Sous-vide appliance companies have recently stepped up their precision-cooking prowess. These manufacturers, which often debut their products on crowdfunding sites, are cultivating their niche market by introducing connectivity into the kitchen. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have become the popular new additions for sous-vide immersion circulators such as the Anova Precision Cooker Bluetooth + Wi-Fi and Nomiku Sous Vide Immersion Circulator. And now manufacturers of countertop sous-vide systems are adding the efficiency and precision of induction to their devices to improve water-bath cooking.
The Oliso SmartHub & Top consists of an induction-powered base that heats the water in the SmartTop, the vessel that fits on top of the base. (GE’s FirstBuild microfactory initiativeintroduced a similar product, the Paragon Induction Cooktop, early this year on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, but it still isn’t available.) The Oliso is an effective sous-vide system that has a special touch when it comes to beef, as evidenced by tender steaks that repeatedly came out of the test kitchen. The Oliso also offers tons of versatility. The hub doubles as an induction cooktop, and you can also use the SmartTop to cook foods such as soups or whole chickens.
But Oliso carries some of the same disadvantages of other countertop systems, such as the Eades Appliance Technology’s SousVide Supreme: The water tank is cumbersome and heavy when it’s time to remove it to use the induction burner or dump the water. And the Oliso’s $500 price tag (which converts to about £330 in the UK and AU$680 in Australia) is on par with other water-bath systems, but double the price of immersion circulators that do the same job.
The Oliso is a solid purchase if you’re interesting in a complete sous vide system. If $500 is too steep, go for a cheaper, go for a connected immersion circulator such as the Anova with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Oliso marries sous vide and induction
The Oliso SmartTop is designed for sous-vide cooking, a style in which you vacuum-seal food in plastic bags — the name means “under vacuum” in French — and immerse it in a temperature-controlled water bath that cooks your dish. The SmartTop slides onto the SmartHub induction base, which uses as much as 1,500 watts of electromagnetic energy to generate heat for the water in the top. This is the same induction technology we’ve seen in ranges such as the Samsung and Kenmore, and it is considered a more precise, safe and efficient way to heat food.
The Oliso SmartHub & Top’s structure makes this one of the most flexible sous-vide machines we’ve seen because each component can be used for other tasks. The induction hub works as a standalone cooktop for other pots and pans (as long as the cookware contains magnetic material, a limitation of induction cooking). Oliso also plans to roll out other tops that work with the hub; the first addition to the Oliso system will be the Griddle SmartTop for which the company launched a successful Kickstarter campaign. You can also connect the SmartTop to the hub and use the vessel for cooking foods without sous vide, such as slow cooking a whole chicken or making broth. These additional functions make the system more appealing than an immersion circulator, which contains a heater and circulator and attaches to the side of a pot.The hefty SmartTop, which measures 13 by 11 by 9 inches (330 by 279 by 229mm), is stainless steel with black accents, curved sides and a removable glass lid. A series of lights on the front of the top turn red when water is heating and green when it has reached the set temperature. The generous volume is great for cooking, but creates logistical problems.
The SmartTop takes up valuable counter space, and the unit is cumbersome when you lift it. On its own, the top weighs nearly 7.5 pounds (3.4kg), and that weight climbs above 20 pounds (9kg) when you fill the unit with water.
The SmartHub is also stainless steel and has a black base with a digital display as well as buttons on the front. As an induction cooktop, the hub was large enough to accommodate a 5-quart (5.7-liter) pot that’s 9.75 inches (248mm) wide. The base’s display changes depending on whether you’re using the hub as an induction cooktop or in tandem with the SmartTop for sous-vide cooking. When the SmartTop is on the base, the display shows settings for cooking with sous vide: set temperature, actual temperature and a timer. A small picture of a fish in a bag appears on the screen when the water has reached the set temperature.
I just wish it wasn’t 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 I’d 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 ‘E02’ error message. The user manual says you’re 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, “Lemme guess: Error 2 using a cast iron pan, right?”
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 SmartHub’s marketing videos feature an enameled cast iron.) Max Burton, however, has created a firmware solution so that it doesn’t happen as much.
Is the Oliso perfect? No. Is it for everybody? No, but if you’re one of the people for whom an induction burner and water bath combination make a lot of sense, there’s still a lot to love.