Joule by ChefSteps Review

What fits in your top kitchen drawer, can cook huge roasts, and can help you cook a beautiful medium rare steak every time? The new Sous Vide tool: Joule from ChefSteps of course. What’s beautiful about this device is its small minimalistic design and handy companion app.

What is Sous Vide? Click here to learn more.

The Seattle based company ChefSteps has been offering modern and traditional recipe videos since 2012. One technique that gets a lot of love on their site is Sous Vide, so naturally the first device they decided to create was a Sous Vide immersion circulator of their own. I have had one for about a month now. Does this device win the honor of being accepted in your kitchen? Read below to find out.

Full disclosure, I have always struggled to cook a steak perfectly. I could never get that juicy pink center on the inside and caramelized coating on the outside, enter Sous Vide: with Joule I no longer have this problem. I now consistently cook steak and lobster that I can be proud of. I contemplated buying a Sous Vide for a long time. I was worried it would just end up as another failed kitchen device. This past month since owning one, I have used my Joule more than my oven. 😱

So what makes a good kitchen device?

I’m a gadget geek, when you come into my apartment the lights automatically turn on and I can change the channel with my watch, but when it comes to kitchen gadgets I like to keep it pretty basic, well until recently.

There’s a lot of kitchen gadgets out there: tomato slicers, breakfast sandwich makers, watermelon slicers, breakfast stations, avocado slicers, and… I think you get the point, most of these things either take up valuable counter space or go into the “drawer of lost utensils.” Why? Because it’s easier to use that handy all-in-one slicer aka “knife” or cook using your stove. Climbing to the top of your kitchen cabinets to dust off the breakfast station 1000, just to cook a bacon egg and cheese sandwich at 9am on a weekend morning isn’t that feasible for me, and don’t get me started on cleaning up everything afterwards.

A good kitchen device needs to be:

  1. Easy to clean: It shouldn’t take me longer than a couple minutes to clean the device, because if it takes any longer I’m going to pass.
  2. Easy to store: The device should be of more use to me than the space it takes up on the counter or cabinet. I’m looking at you Breakfast 1000.
  3. Easy to use: The device should be easy enough for most people to use, I don’t want to struggle with something when I just want to get dinner on the table.

Most importantly the device needs to replace a task another device couldn’t meet. I don’t find any use for an Avocado slicer when a knife will do the same thing for me.

So how does Joule stack up?

Joule is very easy to clean and store, when you’re done you just have to wipe it down with a towel, wrap the cord up, and it is small enough to fit in your kitchen “drawer of useful utensils.” It is actually easier to store and clean than my microplane. When it comes time to cook, I just fill a large pot with water, plop in the Joule, plug in the device, and open the app on my phone, since I own an Amazon echo in my kitchen I don’t even need to open the app, but more about that later.

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That’s great, so how does it perform?

In the words of Apple, “It just works.” I was able to setup and get the Joule working in a matter of minutes. The instructions are very straight forward. I’m a sucker for good design and ChefSteps seemed to design a device they themselves would use. They think of the little details, and man do they nail this.

The Joule uses a 1100 watt heater they invented using thick-film technology. No coils here, so what does that mean? This allows a high performance electric heater in a low mass and low profile package. When I first turned on the device I expected it to take a good amount of time to bring the water up to the temp I wanted, but before I could sit down and relax it was ready to cook my steak. Quicker heating time equals a quicker path to dinner.

The bottom of the device contains a strong magnet. You need an induction ready pot, cast iron, and some steel to work. The magnet didn’t work with all my pans including my roaster (bummer), but the clip is there for those situations, no other Sous Vide tool has this feature but it’s amazing how much you miss the magnet when it doesn’t work.

The precision of this little device is mind boggling. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but once it gets to temp it seems to stay around .2 of a degree.This means it brings your piece of food to the temperature you want and won’t go any higher. So that means there’s no chance of overlooking your food.

What’s the App and setup like?

One common complaint about the Joule is it doesn’t have a display on the actual device, just an LED that indicates it’s up to temperature, it’s heating, or if there is a problem. So that means a requirement to setup and use this device is you need a smartphone or tablet. ChefSteps is betting that most people have a smart device and I think for the most part, people that are interested in this device will have one, but this could be a deal breaker for some.

Opening the app you’re greated with the usual log in/create account screen. I often find these annoying but this was very quick to setup, it just asks for your name, e-mail, and password. Once setup, the app plays a nice welcome video, you have the option to skip right away but if you’re new to Joule it is actually pretty helpful.

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To setup the Joule: you just have to plug the Joule in, put it in your cooking vessel of choice (with water) and click on the Joule icon on the bottom right of the app’s screen. When you click “Connect to Joule” it will scan via Bluetooth for a Joule nearby, it was very simple and worked well for me.

You also have the option to connect your Joule via Wi-Fi, this allows you to monitor or start your Joule when your away from home. Lets say you want the water up to temperature by the time you get home, when you arrive before you can say “honey I’m home!” it’s ready to cook. Although since the Joule heats up the water so quickly you probably won’t need to do this too often.

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You have the option to start cooking  your food before you get home. The problem is you have to think about food safety; I wouldn’t recommend putting a bag of salmon into the pot and leaving it in room temperature water. I haven’t tried it but I imagine you could fill an insulated cooler with cold ice water and put the meat in, that way it stays in the safe zone before you’re ready to cook.

The app itself is organized by featured recipes, training videos, and type of foods you want to cook. It was fairly easy to get accustomed to where everything was and navigate. The layout is a little strange at first for a device app; It very much feels like a recipe app foremost and a device app second. You should be greeted with the controls for the device immediately, but instead it goes right into the recipes. When you just want to heat the water up ASAP, it’s slightly irritating to take that second step.

I am a premium ChefSteps subscriber and this app also incorporates those recipes in a search, although they do not incorporate the ChefSteps.com information seamlessly into the app. If you click on ChefSteps.com recipes, it sends you out of the app and into their website or their other ChefStep’s app, this can be a little jarring for the user.

Amazon Alexa and Joule’s Relationship

It might be a deal breaker for some that you have no interface with Joule other than through a smart device. If you own an Amazon Alexa device: Echo, Dot, or Tap you might want to rethink your decision. You can turn on and set the temperature with Alexa, this means if you are by your Amazon device, you can command your precision immersion circulator all by your voice, if that isn’t the future, I don’t know what is?

If you do not have one of these devices you might want to consider purchasing a Dot with your Joule for this command alone. It’s an extra 40 dollars to your purchase but it’s much more convenient than pulling out your phone for a quick cooking session. Also you would get the added benefit of setting kitchen timers or alarms hands free.

This feature is great but it would be nice if they could add a couple of other commands and put in some natural language. The only consistant way to make this work is to say “Alexa, ask joule to set the temperature to [whatever temperature you want].” It would be nice to be allowed a little more flexibility with the commands.

To make things even better ChefSteps has the vision with Alexa that any tech geek like me would dream of, imagine asking Alexa something like “Alexa ask Joule, what temperature do you recommend we cook a steak for medium rare?” Little things like this could prevent us from having to open up the app at all.

So what do you think, should I get one?

I recommend this to anyone who cooks more than once a week. If you are someone that wants to expand your cooking potential I highly recommend ChefStep’s Joule. This device exceeded my expectations and with very few flaws, and a lot of those things can be fixed with a software update. At $199 this is really a steal. In my opinion Joule is not only great for the novice but also the seasoned chef. This is the “Apple iPhone” of kitchen appliances.

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