For those of you who are not familiar with the Sous Vide machine, these are devices that heat up water to a specific temperature. Vacuum sealed food is then immersed into the water and is cooked in that temperature. There are two types of Sous Vide devices, Immersion Circulators and sous vide ovens or water ovens. Immersion circulators have a stick-like design that is immersed in a pot of water. Water ovens are insulated water chambers that sealed food is immersed into.
Water ovens are generally more expensive extending to several hundred dollars. So, with a $100 budget, your only hope of a sous vide machine will be of the immersion circulators category, with very few options of water ovens. Here are the factors to consider when looking for the best sous vide under $100:
What capacity of water does it hold?
Most sous vide ovens can hold 2 to 3 gallons of water. This capacity is sufficient for home cooking because with a 3-gallon water bath you can prepare approximately 20 pockets of 4oz food portions. However, if you want a much higher water capacity, then go for immersion circulators with the ability to heat up to 10 gallons of water.
A container larger than 3 gallons is impractical to use in the kitchen. There are no kitchen pots with a capacity of 10 gallons. So, in addition to the immersion circulators, you will have to purchase a separate water bath with the capacity to hold the amount of water you require.
How much food will I be cooking?
If you only cook a small portion of food at a time, then an immersion circulator will be the ideal choice for you. You may select any container, as long as it is deep enough to accommodate the device. Immersion circulators have water level sensors that prevent them from heating when the water level is not sufficient. The minimum threshold varies from model to model. Therefore, a device with a water depth of 1.5 inches will support more pots in the kitchen.
If you have a large family, however, then a sous vide oven will be ideal. The choices are quite slim with the $100 price, but there are cheaper water ovens that can cater to your needs.
What temperature settings should I consider?
Heating functions in sous vide devices differ from model to model. The ones that heat the water faster are more powerful and will cook your food at a much faster rate. Also, look at the temperature range. They all have maximum and minimum temperatures. Look for the ones with a much higher temperature range, that is, lower minimum and higher maximum.
How do I know when the temperature is ready for cooking?
Sous vide devices have alarms that go off when the cooking temperature is ready. You need to set your desired cooking temperature and wait for the signal. Some even have applications that send you alerts to your cell phone. Others have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. You should be particularly concerned with the volume of the alarm if you can hear it from another room, the better.
What about cleaning?
The ease of cleaning depends on portability and the water bath. Ensure that the water bath is removable from the system so that you will not be required to carry the whole thing. If however, the water bath is not removable, then make sure the device is not heavy. A portable device will allow you to easily carry it to the sink, pour the water out and clean it with ease.
How do I maintain consistent temperatures when using immersion circulators?
The secret to sous vide cooking is maintaining a consistent temperature throughout. This may be tricky for immersion circulators, especially if you use a pot that was not specifically designed for this type of cooking. However, having the right fitting lid will do the trick.
This is not a problem for sous vide ovens because they have compact lids. If you plan on using immersion circulators, ensure you purchase a water bath with a compact lid. Alternatively, use sous vide water balls. They will help maintain the temperatures in a normal cooking pot.
What features should I avoid?
Make sure the device does not have the tendency to overheat. If it gets too hot that you cannot handle it, avoid it as it may pose serious risks for you and others. It may also mean that it has poor insulation, which releases heat to the outer casings.
Look at customer reviews and feedbacks to know the truth, because the person selling you will not be completely honest. Also, consider the noise it produces during cooking. The noise should not be loud and irritating. Even at $100 or less, you should be able to locate a sous vide device that produces moderate noise.