Monday, October 6, 2014

First Glance: PolyScience Sous Vide

Over on my recipe blog, Cookistry, I've been doing a lot of sous vide recipes, and I've been cooking a lot of things using sous vide that don't get published there. It's an interesting way of cooking, and the result is different from what you'd get by using conventional cooking methods.

I think there will come a time when inexpensive sous vide cookers will be as ubiquitous in home kitchens as microwave ovens are today.

But for now, they're still a relatively new thing for home users, and there aren't a whole lot of choices when it comes to affordable models for the average cook. As far as I know, there are only three major players in the sous vide market.

I was recently contacted by PolyScience, a company that makes high-end lab equipment and professional cooking equipment that most of us know nothing about. They are quite proud of their achievements in those areas, but puzzled that their home units don't seem to be getting the same attention as similar units made by companies that are younger.

I said, gee, I really don't know. Marketing, maybe? The thrill of Kickstarter, perhaps? It's not like any of these products have enough longevity in the market for people to have become brand loyal because they saw these products at home when they were kids. And none of the products have been around long enough for there to be any sort of long-term reliability reports, either.

They offered to send me one of their home-user sous vide machines, the Discovery model, and I said, sure, I'll give it a whirl and let you know what I think.

I plugged it in and had it cooking on the same day it arrived.

Right off the bat, I noticed two usability differences between this model and the one I have been using for quite some time, made by Anova. First, the on-off switch on this one is a lot easier to use. And second, because of the angle of the readout on this one, I had to stand on tiptoes to read it.

Now, if you're taller or if you're using this on a shorter surface, you wouldn't have that readout issue. On the other hand, the readout on this one seems to stay on all the time, where the other one goes to sleep and you need to poke it to wake it up.

There's no need to be obsessively checking the temperature readout, anyway, so it doesn't matter that the readout might not be as convenient as checking the timer on the oven. The point of sous vide is that you set it and you ignore it. Sometimes for several days. Like the 72-hour beef short ribs I've made a few times. Yes, three days of cooking. And it's soooo worth it.

Also, this one seems keep heating and circulating when the time is up, whereas the other one turns off. I'm not really sure which of those options is better. On one hand, you could end up cooking something a lot longer if you didn't hear the alarm on this one. But on the other hand, if you didn't hear the alarm on the other model (or notice that it was quiet), it could cool to unsafe temperatures if you left it for too long.

In theory, you're going to be paying at least a little bit of attention to how much time is left on either machine. Fifteen minutes of cooling or cooking really shouldn't matter.

So far, I've only used this unit a few times, and I haven't done a head-to-head battle between the two machines. I don't know if I will ... or if I can. To truly test them side-by-side, I'd need to have them in similar containers, and I'd have to get all precise about the size, shape, and temperature of what I'm cooking, and I'd have to be precisely measuring the water temperature.

So ... I don't think I'll be doing that. I'm pretty confident that any of today's sous vide machines will reach and hold a proper temperature.

What's left? User-friendliness, design, button functions ... and a lot of that is personal preference.

The good news is that the buttons in the PolyScience Discovery were intuitive enough for me to set it up without looking at the instructions. Which is a good thing, since little instruction manuals tend to disappear, and if something isn't intuitive to use, it's really annoying.

So far, aside from the tippy-toe requirement, I'm perfectly happy with this model, but I have a lot more cooking to do before I have any final answers.

Who's it for: Cooks who are geeks. Or geeks who like to cook. Or adventurous cooks who like to try new methods and gadgets.

Pros: The on-off-button is a simple rocker switch, which I like. The company has a long track record of making lab equipment, so this isn't new to them.

Cons: Need to read the display at a somewhat high angle. This seems to be the most expensive of the home-use machines.

Wishes: These home units are still evolving, so there are a lot of things that I'm sure will get added on over time. A remote display would be great - whether it's on my phone or on a dedicated device like some meat thermometers use. It would be nice if there was a way to make it fit into a wider range of pots - because the clip is stationary, you need a tall-enough pot. A choice between shutting off or staying on when the time is up would also be nice. I can see some situations where you'd want it to turn off, and others where it would be better if it stayed on. I'm sure there are other things I'll think of as I use these more and more.

Source:  I received this from the manufacturer. It was explicitly stated that a review was not required, but I'm sure they were hoping for one.


  1. Interesting and informative review, especially considering the conversation on Cookbook Junkies on Facebook. You noted that this is one of the more expensive models, but didn't mention a price point. Is it a secret? :-) Definitely something to keep in mind for the future.

    1. It's $299 on their website, but of course you can always find things cheaper if you shop. I always hesitate to put prices in because they change so often and blog posts are forever. If I could find a widget that would grab the current price, that would be perfect.

  2. I wasn't even aware that Polyscience had an immersion circulator anywhere near this price point. I thought all their stuff was high end for laboratories and professional kitchens. I think those kickstarter projects get a lot of free marketing just from raising the money there but I'm not sure what Polyscience should do differently. Maybe send one to Kenji from Serious Eats to test? I do wonder why they chose bright yellow though for this. From the kickstarter comments on Anova V2 (I think) many people seem to like matching the rest of their kitchen and I doubt many have their kitchen decorated in bright yellow. - Aaron B

    1. Good thought, and I also wasn't aware that they had the less-expensive models until they contacted me. It's not something I was particularly shopping for, so it's not like I was looking around. On the other hand, people were talking about the Anova because of the Kickstarter.

      I have to agree on the color, although it's easy to see when I tuck it in a corner.


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