search slide
search slide
pages bottom

This gadget was the key to the best steak I've ever cooked

I love steak. That's why, for most of my adult life, I've tried to hone my skills at cooking it. Grilling, pan-frying, broiling — I've done it all, with all kinds of cuts. But a new kind of cooking gadget has taken my steaks to the next level.

It's called the Joule, and when I first saw its promise of cooking perfectly done steaks (via a Facebook ad), I was intrigued, but skeptical. A white cylinder roughly the size of Luke Skywalker's lightsaber handle would supposedly cook steaks better than any grill master. And it used the newly popular (some might say faddish) technique of sous vide.

I'd heard of sous vide, but hadn't thought about it as a way to cook steak. If I'm being honest, I was probably intimidated a little by the fancy name and felt it was probably of interest only to foodies. But don't be fooled like I was — sous vide (pronounced "soo-veed") is very simple: It involves putting food in plastic bags, immersing those bags in water, and then heating the water until the food is cooked.

It sounds a little silly, but the advantage over traditional cooking methods is impressive, even revelatory: Since you only heat the water to the "done" temperature of the food, there's virtually no risk of overcooking. In fact, after your food is cooked, you can typically leave the food in the water for an hour or more without affecting it.

At least that's the promise, and it was enough for me to ask ChefSteps about trying out the Joule, up for preorder now for $199 (it officially ships in September). Though sous vide cooking has been around for a long time, Joule adds another dimension by connecting to your phone and Wi-Fi network.

But don't hold that against it. Joule makes good use of its "smart" capabilities: Not only does it give you notifications for when your food is done, but it also has a great library of cooking guides, each one presented with easy-to-follow instructions and mouth-watering video clips — all optimized for a smartphone screen.

When I first took the Joule out of the box, I wondered why I was ever intimidated by sous vide. The white, lightweight cylinder is almost the epitome of simplicity. The silver top is the only button, and it sports a single LED to show what the gadget is doing. The bottom of the device is magnetic so it'll stay put once you put it in a steel pot, but if your pot's not magnetic there's a clasp on the side.

Joule in hand, I went right to cooking. Joule doesn't provide any plastic bags, so I fell back on some quart-size Ziplocs. ChefSteps doesn't provide any bags or guidance on using them, but I quickly found that, even though sous vide translates to "under vacuum," you really don't have to worry about getting them airtight — make sure there aren't any big bubbles.

I had bought some thick ribeyes from Whole Foods for my inaugural sous vide meal, but realized later that was overkill. It wasn't until my second cook — when I challenged the Joule with some prepackaged chuck steaks from the local Stop N Shop — that I came to truly appreciate the Joule's abilities. I streamed the results of that cook on Facebook Live:

Don't get me wrong — the Joule did an excellent job with the ribeyes. But getting a 2-inch-thick prime ribeye to taste good is the softest of softballs. However, I'm not kidding when I say the cheap chuck steaks actually tasted better, I think because I took the doneness setting on the Joule down to rare (I did medium rare for the ribeyes).

There are disadvantages to sous vide cooking. One is the time involved: The minimum cook time is about 30 minutes (for really thin cuts), but it'll more likely take at least an hour. Since there's little risk of overcooking, that's not so bad: At least you can more or less forget about it and go back to playing Pokémon Go once you press Start. The lesson being the Joule (and sous vide in general) isn't for casual, quick meals.

The bigger issue is finishing. The thing about cooking with water… it doesn't actually sear anything. Which means, to really finish your steak, you need to take I out of the water, remove it from the plastic bag, and toss it on a grill or pan for a minute or two. In other words, there's zero benefit on cleanup.

For perfectly done steaks, however, it's worth the hassle. I've cooked steaks three times with the Joule and turkey breasts once, and every time the food were as juicy and delicious as I wanted — even when I left it cooking a good half hour after it was technically "done."

I'm pretty good with a grill, but one minute too long can often mean the difference between incredible and just okay. With Joule, incredible is the rule, not the exception.

Leave a Reply

Captcha image