Breville Joule Turbo review: sous vide with speed

Sous vide cooking has a lot of advantages. It can make a cheap cut of meat taste like an expensive one, it can deliver unparalleled juiciness and tenderness, and it can do all of that while being just about idiot-proof. It also has some disadvantages, chief among them being that it’s slow. I can think of several occasions when I wanted to sous vide something for dinner, only to realize that it would be 11PM by the time it was done. Well, the new $250 Breville Joule Turbo Sous Vide promises to cut cook times by as much as half, and it does it with the power of some serious math.

A quick refresher for those who need it. Sous vide is a cooking technique that uses a circulating immersion heater to bring a bath of water to a very specific temperature and keep it there. That water never touches the food, though (unless you’re hard-boiling eggs). Instead, you season the food as you like and then put it in a plastic or silicone bag, press all the air out, and drop it in that hot water bath. When it’s all done, you give it a quick sear just for that Maillard reaction flavor (akin to caramelization), plate it, and eat it.

Breville Joule Turbo

$249.95

The GoodFaster sous vide cookingEasy to set and programReliably accurate temperaturesThe BadExpensiveApp is missing non-Turbo recipesNo controls on the device itselfHow we rate and review products

This technique is especially beneficial for meats because it’s essentially impossible to overcook or undercook them. If you think 131 degrees Fahrenheit is the perfect temperature for your steak, you set the water to 131 degrees and put it in there. As long as you give it enough time, the entire steak will come to exactly 131 degrees, meaning it’s perfect all the way through, even if your guests get stuck in a snowstorm and it ends up cooking for six hours. 

In fact, for cheaper, leaner cuts of meat, slower is generally better. These cuts tend to be leaner and have a lot of connective tissue. Cooking them slowly allows the collagen to melt and brings out amazing savory flavors, but because it’s all bagged up, it can’t dry out, so all those juices stay right where they’re supposed to be. 

The Joule Turbo is the new and improved version of the original ChefSteps Joule sous vide. Breville bought ChefSteps a few years ago, so now it’s called the Breville Joule Turbo (this caused a bit of confusion when I couldn’t get the ChefSteps Joule app to work with the new device. I just had to install the Breville Joule app instead). 

Like the original, the Joule Turbo is a handsome and compact device. It’s just over 12 inches long and just under two inches in diameter, so it fits easily in virtually any kitchen drawer, which I love. Truth be told, there’s virtually no visible difference between the original and the Turbo hardware-wise. I was told that Breville has a “higher standard for longevity” than perhaps ChefSteps did, so the internal components have been made a bit more robust. The only thing that’s obvious is that it’s an inch or so taller, and it now sports a tougher “Breville plug” on the power cord.

The long and skinny shape of the Joule Turbo makes it easy to store in a kitchen drawer.

The Joule’s strong clip keeps it in place while it cooks.

The good news is that everything that was good about the original hasn’t changed with the Turbo. Despite its diminutive size, water still heats up faster than any other sous vide I’ve tested. It’s also capable of heating a bath as large as 10 gallons, which is truly massive, but its water inlet is low, so it can also run in just a few inches of water (the magnetic foot helps stabilize it in a pot, and the robust metal clip on the side will hold it in place, too). 

The bad news is that there are still no manual controls on the device itself. A simple knob and display would go a long way here, as sometimes you just want to put the thing in some water, set it, and walk away. Instead, using the smartphone app is mandatory, which connects to it via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

That inconvenience aside, the app is generally excellent. Once you’re plugged in and connected, you just choose a recipe, like a salmon steak, for example. The app walks you through everything you need to do and has “visual doneness” videos, which show you what your food will look like depending on which temperature you choose. With the salmon example, set it to 104F (40C) for “soft and buttery,” 113F (45C) for “delicate and juicy,” 122F (50C) for “tender and flaky” (which gets Breville’s “our fave” designation), or 131F (55C) for “piecey and firm.” For each of those options, there’s a short video of a fork pulling apart a salmon steak cooked to that corresponding temp, showing you what the texture will be like. It’s very simple but incredibly effective, as it eliminates a lot of the guesswork if you’re cooking something new. The various meats actually did turn out like the videos suggested in my tests, which is to say pretty incredible. 

Breville’s app allows you to choose a recipe and then walks you through the process of cooking your food.

Turbo mode is the new model’s namesake and the only obvious upgrade from the original. As I mentioned, sous vide cooking is generally very slow, but using Turbo mode can actually cut the cook time in half and still make it almost impossible to screw up. The way it does this is by making the water bath a higher temperature than you ultimately want your food to be, but lowering it again just before it reaches the target temp, and then keeping it right there until you’re ready to pull it out and sear it. The idea is that as the temperature differential between the food and the water bath gets smaller and smaller, it takes longer and longer for the food to get up to temp, so those last couple of degrees can seemingly take ages. By increasing the temp of the water bath, the food gets up to the target temperature much faster.

Doing this, however, takes some rather intense calculations. After all, if the machine overshoots, then your food could come out tough and overcooked, which defeats the whole purpose of sous vide cooking. (I can overcook things just fine on my own, thank you very much.) So, the Joule app will ask you for the thickness of the cut of meat, how many separate pieces, and the total weight. With that knowledge, it will estimate the cook time, and you’re off to the races. It will even be able to figure out how much water is in the bath based on how fast it heats up, so it will know how much time it needs to cool it off again. 

That was a lot of words to tell you how the thing works, but you’re probably wanting to know how well it works. The short answer is incredibly well. It’s effectively the same device as the original Joule, which was very good, but with the added Turbo trick. In the regular sous vide mode, I made an incredible 2-inch, soy and ginger glazed mahi mahi that was incredibly moist and flaky, and I made a bag of pre-marinated pollo asado from Trader Joe’s that was so nice and tender. All that was to be expected, but it was the Turbo mode I was really curious about. 

Sous vide cooking allows you to evenly cook your meats without overcooking any part of it.

The Joule Turbo can reliably bring meat to the exact temp you specify.

For my first foray, I bought a top sirloin steak from the store before I realized that the Joule app didn’t have a sirloin recipe. Oh well, I figured I’d just fudge it and use the fillet mignon settings. This was a mistake. Sirloin is a much leaner cut, and it takes time for the connective tissue to break down and melt, so it turned out okay, but it was a bit chewy. That was my fault, though. 

The next week I bought a proper 1.5-inch filet mignon tenderloin (on sale at Costco, no less) and used the Turbo mode for medium rare (131F / 55C). A cut like that could easily take two hours, but with Turbo, it was ready to be seared in just 50 minutes. I slapped it on a blazing hot cast iron pan for 30 seconds on each side and… it was absolute perfection. Better than nearly every fancy steakhouse steak I’ve ever had. Honestly, I can’t stop thinking about it. 

When I made a pair of 1.5-inch-thick chicken breasts using the Turbo mode, I set it to 161 degrees. At one point, the water bath got as high as 175 degrees before dropping down again just in time. It took just 55 minutes, and they turned out tender and juicy, with just a bit of variation in the texture throughout. Without Turbo mode, that cook would have normally taken around 100 minutes.

Now, there are some Turbo caveats. For starters, Turbo mode only works with certain cuts of meat, and these are pretty exclusively tender cuts. They do turn out great, but if you’re wanting to experience the magic of making a cheap cut taste like an expensive one, you’re still going to want to use the slower, non-turbo method. The Breville team has expanded the Turbo recipes in just the last few weeks, but at the time of writing, there are no fish settings, much to my surprise. I asked the team at Breville about this, and they said that fish is surprisingly tricky. For example, farmed salmon in the US cooks differently than farmed salmon in Australia, and wild salmon cooks differently than either of those. There are no Turbo veggie recipes yet, either. 

Turbo mode is limited to certain cuts of meat and only fresh cuts, nothing frozen

Lastly, Turbo mode currently only works with fresh cuts, not frozen. This is because the temperature differential is just too great, so by the time the core gets up to the target temp, the outside would be overdone. You can sous vide from frozen, but the problem is Breville seems to have removed the non-Turbo recipes where there might have been both, so you’ll be winging it. When I wanted to cook a fillet from frozen, I had to search around until I found the Basic Steak recipe and follow that. Hopefully, Breville adds those recipes back or at least makes Turbo something you can toggle on and off. 

That being said, you don’t have to use any of Breville’s recipes at all if you don’t want. You can always follow a recipe you find online and manually set the time and temperature within the app. You can also use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to set the water temp with your voice, but frankly, that’s probably more trouble than it’s worth.

Aside from the lack of physical controls, really my only other gripe is the app could be better about helping you find analogs for things. For example, when I searched for mahi mahi in the app, it turned up no results. I had to ask Google for fish that were similar. It suggested halibut, which also wasn’t in the app. Eventually, I got to cod, which there was a Joule recipe for, and which did indeed work extremely well, but it took too much work to find it. There are a few points where instructions could be a bit clearer, too. With regular sous vide cooking, you preheat the bath and then add the food. With the Turbo, you add the food while the water is still cool and let it all heat up together. I did eventually figure that out, but more explicit directions would be helpful. 

Once the sous vide process is done, it’s important to sear the food in a pan to finish it off.

It’s worth noting that there’s a potential integration coming down the pipe. Breville also makes the Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro ($550), which is arguably the smartest air fryer / toaster oven out there. It, too, has deep app integrations, so it would make sense that the two Breville apps could talk with each other and work together. When speaking with Breville, they talked about the potential of starting a cook with the Joule Turbo and then finishing it in the Joule Air Fryer. Perhaps it could also help coordinating the sides in the oven so they’re all ready at the same time. That all remains to be seen, though, and you shouldn’t buy the Joule Turbo today with the expectation that integration will ever arrive.

Ultimately, the Joule Turbo is terrific, but it also feels like an incremental upgrade from the original. That’s not a bad thing, really, since the original is still one of the best you can buy. If you don’t already have a sous vide, this is an easy rec. It’s compact but powerful, it looks good, and the food it produces is truly delicious. The Turbo feature really is nice, and considering that cook time is often a barrier to entry for people, this faster way to sous vide is very much welcome, and hopefully, more recipes (looking at you, fish) will be added soon. At $250, it’s on the steeper side when it comes to home sous vide devices (you can get very solid ones for under $100), but it’s easily the best sous vide app out there, and it does a lot of hand-holding to walk you through it if you’re new. If you already have the original Joule, you qualify for $75 off the new one. 

Overall, it’s very worth your time and conveniently asks less of it.

Photography by Brent Rose for The Verge

Agree to Continue: Breville Joule Turbo

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

To use the Breville Joule Turbo, you must download and install Breville’s app.

When installing and using the app, you agree to:

Breville’s privacy policyBreville’s terms of use

To pair the Joule Turbo to the app, you must create a Breville account and give the app permission to use Bluetooth.

Total: four mandatory steps to use the Joule Turbo.