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App-powered Precision Cooker promises gourmet techniques with the tap of a button

Normal, everyday kitchen appliances are getting smarter by the second. Scales can tell you how many calories are in that slice of prosciutto. Crockpots are even easier to use, thanks to an app that lets you adjust its temperature. A cup can even tell you what beverage you’re drinking, just in case you forgot. (Really.)

A sous vide is hardly comparable to a toaster—which everyone already has, so smart features make sense—but Anova Culinary would like to change that with its upcoming Precision Cooker designed for home chefs. The Anova Precision Cooker is lightweight, easy to store (it’s about the size of an immersion blender), and pairs with an app on your smartphone, so you can start cooking before you even reach the kitchen.

Anova's Precision Cooker can be controlled from your smartphone and helps you make nom-worthy gourmet meals.

I became slightly obsessed with the sous vide method of cooking after taking the Nomiku for a test run last year, but I had no idea what sous vide (French for “under vacuum”) was before that. A sous vide machine is a water circulator that heats water to a precise temperature and maintains it there. Cooking with this appliance involves vacuum-sealing food in a bag, then slowly cooking it in your sous vide water bath. Vacuum-sealing your food aids in the heat transfer process. Everything is cooked at less than 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), which is the boiling point of water, and often for at least an hour.

The result is tender, succulent meat, as the sous vide method breaks down connective tissue and retains moisture—because the food cooks evenly from the inside out. The precise time and temperature required depends on the item you’re cooking. In addition to cooking meat extraordinarily well, sous vide is great for cooking soft-boiled eggs, fish, and veggies. 

Sous vide requires you to cook at a precise temperature.

Anova has had a precision cooker on the market for some time, but according to Stephen Svajian, CEO of Anova’s PR firm Get Fresh, non-professionals found this method of cooking a little intimidating and unapproachable. “It’s hard to know what time and temperature to cook things,” he said during a demo at the TechHive office, “and web searches for recipes yield too many options without detailed information.” 

So, for Anova’s next-generation precision cooker, the team decided to make it Bluetooth-enabled, so that it could pair with an app that’s already filled with recipes and directions. After you’ve filled a pot with water and set the Precision Cooker in place, all you have to do is launch the app, find a recipe, and tap a button; the Precision Cooker will then heat the water to the proper temperature, and notify you when it’s ready to go. 

Another tap indicates that you’ve started your cook, and the Precision Cooker will send you updates as long as you’re in range. Some recipes require hours of cook time, so with the app, you can check in with the recipe’s progress from time to time. If you’re not in range, the Precision Cooker will log data about the cooking and send it to your phone once you’re back within range. The app component isn’t just helpful for starting recipes, it’s also comes in handy for making sure the temperature is kept constant and for changing the water’s temperature if the recipe calls for gradient cooking. 

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Find a new recipe to try and start warming up the water through the Anova app.

Anova took to—you guessed it—Kickstarter, to get the word out via crowdfunding. It was wildly successful: Anova was hoping for $100,000 in pledges, but wound up with $1.8 million. It’s also planning on releasing the app’s SDK, so other developers can build their own apps to work with the Precision Cooker. 

The demo I participated in was with an early prototype, so it wasn’t without its flaws. The clamping mechanism was difficult to finagle—it took several adjustments to get it to stay put in the pot—and the app can only handle a few recipes right now. But it’s a work in progress, and the team is confident that the whole package will be ready by its January 2015 ship date. (Kickstarter backers will get theirs by October 2014.)

Most importantly, the Chilean sea bass we prepped with the prototype tasted amazingly delicious. I did a simple vacuum seal with a Ziploc bag and some binder clips and used olive oil, salt, and pepper for a quick marinade. After I got the Precision Cooker to stay put, it was just a matter of bringing the water to the correct temperature—I had to manually adjust the temperature with the Precision Cooker’s on screen dial, as the app only has a few dishes in its database right now (and those don’t include sea bass)—but it was quick. And that’s the extent of it.

Seriously: I made Chilean sea bass in an office kitchen, which is a glorified counter with a sink and a few outlets. That’s how easy this technology is to master. 

The Anova Precision Cooker is available for pre-order now for $179 and ships in January 2015. The app will be available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices.

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