Immersion circulators—those magic wands that clamp onto a pot and hold the water at a precise temperature—have been burning up the kitchen scene in recent years, giving home cooks the chance to affordably incorporate the previously pros-only technique known as sous vide (pronounced soo-veed) into their repertoires. Brands like Anova and Sansaire led the charge with models that could be had for about $200, displacing previous (and expensive) options like the PolyScience Sous Vide Professional Creative Series immersion circulator and the SousVide Supreme water bath.
Since then, the market has splintered. Anova now sells three immersion circulators, having added a professional kitchen model and another home version with an app. Sansaire is rumored to be working on a second model. There’s also a new entrant into the field, the Smart Hub & Top combination from the home appliance upstart, Oliso. Go sous vide with them and you end up with two fantastic pieces of kitchen hardware—a water bath that nestles atop an induction burner that can be used independently—which means that you can do things like cook a sous vide steak, then sear it with the induction burner.
I prepped my kitchen for testing and prepared to blow a fuse.
I started with a boiling water test, pitting the induction burner (the SmartHub) against my electric/ceramic Amana range, and a $20 Hamilton Beach electric kettle. I put 1.5 liters of 15Â°C water into the kettle and the pots and prepared to watch the induction burner crush the competition.
It didnât The SmartHub and my stovetop each took about 10 minutes, which was two minutes slower than the kettle.
Next, I entered sous vide mode, pitting the Smart Hub & Top against an Anova Precision Cooker, bringing two gallons (7.5 l) of water from 15Â°C to 65Â°C. The SmartHub performed admirably, heating the water in 23 minutes and crushing the Anova, which took 43 minutes.
Of course, you can completely circumnavigate that last test by running hotter water out of your tap, or adding some water from that $20 electric kettle. Sous vide machines are simple devices. People have been keeping their fish tanks at consistent temperatures since time immemorial, and using hot water to cook a steak isnât exactly a huge technological leap from there. All of the models weâve previously reviewed do this just fine, but it’s still good to know that the SmartHub can handle its most basic business.
Where Oliso distinguishes itself from immersion circulators like the Sansaire and water baths like the SousVide Supreme, though, is with that built-in induction burner, so you donât have two separate units taking up counter space. Itâs a combination thatâs easy to imagine working well anywhere from a tiny New York apartment with a crummy stove to a roomy vacation home in the Hamptons, and a lot of it works very well. I ran the sous vide for 36 hours and it didnât skip a beat. Itâs quiet. The rubber-rimmed glass lid looks beefy enough to seal off a submarine airlock and does a great job of keeping heat in, a problem that immersion heaters simply outsource to the home cook. (I use Saran Wrap with a dishtowel draped over the top, though there are more elegant solutions.) You can also use the SmartTopâs water bath without a sous vide bag to make incredible stocks, infusions, and extractions. You could poach lobster in butter, Thomas Keller-style. Plus, filling, emptying, and cleaning the SmartTop is much easier and less worrisome than it is with a dedicated water bath like the SousVide Supreme.
So yes, there’s a lot to like about the SmartHub; I just wish it wasnât so fussy. There are seven buttons on the control panel, three of which seem unnecessary (the Anovas and the Sansaire get this just right). Some of those buttons operate on a time delay, which often feels more like a bug than a feature. Plus, the beep the machine makes when the water reaches the target temperature is feeble enough to be mistaken for a faraway bird.
Those are all mostly forgivable annoyances. The big downer, though, happened after Iâd cooked a pair of tri-tip steaks in the water bath and seared one side of each using the induction burner… until the induction burner cut out, giving me an âE02â error message. The user manual says youâre supposed to unplug the machine, wait five minutes, then plug it back in again, but in all my life, a stovetop never gave me an error message, and my steaks were about to sail past medium-rare. Not cool! I slid the pan over to the Amana stovetop to finish the sear.
Asked about this, Oliso said that the shutoff mechanism existed to keep the hot skillet from damaging the burner and that their production units (I had a tester) have firmware that would turn the heat down instead of shutting it off altogether.
The thing is, my Amana cooks on high when I tell it to. I contacted a rep for Max Burton, a manufacturer of home and professional induction burners, who said, âLemme guess: Error 2 using a cast iron pan, right?â
The man was a mind reader. He explained that many induction burners have similar guts, and that this particular problem is worse with cast iron. (This is peculiar considering some of the SmartHubâs marketing videos feature an enameled cast iron.) Max Burton, however, has created a firmware solution so that it doesnât happen as much.
Is the Oliso perfect? No. Is it for everybody? No, but if youâre one of the people for whom an induction burner and water bath combination make a lot of sense, thereâs still a lot to love. It will be available May 1st for $499.