immersion Depth (in.): 1.5/8
Pump Speed: 3.6-6L/minute (higher at higher temps)
Max Water Capacity: 10 gal (40L)
Water Level Sensors: Thermal, high current protection (i.e., shuts off if water level goes too low)
Clamp Type/Opening: Clip/0.75in. (NOTE: Also has magnet on bottom for use in steel pots)
Cord Length: 42 in.
If you want a petite, powerful, pretty sous vide immersion circulator that you can store in a silverware drawer, and you don't mind using your smart phone to operate it, then the Joule is for you. The price has dropped so it's a perfect time to buy--and it makes a great gift for someone who loves to cook!
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