Thursday, February 23, 2012

SideKIC: Sous Vide Review (Accuracy/Stability)

Welcome to the third part of my ongoing review of the SideKIC.  The first piece covered SideKIC esthetics, the second part covered SideKIC usage and now we are going to talk about the initial heat up times, the temperature accuracy and temperature stabilization (what happens when we introduce cold product to the water bath).

Initial Heatup 
The first thing I wanted to understand was how long it would take for the SideKIC to bring a water bath up to temperature.  I am less interested in being mathematically precise and more interested in what this would be like for someone who was new to sous vide cooking.  I added 6.25 quarts of hot tap water to a stockpot.  This amount happened to be what it took to get the water levels to the correct place on the SideKIC (between the first and second windows).

I turned on the device, and set the the temperature to 155ºF.  The SideKIC read the initial water temperature as 129ºF.  To be honest, I don't actually do much cooking in the 155 temperature range.  I am usually doing sub 140ºF or over 170ºF temperatures.   With an uncovered and uninsulated stockpot, it took 32 minutes to come up to temperature.

Overall, the time it took to come up to temperature was longer than what I have experienced with other equipment, but it wasn't unreasonable.  This can also be mitigated by adding hot water from a tea kettle to bring the water bath up faster.

Using an external thermometer, I tested multiple spots in the bath for temperature variance, and found that overall the SideKIC kept temperatures to within .7ºF.  For 99% of the cooking you are likely to do, I think this is totally acceptable.  It is also important to note that there are limitations in accuracy with thermometers, and the temperature range didn't exceeded the margin of error.

My stability test was to use the SideKIC to heat up and stabilize a six quart water bath at 140ºF.   Once stabilized I added a hunk of frozen beef.  By hunk, I mean, 430 grams of 2.5" thick chuck roast, that had been hiding in my freezer for quite some time.   After I added the beef, the temperature in the water bath dropped down to 136ºF.  It took about nine minutes for the water bath to return to 140ºF.  After that, the SideKIC overshot by about .6ºF.  It took about another ten minutes to stabilize.  I never observed the temperature of the water bath get much more than .6 degrees off.  Which, again, with the margin of error for my thermometer.  Obviously, adding more frozen product might impact both the bounce back time as well as the degree of temperature overshoot.

The initial heatup can be time consuming, but the accuracy and stability is totally fine for most home use.  You might want to be careful about adding too much frozen product, because I assume if you lower the temperature of the water bath too low you are going to experience a fairly significant stabilization time as the heater will be working overtime to get back up to temperature.

I cannot guarantee that my results will match anyone else's results.  I did my best to perform tests in a way that would be accurate and make sense to readers of this blog.  If you think I should have done things differently, let me know!

Product: SideKIC Immersion Circulator
Manufacturer: ICA Kitchen, LLC
Available at

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sous Vide Supreme On America's Test Kitchen

America's Test Kitchen Video
America's Test Kitchen talks sous vide and uses the Sous Vide Supreme as the basis of the conversation.  I have a lot of opinions about sous vide, as a trend, as a technique and as a market.  At the end of the day though, I am really just enthusiastic about it all.  Which is why, whenever it gets any mainstream coverage, I approve.

I do have a couple of issues with the video:

  1. They give SousVide Supreme all of the credit for the increased adoption of sous vide in the the consumer kitchen.  While there is no doubt that the SousVide Supreme has been pretty important in legitimizing the consumer sous vide market, there are a number of factors that have contributed to the rise of sous vide in the home.  For example, the increased use of sous vide in television shows like Top Chef or Iron Chef America have also contributed to peoples awareness of this technique.
  2. They claim that there are no competitors to the SousVide Supreme which I think is just not true.  There are other devices like the Sous Vide Professional (Polyscience),  Fresh Meals Magic (Fresh Meals Solutions) and most recently the SideKIC (IcaKitchen).
  3. They claim that you cannot overcook your food, which is an easy mistake to make.  Heck, I made this mistake.  While it is true that you can't burn your food, or go past whatever the water temperature of your bath is, you can absolutely overcook your food.  Overcooking just has a different meaning with low temperature cookery.  Low temperature overcooking can be as simple as drying out your short rib, or even basically dissolving a swordfish steak.
Overall, hard to complain.  Visibility like this is great for the whole market.  

After all, a rising tide...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

SideKIC Immersion Circulator Review: Basic Usage

I spent some more time testing the SideKIC over the weekend.  I am really enjoying this sous vide cooker because of the sweet, sweet combination of its compact size, its ability to circulate water, and its overall aesthetic.  While enjoying those factors, I think there is another element that should work really well with folks who want to cook sous vide.  The oft-overlooked UI.  

The basic operations of the SideKIC are really simple.  You configure the SideKIC using the click wheel and the GUI.  Set your temperature and then click start.  The heater will activate and you will see and hear the pump circulating water.  The controller will display the target temperature, along with the current temperature.  

SideKIC Immersion Circulator Usage

The positive side of the water pump that is used by the SideKIC is that it is really quiet.  Other immersion circulators I have used make a fair amount of noise.  This is pretty important for a home kitchen.

The design of the SideKIC does have some builtin limitations and challenges.  Since the heater is not designed to be fully submerged, you need to be somewhat precise about the amount of water you put into the vessel.  The documentation says that the correct water level is between the two "windows" on the heater.

SideKIC Level
This creates a couple of situations where you can make a mistake.  The first is that the amount of water you initially add has to both be at the right level during the initial heating as well as after you add the food you are cooking.  It's easily fixed by removing some water, but since it was the first mistake I made, I thought it was worth mentioning.

SideKIC Crooked
The other place where I had some challenges with the heater was in its stability hanging on the edge of the pot.  Sometimes, the heater would be tilted in one direction or another. One of the causes of this was the length of the cabling that connected the heater to the controller.  There were a couple of times where I moved the controller a tiny bit and ended up bringing the heater with it.  The length of the cabling is also a challenge in that the controller is not supposed to get wet, but the length of the cable keeps it really close to the water vessel.

I think it would be awesome if a future model had a clamp to keep the heater in place and level.  Another option would be to put something against the back of the heater (by back, I mean the side of the heater that faces the inside of the bowl) that can help keep the device level.

Another limitation to be aware of is that it has a maximum temperature of 185ºF.  This won't have much of an impact on meat cookery,  but there are places (e.g. some veg, fruit and dessert-y applications) where this could get in the way.

All in all, these are incredibly minor issues, and it is important to remember that the SideKIC isn't going to be pin compatible with appliances that are two to four times more expensive.  The SideKIC is easy to use and has produced the same quality food that I've gotten when I have used or reviewed other sous vide cooking devices.  I have already recommended it to one of my friends who wants to experiment with sous vide but has some incredible space constraints (*) in his kitchen, but doesn't want to commit to a Polyscience Sous Vide Professional.

Next up will be some stats on my experiences with initial heat up and stabilization after dropping the water temperature using a frozen block of beef.

Previous: SideKIC Sous Vide Review: Initial Thoughts
Next: SideKIC: Sous Vide Review (Accuracy/Stability)

Product: SideKIC Immersion Circulator
Manufacturer: ICA Kitchen, LLC
Available at

(*) If I ever start a band, it shall be called "The Incredible Space Constraints"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why Josh Ozersky Should Boycott Chik-fil-A.

Been awhile since I wrote a food politics post, but Josh Ozersky got the juices flowing with his latest article "Why I Wont Be Boycotting Chik-Fil-A".  In the article, Josh talks about something that probably won't surprise you.  Chik-fil-A is one of the few companies that identifies as Christian and has a charitable arm that donates money to organizations that promote Christian values.  In some number of cases, these organizations actively oppose same sex marriage.  While he does not support these organizations, he has decided not to boycotr Chik-fil-A, and here's why:

Chick-fil-A, the fast-food outlet, has one plane of interaction with the public: its sandwiches, sodas and waffle fries. The prices are fair, its employment practices not onerous, and the food is good, especially if you are as devoted to MSG as I am. You could make a strong argument that the suffering their chickens endure prior to becoming sandwiches constitutes a kind of original sin; and that’s something you have to think about. But businesses should be judged by their products and practices, not by their politics.
This feels like a cop-out to me.  There are arguments I can relate to, but this is not one of them.  When a business donates money, that is a practice, not some abstract political belief.  When you spend money at a business that will take some portion of that money and donate towards a cause you morally oppose, it evidence of a hypocrisy.   Oddly enough, I don't take issue with hypocrisy.  It's human.  Especially in food.

I also believe there is a place where if the dial were turned, Josh probably wouldn't spend money at Chik-fil-A.  Say they were 100% owned and operated by an organization dedicated to fighting same sex marriage, and every dollar earned would go towards fighting same sex marriage.

If Josh were to say that he feels that the amount of money he inadvertently funnels to organizations he detests is small enough that it is within the noise of his comfort level, I don't know if I would argue that.  I suspect that this is actually what is going on, and would actually be a reasonable argument.  I am sure that everyday, some portion of the money every consumer spends will go towards a cause they detest. If he had just clearly stated that, I probably wouldn't have written this.   But, he didn't.  He came up with some really odd logic and poor comparisons.  For example:

But, just as with JC Penney and DeGeneres, it doesn’t seem fair to me. Should you boycott the Grammys because they put on the guy who beat up Rihanna? Then you would have missed Adele. When I was a kid, it was taken for granted that Jews should never drive Fords or go to Disney World, since both Ford and Disney were notoriously anti-Semitic. My father’s reasoning was that, since everyone back then was anti-Semitic, picking on Ford and Disney was arbitrary and pointless.  There are none righteous, not one, as St. Paul said; businesses should be judged on what they do — to their customers, their employees, their suppliers and their chickens — and not on what they do with their profits. That’s part of living in a free society too.
I have no comprehension on what fair has anything to do with anything.  Fair to Josh?  Fair to Chik-fil-A?     I actually think that the boycott might just be the only fair interaction between consumers and corporations.  Don't like how an organization behaves, don't spend money to support it.  If enough people agree with you, the business can make the decision about what is in its best interest.  If their principles are stronger than their desire to make money, then they can downsize accordingly.  If they would rather profit, then they can change their spending habits.  

The comparisons to JC Penney and the Grammy's are just bananas.  One Million Moms wanted to organize a boycott until JC Penney fires Ellen Degeneres for being a lesbian.  They are basically boycotting JC Penney until JC Penney decides to break the law by terminating a spokesperson because of their sexual preference.

I don't know if you should boycott the Grammy's because of the their decision to have Chris Brown perform.  But I definitely know missing the Adele performance is the worst reason to not boycott the Grammy's if you think they are in the wrong.  Following that logic through suggests that you shouldn't boycott Chick-fil-A for opposing gay marriage because then you don't get to eat a chicken sandwich.

The only time anyone stands for their principles is when there is a cost associated with it.  That is why people who actually stand by their beliefs in the face of adversity, deserve our respect.

Even when adversity is as simple as not eating a chicken sandwich.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

SideKIC Sous Vide Review: Initial Thoughts

SideKIC Immersion Circulator

Earlier this week, I received a SideKIC sous vide controller.  This 170$ entry into the sous vide consumer market looks like it is going to offer a lot of value.  The SideKIC is an immersion circulator.  This means that there is a heating element that can be put into a bowl or pot and it will simultaneously heat and then circulate (pump) the water.  Many people consider water circulation critical to maintaining temperature stability.

The (sorta) Unbox

Unlike most immersion circulators, the SideKIC separates out the heating unit from the controller.   All of the controls of the device are done through a color UI, somewhat resembling an iPod.  There is a scroll wheel (ok, its a dial) used to navigate through the menus.  The dial also acts as a button, and pressing it allows you to make a selection.  As I said, it's like a Sous Vide iPod.

Controller/iPhone Comparison Size

The SideKIC is also pretty tiny, which is great if you have a small kitchen.   It can easily fit inside of just about any pot you were going to use to cook with, so in theory, you can buy one and have it not take up any additional space in your kitchen.

As far as initial drawbacks go, I think the biggest compromise made to produce the SideKIC was the power of the heating element.  Its heater is not nearly as powerful as immersion circulators designed for professionals.  As a result, it takes longer to initially bring up a water bath to temperature.  This might also have implications on stabilizing temperature after product is put into heated bath.  The manufacturer is very straight forward about this on their website, where they also recommend that you not use more than ten quarts of water in your water bath.

Continue to the second part of my SideKIC Review.

Product: SideKIC Immersion Circulator
Manufacturer: ICA Kitchen, LLC
Available at

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