Once a tool only for the pros, supply has driven the price of immersion circulators down pretty significantly. While you can spend in the thousands, there’s no reason to do so. The one I have been using is a little pricey, but $200 will get you in the door these days.
No piece of gear will make you a good cook. Sounds obvious, but we forget that in the dazzling world of advertisement and mass media. Myron Mixon tells you he can outcook anyone with a trash can, and he’s probably right. So, let’s just rid ourselves of that fallacy and move on. Consider this scenario, though: steaks at my grocery store went on sale for half off. I bought a dozen, seasoned, vacuum sealed, and froze them. When we wanted steak dinner, I reheated them in the water bath at 125F for about 90 minutes while I made everything else, and then seared them as hot and fast as I could. The result was one of the most perfectly cooked medium rare steaks I’ve ever cooked or tasted.
Why you need one
1. Thawing. Nothing is as fast or effective, but it depends on a barrier between the food and the water.
2. Eggs. If you want fancy, soft boiled eggs, you can sit there with your egg timer, or you can do it this way. One is time and attention intensive, the other is fire and forget.
3. Flavor concentration. When it doesn’t diffuse either into water or oil, the flavors only intensify under pressure. It makes stuff taste more like what it is.
4. Timing. When you’re busy and you want your food cooked properly, you may not have time to sit there and babysit it. Considering you can’t physically make food go beyond the temperature set point, overcooking is (almost) impossible.
5. You don’t know what you don’t know. It opens up a completely new set of possibilities, most of which you haven’t even considered.
Why you don’t
1. Cost, but that’s inevitably going to come down. Like VCRs. Now no one has one.
2. Precision with regard to cooking times. Sometimes it can be hard to tell when something’s done, and you have to rely on web-published charts or experience. And we all know that although good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment.
3. Food safety. There’s a potential for decreased food safety with this technique, just be careful.
4. If you’re anti-plastic and don’t want it touching your food, this is not for you.
5. It won’t make you a better cook. Only time, repetition, and experience will.