"Sous vide" literally translates to "under vacuum," and it's a restaurant cooking method that's recently made its way into home kitchens. To cook sous vide, one vacuum seals a cut of meat, eggs, veggies or fruit, submerges it in a hot water bath and maintains the bath at a specified temperature -- typically 120 degrees Fahrenheit to 183 degrees Fahrenheit -- for an extended period of time, anywhere from 30 minutes to two days.
During the long cooking process, it's very important that the water remain the same stable target temperature, which is why most experts recommend a dedicated sous vide machine. The best-reviewed sous vide machine we found is the SousVide Supreme (Est. $429) . It was one of the first sous vide machines designed for the home cook and remains the most popular. The high price tag may induce sticker shock, but it's worth noting that industrial alternatives cost upwards of $1,000. So what does that $400-plus buy? Reviewers say the results are consistently superb. Tech and food bloggers report that they used the SousVide Supreme to cook some of the best steaks of their lives.
But the SousVide Supreme isn't the only way to prep delicious, tender sous vide food. The DSV Temperature Controller (Est. $100) is a much less expensive alternative. Unlike the SousVide Supreme, the DSV doesn't include a contained water bath. The device controls the temperature of an external bath that the user must provide, like a nondigital slow-cooker or rice cooker. While the cooker heats the water, the DSV monitors the temperature and turns the power on and off to the cooker to maintain the same temperature. Owners say they're very impressed with the DSV Temperature Controller's performance. Amazon.com reviewers say the water bath varied by only a few tenths of a degree throughout the cook time.
There are pros and cons to both models when it comes to convenience features. The SousVide Supreme has a spacious water bath and includes a rack for holding numerous bags of food for cooking at the same time. Serious Eats writer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt reports having successfully cooked a 12-course meal in the SousVide Supreme. The DSV can be used with a water bath of any size, but lacks the rack for neatly cooking many items at once (though this could still, of course, be done). Reviewers also aren't keen on having to purchase a nondigital cooker to work with the DSV since it doesn't work with any cooker except those with a basic on/off switch. It's worth noting that even if you have to make that additional purchase, it's still a considerable savings over the SousVide Supreme.
On the other hand, there are some user complaints regarding the display panel on the SousVide Supreme. Owners note that the buttons feel a bit cheap and it takes many clicks to reach the desired temperature. One reviewer also points out that the machine is difficult to lift and drain after cooking. Editors didn't find any usability complaints regarding the DSV Temperature Controller. Owners say it's simple to use and refer to it as "plug and play," though one blogger points out the device does make an audible clicking noise as it turns on and off.
With both devices, space is a concern. While the DSV doesn't take up much space, the cooker it works with will. The SousVide Supreme is about the size of a breadmaker; both devices take up a good deal of counter space when in use -- sometimes for days at a time. In addition to a sous vide machine, in order to cook sous vide, you may also need a vacuum sealer, which occupies still more space. Some owners contend the vacuum isn't truly necessary, though. They say that you can slowly submerge food in a zip-top bag, eliminating all the air just before sealing. Reviewers are divided on whether this is effective enough.
Both devices get excellent marks for durability. We found no user complaints of malfunction or wear-and-tear issues. In addition to the overall wealth of positive reviews for the SousVide Supreme, another factor that may make it a slightly better option that the DSV is appearance. While the DSV with slow-cooker setup looks like a lab experiment, the SousVide Supreme is clean, streamlined stainless steel.