House & Home

These smart kitchen devices are worth an investment

The Hestan Cue induction burner talks to a recipe app using Bluetooth technology. Embedded sensors automatically adjust the temperature and time through each step of a recipe.
The Hestan Cue induction burner talks to a recipe app using Bluetooth technology. Embedded sensors automatically adjust the temperature and time through each step of a recipe. Tribune News Service

Smart technology is making its way into the kitchen in ways big and small, but not everything will get you cooking.

Splashier items like Wi-Fi-connected refrigerators and stoves that let you operate them remotely look cool, but cooking experts aren’t sold on them yet for home use, noting that the technology may be obsolete long before the traditional aspect of the appliance stops working.

Instead, they say these three smart gadgets are worth a home chef’s dollars:

▪ Sous vide machine: Long a favorite of chefs, sous vide machines are coming down in price and making their way into home kitchens. Sous vide machines allow food to retain more flavor by cooking it slowly in an airtight bag under circulating water at low temperatures.

Both chef Brian Schreiber, educational representative at Kendall College, and Lance Nitahara, lecturing instructor at Culinary Institute of America, raved about them.

“It’s a really great way to cook to maximize your flavor,” Schreiber said. “I think in the next year or two, sous vide is going to pop up more and more, especially as people get more educated. It creates a controlled environment that you don’t get with traditional cooking.”

Although these machines are coming down in price, the two experts caution home chefs to not automatically pick the cheapest ones. “You get what you pay for,” Nitahara said.

The low and slow cooking times make monitoring sous vide cooking from an app easy. Two top smart sous vide machines are the Anova Precision Cooker ($149) and the ChefSteps Joule ($199). Tests by popular technology magazines show they essentially cook the same. The main difference is the Anova can be controlled by both manual touch and app, while the Joule is controlled almost exclusively via the app.

▪ Smart thermometer: Lisa McManus, executive tasting and testing editor at America’s Test Kitchen, said though some smart kitchen devices feel like either the technology or the device’s function is an afterthought, that’s not the case with a smart thermometer.

In America’s Test Kitchen tests, the top choice was the iDevices Kitchen Thermometer ($39.99), a Bluetooth-enabled smart thermometer. When home chefs need to step away while cooking, using an app to check on the food’s temperature is a handy way to avoid overcooking the meal.

“It gave us accurate, clear temperature readouts, which is basically what you want in a good thermometer. The ‘smart’ side of this product — where it uses Bluetooth to send information to your phone — works as well as the thermometer itself. What’s more, applying smart technology here isn’t just an extra; it solves a real problem,” McManus said.

A host of other smart thermometers are available, such as Weber’s iGrill2 ($99), which was made specifically for a grill’s high temperatures.

▪ Induction burner: It’s one of Nitahara’s favorite cooking devices. These burners are more efficient than gas burners; they heat up fast and cool off quickly, plus they let chefs digitally control the exact temperature.

“If you have recipes you did once and it turned out great, you can notate what number you set it to and get that number every single time. I use my pressure cooker and can adjust to the number I want it to be for maximum pressure,” he said.

While most induction burners are part of complete ranges, some single induction burner plates with Wi-Fi capability are coming out.

Nitahara said to work on an induction burner, a pan must be made of a magnetic material, meaning aluminum pans won’t work.

Hestan Cue’s single induction burner ($549) comes with a smart pan that works with the induction burner and includes a recipe app via Bluetooth technology that guides users through cooking and automatically adjusts the temperature for each step.

“It’s the future of cooking today,” Nitahara says. “A lot of kitchens are turning to induction burners.”