The SideKIC is a new, affordable immersion circulator designed for the home cook, though it may find its way into some commercial kitchens, where an extra sous vide appliance offers great flexibility.
At $169.95 this is by far the least expensive sous vide solution on the market yet it offers a friendly interface, precise temperature control, and even heat distribution.
This is all you need to get started with sous vide cooking. You can cook in a pot, a bowl, a beer cooler, or a food storage container — practically any small, heat-resistant vessel with vertical walls. You can use zip-lock bags for your food, sealing with the water displacement method.
At this low price, what’s missing?
The SideKIC uses a 300-watt heater element, similar to those used to heat a cup of water for tea or coffee. That’s a fraction of the power of competitive sous vide units, which means that it takes longer to initially raise the temperature of the water and that it’s limited to a high temperature of 185°F (85°C).
Although we have a few recipes on this website that specify higher temperature cooking, this circulator can tackle most sous vide recipes, including many vegetables which cook at 185°F (85°C).
And you can shorten your startup time by boiling water on the stove to quickly increase the temperature of your sous vide bath.
Once it reaches cooking temperature, the SideKIC locks in, maintaining your set temperature within a few tenths of a degree.
The unit consists of two pieces: a controller, with a small high-resolution color display and a rotating knob, and the heater-pump unit, which perches on the side of the cooking container. Both are white plastic, nicely designed.
The controller is a proportional unit which delivers as much power as necessary to maintain a target temperature. The display on the controller shows a seven-level bar graph on the upper right to indicate current power output.
ICA Kitchen, the San Francisco company which developed and sells the SideKIC, recommends using a container of no more than 10 quarts (9.5 liters) for cooking. I set it up with a 12-quart Cambro container, filled with 113°F (45°C) tap water to the 10-liter mark. This coincided with the top of the lower window on the SideKIC heater-pump unit, which is the recommended water level.
As it powered up, I was impressed by the look of the little screens. It’s a polished interface. (Later I was amused to see that it also has a screen saver: nicely rendered iconic cooking and food objects.)
I set the temperature to 140°F (60°C) and watched. It was impressively quiet. In fact, noiseless. And the pump caused nary a ripple. After five minutes the temperature had dropped about one degree. This wasn’t right.
I pressed on the round knob and saw a menu that included the command START. Aha! The pump kicked up a noticeable current and the temperature display began slowly incrementing, though the unit was still nearly silent.
However, it took nearly two hours to reach the target temperature. So a boost of stove-boiled water is a must if you’re in a hurry. (Or you could use a smaller container, and/or a better-insulated vessel, but a hot water assist will always speed the initial heating process. After I added an insulated lid to the container, time to target temperature dropped to about 20 minutes.)
As it happens, I wasn’t in a rush.
While the water heated, I went to the garage to retrieve a ¾ inch thick foam sheet I had bought at a local shipping/packaging store. I cut it to 10 by 10 inches with a razor knife, then cut out a 3¼ by 4-inch pocket in the corner for the SideKIC.
This idea wasn’t mine. In a discussion of the SideKIC on eGullet, Chris Hennes, a regular on the eGullet forums, posted a picture of his setup with a SideKIC, a beer cooler, and a cover made from a sheet of foam. The cover retains heat and reduces evaporation during long cooking sessions. You can also use ping pong balls or bubble wrap to make floating covers.
I fitted my cover in place and pulled a 3-pound chuck roast from the refrigerator. You can read the recipe here.
After bagging the chuck roast I had to take some water out of the bath so the level wouldn’t rise too high for the SideKIC. So I scooped some water out of the Cambro and dropped the roast in the water, then readjusted the water level.
At this point, I realized the bag was poorly sealed: it had air pockets and wouldn’t sink. So I fished it out, but now had to temporarily raise the water level so the heater wouldn’t be exposed to air. I solved the problem by floating an empty 2-cup measuring cup in the water. Perfect!
I’m describing my wrestling match with water levels because this is a byproduct of cooking in a small container, necessitated by the 10-quart recommendation for the SideKIC. It’s also caused by the relatively small “safety” area on the SideKIC. The water level should remain between the two windows on the heater-pump unit, a distance slightly less than ¾ inch.
It’s all doable, but the cook needs to adapt.
As Chris Hennes has pointed out, a longer and/or wider, shallower container would lessen level changes when you add or remove things from the bath.
Soon the roast was re-sealed and resting underwater, with the cover back in place. The temperature read 140.0° when I went to bed. It read 140.0° the next morning. I double checked the temperature with a Thermapen. They were just 0.5°F apart. Overnight the water level dropped no more than ⅛ inch.
As I write this, I’m still waiting for the chuck roast to finish its 24-hour cooking time, but I’m already convinced that the SideKIC is a winner.
When asked about its durability, Duncan Werner, the man who created the SideKIC, said that the heating element and pump are rated a minimum of 10,000 hours. “If you ran it non-stop, 24 hours a day that would be about 14 months. We expect that it should last 2½ years in normal use. The housing is a tough thermoplastic (ABS/PC composite).”
That’s a lot of cooking.
The SideKIC is scheduled to go on sale Feb. 23.
If you’d like to know more about the SideKIC, check out the ICAKitchen website. It’s refreshingly straightforward (including a list of Pros and Cons). Also informative are the eGullet discussion of the SideKIC and Chris Hennes’ review on Amazon.