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You've mastered the classics, from the Old Fashioned, to the Cosmopolitan, to the Paper Plane. And you have all the gadgets, from a crushed ice maker for Juleps to a smoker for smoked Negronis. Now what? It’s time for you to dive into the high-tech world of sous vide infusions.
Okay, it’s actually not all that high-tech. “Exploring sous vide is a lot easier than you might expect,” says Alex Day, partner of Gin & Luck. “All you really need is an immersion circulator, a large stockpot (or another container capable of holding a lot of water), and some durable Ziploc bags. With this setup and a little practice, you can begin exploring syrups and infusions.”
Of course, when it comes to the immersion circulator, there are a lot of choices. “There are so many immersion circulators available now representing a huge spectrum of prices–from around $100 to well over a thousand—and with various levels of durability,” says Day. Luckily we're here to point you in the right direction. Here are the best sous vides you can get right now for at-home cocktail making.
Best Overall: Breville Joule
Can only be used with an app
“I’ve been around the block with a half dozen circulators and the Joule is the fastest heating, most consistent and easiest to store of anything I tried,” says food, spirits, and travel writer Noah Kaufman.
Compact, sleek, and Bluetooth capable, this is a circulator that looks good on a countertop—not that it will take up much space at just four inches wide. Created by ChefSteps, a site known for high-quality food videos, and Breville, it is perfect for the tech-savvy bartenders out there, as it is only operated by way of an app. It also has a magnetic base, so it can free-stand in any metal pot—no clamping or screwing required. And did we mention it can be controlled by voice with an Amazon Echo or Google Home? Techy ‘tenders, we see you drooling.
Dimensions: 11 x 1.85 x 1.85 inches | Capacity: 40+ liters, 10+ gallons
Runner Up, Best Overall: Anova Precision Cooker
Easy to use
Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity
Louder than last model
Requires more water than the Joule
Small enough to fit in a kitchen drawer, this go-to for many sous vide enthusiasts clips onto a pot with ease. “It’s clear and easy to use and has Bluetooth connectivity if you want to monitor or change your temperature while away from the machine,” says cocktail Youtuber Matej Novak whose DIY sous vide vermouth recipe has gotten some attention.
While it can be controlled via an app, it also features buttons and a display so the semi-luddites amongst us can leave their phones behind. It’s consistent, easy to use, and can heat up to 100 liters of water so you can make a big batch of that custom-infused vermouth.
Dimensions: 14.75 x 2.75 x 2.75 inches | Capacity: 100 liters, 26 gallons
Best Budget: Monoprice Strata Home Sous Vide Precision Cooker 800W
Can be loud
Not as powerful as others
Not sure you’re ready to invest a lot of cash in your sous vide endeavors? This model costs nearly a quarter of the money of our top picks, so you don’t have to feel bad about not breaking it out of the cabinet every day.
“If you’re just dabbling and don’t expect to use the circulator more than a couple times a week, a lower-priced model will generally work,” says Day. This one is perfectly acceptable. No, you can’t use it to prepare huge batches of infusions. No, it doesn’t have an app—you’ll have to operate it via its LED screen. But it will get the water bath up to your desired temperature and hold it there, which is really all you need if you’re just playing around with simple flavored syrups and quickly infused spirits.
Dimensions: 16.2 x 8.2 x 4.4 inches | Capacity: 15 liters, 4 gallons
Related: The Best Garnishing Tools in 2021
Runner Up, Best Budget: Wancle Thermal Immersion Circulator
Easy to use LED display
Requires a lot of water to use
Clip is not suitable for all containers
At about half the cost of our top pick, this immersion circulator will get the job done (pretty quietly!) on a budget. It’s great for people who appreciate a more hands-on approach to their sous vide cooking. It features an LED screen that is controlled with a wheel, so you can manually adjust the desired temperature and time, then just press start to get the bath warming.
Instead of a screw, the Wancle clips on with an alligator-style clip that can be opened one-handed with the handle on top of the device. This is great as long as you are using a pot or container that fits the predetermined widths. The handle also adds to the bulk of the gadget, so you will need some decent drawer or cabinet space for storage.
Dimensions: 14.2 x 8.5 x 4.7 inches | Capacity: 15 liters, 4 gallons
Best Splurge: Breville + Polyscience HydroPro Plus
Can program presets
Might seem complicated
“If you’re in a working bar or restaurant where you’ll be cooking with it every day, I highly recommend a commercial-grade unit—a consumer model will burn out on you in a couple months,” says Day.
“Technology keeps advancing, and my favorite circulator is Breville + Polyscience’s HydroPro Plus. It’s extremely well built and packed with tons of features.” Those features include a “Sous Vide Toolbox,” which, according to the brand, “simplifies sous vide cooking by using scientific algorithms to calculate time to temperature and pasteurization for a vast range of foods.” You can also program presets so once you are happy with your basil-infused rye recipe, you can set it and forget it. If you’re firing up the sous vide every other day, this Cadillac of a machine is for you.
Dimensions: 14.6 x 3.7 x 6.7 inches | Capacity: 45 liters, 12 gallons
Best Most Versatile: Instant Pot Max
Easy to program via LCD screen
You get to own a trendy Instant Pot
Some reports of temperature inaccuracy
If the idea of owning a single-use gadget bothers you, you can spring for this multi-cooker instead. The Instant Pot Max can act as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, sterilizer, warmer, yogurt maker, searer, a pressure canner, and, most importantly for our purposes, a sous vide. While it doesn’t circulate the water, per se, it can heat water and hold it at a precise temperature. This is a great option for people who are interested in sous vide infusion, but also want to whip up a batch of yogurt or pressure cook some short ribs in their spare time.
Dimensions: 13.8 x 13.8 x 13 inches | Capacity: 6 quarts, 1.5 gallons
Related: The Best Cocktail Shakers in 2021
Best Compact: Instant Pot Accu Slim Sous Vide
Small and compact
Easy to use touch screen
No Bluetooth connectivity
Slightly short power cord
Not as sleek as others
While it is designed to work with the six- and eight-quart inner pots of the Instant Pot, you don’t need to own one of the smart cookers to use this immersion circulator. Thanks to the screw-style clamp, it can be attached to any container (with a max height of 8’’).
Easy to store and simple to use thanks to touch-screen digital controls, it’s a good option for cocktailians looking to dip their toe into the world of sous vide since it’s more affordable than some of our top picks. And if you’re already an Instant Pot devotee, this add-on is a no-brainer.
Dimensions: 12.9 x 4.6 x 2.55 inches | Capacity: 8 quarts, 2 gallons
Best Easy to Use: Anova Culinary Precision Cooker Nano
Small and sleek
More affordable than the Anova Precision Cooker
Not as powerful as some models
Can only be controlled by app
Long preheating time
Less expensive than the flagship Anova, the Nano still connects to an app via Bluetooth like its sister, making it easy to program and start infusing. It’s small enough to fit in a drawer with other semi-used tools (like that milk frother or the smoking gun you swore you’d be using to make a daily smoked Manhattan), and it can adjust to a range of pot or container widths thanks to its screw clamp.
This is casual but reliable sous vide, great for those looking to dive into the world of infusing without reading any books or doing too much extra research. Just fire up the app and follow along.
Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.2 x 4.1 inches | Capacity: 5 gallons, 19 liters
Related: The Best Muddlers in 2021
Best for Large Batches: Anova Precision Cooker Pro
Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity
Made with durable stainless steel and teflon-coated aluminum
A bit heavy
Looks slightly clunky
Starting a side hustle selling infused syrups? Working on big batches of flavored spirits for the holidays? This immersion circulator is powerful enough to hold bag after bag of whatever you’re infusing at just the right temperature.
The biggest brother of the Anova family, it can handle up to 26 gallons of water. You can fit a lot of vacuum-sealed bags in that type of volume. It’s built to be used continuously, so don’t worry about it sputtering out on you when you’re making your tenth batch of olive-infused vodka. This is an immersion circulator created for the pros that you can use at home.
Dimensions: 13.8 x 3.5 x 2.4 inches | Capacity: 26 gallons, 100 liters
You can’t go wrong with any of the Anova products, but our money is on the Breville Joule (view at Amazon). The magnetic base and sleek, attractive appearance give it that edge. But if you are a professional bartender, trust expert Alex Day and splurge on the Breville + Polyscience HydroPro Plus (view at Amazon).
How does a sous vide work?
Sous vide translates to “under vacuum” in French. Essentially, you place food (or a liquid and spice, herb, fruit, etc. for an infusion) in a bag and remove as much air from it as possible—that way it won’t float. Then you place the bag in a temperature-controlled water bath and let it cook. It allows you to bring the food (or infusion) up to the perfect temperature.
In the cocktailing world, “sous vide can be hugely helpful in extracting flavors in ways impossible by traditional techniques,” says Day. “Be it a syrup or an infusion, using an immersion circulator to precisely control heat can open the door to amazing new flavors, speed up prep, and allow your ingredients to be more consistent.” For example, instead of simply tossing coconut flakes into a bottle of bourbon and letting it sit for weeks, Day puts the mix in a vacuum-sealed bag and sous vides it at 145°F for two hours. “The fat softens, and the bourbon’s alcohol extracts its flavor. After allowing the fully-bagged mix to sit overnight in a freezer then fine straining through a coffee filter, the result is a fantastically delicious infusion.”
What's the best way to clean a sous vide?
Even though your immersion circulator is mostly just in contact with water, minerals can build up on the outside so you do need to clean it every now and then. If you have a sealed sous vide that cannot be taken apart, such as a Joule, place the machine in a pot with equal parts distilled white vinegar and water and set the Joule to 140°F. When it reaches that temperature, it’s done. If you can take your sous vide apart, use the same vinegar-water bath method. When it’s done and has cooled down, take the sous vide apart and scrub the individual parts with the vinegar-water or soap and water.
Do I need to buy a separate vacuum sealer?
No. You can use high-grade ziplock-style bags that are BPA- and dioxin-free. Just make sure to get as much of the air out as possible. You can also use glass jars when infusing via sous vide. Be sure to leave a little breathing room at the top for the mixture to expand and bring the jars up to temperature very slowly so they don’t break from shock.
What to Look For
Do you want to control your sous vide via an app or would you prefer to use a digital interface directly on the machine? Check out the tool’s capabilities.
The higher the wattage, the more powerful the machine. In general, an at-home sous vide enthusiast can get by very well with a 750-watt immersion circulator.
The more water the sous vide can circulate, the more bags of infusions you can cook in it. If you’re looking to cook big batches, be sure to look for a capacity of 10 gallons or more. If you’re just dabbing, a couple gallons will be just fine.
Why Trust Liquor.com?
Justine Sterling is an experienced spirits writer and cocktail recipe developer. She has been writing about the wide world of drinking—from new spirits to cocktail trends to wines and beers—for over a decade. Her home bar is always stocked with a range of spirits, from the staples to the downright strange (including some infusions of her own making), and she has serious opinions about Martinis.