An In-Depth Mellow Smart Sous Vide Review: An Appliance So Good Even I Couldn't Ruin a SteakSmart Sous Vide
When it comes to the home, it seems like every accessory and device now has a smart counterpart. Smart home features aren't exotic anymore, but everyday. The kitchen is no exception. Smart kitchen appliances and accessories mean your meat thermometer, your scale, your oven, and your trashcan can all have some pretty advanced capabilities.
I recently read about the emergence of smart sous vide cookers, which was doubly interesting because I didn't actually know what a sous vide was. Sure, I vaguely knew it was some fancy cooking technique, but that's about it. It turns out, it's pretty straight forward. As Bon Appetit explains, “At its most fundamental level, sous vide cooking is the process of sealing food in an airtight container—usually a vacuum sealed bag—and then cooking that food in temperature-controlled water.”
Professional chefs and restaurants have used this method for years to consistently cook foods to perfect doneness, and it has recently become more mainstream. A smart sous vide cooker was the natural next step. Now, you can use the accuracy of the sous vide method and the convenience of a smartphone pairing together.
One of the main front-runners is the smart sous vide game is Mellow, which claims to be the first sous-vide machine designed around a busy home cook's day.
How is Mellow different?
Mellow sets itself apart because most sous vides are a device that you put into a separate vessel of water, like this one from Anova:
A Mellow sous vide, however, looks like a tank of water.
You put the bag of food inside the tank and the base provides the heating mechanisms. Some other cool features it has?
- The ability to sense weight changes and interprets what they mean. If it thinks food was added to the water bath, it’ll prompt your phone immediately.
- A built-in refrigeration system, to make sure your food is kept safe.
- A double-walled tank that helps it remain energy efficient. It’s also removable, making it easy to change the water when you want to.
I wanted to find out if a Mellow smart sous vide was worth the hype. Was this a device I actually needed for my very cluttered kitchen? Was it really fool-proof? Would it make a difference in how I cooked my food? Mellow generously sent me one of their devices so I could try it out.
Every time a delivery person came into the office for the past few days I would get excited. “Is that my sous vide?? Did I tell you guys I'm getting a *sous vide*!?!” My co-workers probably prayed each package was my sous vide so I could shut up about it.
When it arrived, it was larger and heavier than I expected. When assembled, it's 16 inches tall and 6” wide, so it's a formidable size and weight. (“This is my sous vide!! Have you heard about sous vides?!”)
It's tightly and neatly packed inside the box. All the pieces were intact and unharmed. In fact, they were so well packed it took some considerable tugging to get them out.
I am not a handy person. IKEA furniture has made me cry on multiple occasions, and if a light came on in my car, I'd be tempted to just leave it on the side of the road and never look back. So it's saying something when I tell you that assembling this was a breeze.
There are really only 2 pieces (not including the boxes of bags for cooking), so all you have to do is attach the base to the tank. Then, just download the app for further directions. Time elapsed? 1 minute.
When you open the app, it asks you to create an account.
After this, you enter in your wifi information.
Once plugged in, the back button should glow orange.
You need to sync it with your wifi by pressing the screen of your phone to the Mellow logo for a few minutes.
The first time I did this, it didn't connect. The help center said it could be due to my screen not being bright enough. I turned the brightness to its maximum and tried again. It worked!
You're able to name your new friend from Mellow. I named mine Mary Berry..
I love how the sous vide looks. The design is sleek and modern, and it's really unlike any other kitchen device. Since there are no buttons or dials or levers, it's hard to tell exactly *what* it is, which makes it a great conversation piece. If my kitchen had more room, I'd leave it on the counter.
I was curious, though. What would people think it was? If you had no context, what did it look like to you? I conducted some very scientific field research to find out. I sent my friends and family two photos of Mary Berry and asked “What does this look like to you?” Here are the responses:
- Granita machine
- Air purifier
- A weird blender
- Salad washer
- A vent
I found the app to be extremely intuitive and easy to use. The home screen shows different categories of food you can cook, and you simply click on the category, then choose the specific cut of meat/ingredient (i.e lamb chop, poached eggs), and the app will lead you through the recipe.
When starting out, the app walks you through the five main steps, which are:
1. Season and bag
2. Add cold water to the tank
3. Respect the water marks
4. Insert bag
5. Set-up what you're cooking
You're able to save your favorite recipes for easy access. Another feature is the manual mode, which you can use for recipes that aren't pre-programmed in. If you run out of the plastic bags Mellow supplies, you can also use the app to order more. You're also able to “share” your Mellow with other family members or guests, so you both can cook with it.
Okay, here's what you came here for. I decided to try cooking two different things, both from Mellow's recipe index.
The steak recipe can be accessed right through the app, but the poached pear recipe was only available on their website. In the future, I hope that all of the web recipes will be integrated into the app. I chose these two because:
- Everyone that talked about sous vides said you must make a steak in one
- The poached pears would use the manual setting, (instead of a pre-set) which I wanted to try out
The perfect steak
Here's the deal. I'm a solid cook with an Italian nonna approved lasagna recipe, but my secret shame is that I don't know how to properly cook a steak. Frankly, making it scares me. Articles always talk about getting the pan SCREAMING hot and searing it or cooking it on low first and then you MUST NEVER TOUCH IT or you must flip it every two minutes and you need to salt it 3 hours ahead of time or right before. There's a lot of competing information out there.
I don't cook a ton of meat at home in general, so in the past it's always been easier to just stay away. However, with my Mellow, hopefully this can change. I procure a lovely marbled rib-eye from the store.
Mellow's recipe for “Perfect Steak” seems straight-forward. But, I realize I have a lot of questions. Do I need to bring the refrigerated steak to room temperature before cooking? When it says to season liberally with salt, does that mean immediately before cooking or ahead of time? Should I pat it dry with paper towels?
I send a quick message to their support email. However, it's a Sunday, so I think I'm on my own. Most of my questions have to do with traditional steak cooking methods, so hopefully it won't matter. I don't let the steak come to room temperature and I salt it right before cooking, although I do blot it dry with paper towels.
I follow the recipe and put the seasoned steak, a big sprig of rosemary, and some hefty chunks of butter in the bag.
I fill up the tank with cold water and set it on the base. It starts burbling away. I was worried it would be really loud, but it's fairly quiet. It sounds like the fish tank all children's dentists are required to have in the office.
On the app, I click through the beef section to find a rib-eye steak. I select details about whether it's starting from fresh or frozen, how thick the steak is, and how I want it cooked. I choose medium rare. The steak will cook at 130.1F for 1 hr and 15 minutes.
Now I'm prompted to put the bag of steak in the water. However, The bag won't sink. I try re-arranging the steak and pushing out extra air. Nope. I start panicking. What if the water gets too hot? I go the website FAQ's, which say I can safely add a stainless steel spoon to weight it down. Nope. I add a dull butter knife as well. Bingo!
Now submerged, my steak bubbles away for the next hour and 20 minutes. I get a notification on my phone when the cooking process is done. Here's what the steak looks like after its time with Mary Berry:
I take it out of the bag, which lets out a pleasant whoosh of buttery, rosemary-y goodness. It looks interesting. Most notably, the fat has been well rendered, to the point I'm a little scared the steak will break apart as I handle it.
The app suggests I quickly sear each side with a blowtorch. I don't own a blowtorch, but perhaps the target customer for Mellow would typically own one. Instead, I follow the online recipe's suggestion to sear it on each side for 30 seconds in a pan. My apartment is now full of smoke but the steak is seared. It looks and smells great, and waiting 10 minutes for it to rest is effectively torture.
I carve the meat and it looks beautiful— cooked to an even medium rare throughout.
I take a bite. Whoa.
An occasional issue with steak is that it's difficult to perfectly render the fat without overcooking the rest of the meat. The sous vide, however, cooks it perfectly. The meat is unbelievably tender and juicy. The best way I can describe the texture is buttery. My roommates both don't eat meat so I don't even have to pretend to offer a bite.
Red wine poached pears
Ah, desserts. This is an area I'm much more confident in. I've never poached pears in wine before, but I've always wanted to try it— it sounds like such a posh dessert. If life were a sitcom, this is what I would make at a fancy dinner party to impress my boss until my cat jumped into the wine sauce.
The recipe is straight-forward. Wine, pears, sugar, and spices are added to the bag. After cooking, the pears rest while the liquid from the bag is cooked down to a syrup. The difference here is that this recipe is made using the manual setting (the recipe is not pre-programmed in) so I need to pre-heat the water first, then add the bag.
I add a hefty pour of a $3.99 Trader Joe's vintage, two peeled pears, a cup of sugar, a cinnamon stick, orange peel, and a pinch of all-spice. The recipe calls for cloves but I forgot them, so all-spice it is. I'm worried about the sugar because it sunk to the bottom. Shouldn't it be evenly dispersed?
I choose the recommended temperature (178 f) and let the water pre-heat.
I get a notification when the water is ready, about 20 minutes later. I lower the bag halfway in, seal it, and then drop it in.
The pears cook for 45 minutes. Once done, I take the now-purple fruit out, and wow, my kitchen smells incredible, all warm spice and sweet wine.
The recipe says to cook down the wine mixture into a syrup for about 15 to 20 minutes. She's a liar. After 20 minutes, the mixture is still really thin and liquidy.
It takes about 45 minutes to actually cook down to a syrup, but once it does, it's delicious. I serve the pears in the syrup with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.
Another win for Mellow. The pears, which I was a little worried were underripe, have just enough bite and none of the mealiness I often associate with cooked pears. The wine and spices have added a subtle flavour that tastes like Christmas. I am crazy about the sweet, heady syrup and plan to drizzle the remaining jar on everything.
Again, one of my favorite aspects was that I didn't have to worry about over or undercooking the fruit. Instead of hovering around a pot, poking pears with a skewer to guess doneness, I had complete confidence in the cooing process.
Overall, I had a great experience with Mellow. I didn't want to put my takeaways into pros and cons because what I loved might be something that you would hate. Here's what I thought:
- It's the perfect appliance for a couple or single person. You're limited by the capacity of the tank, I would say 2 large steaks would fit comfortably, so it might not be the right choice for large families or those who love to entertain.
- Since Mellow is entirely wirelessly controlled, you'll need a strong, reliable wifi connection. While cooking, my wifi went out for a minute, and I realized there wasn't much I could do until it came back on.
- With the cooling feature, you're able to put food in before you leave the house and keep it nicely refrigerated until you want it to cook. It's pretty sweet to have the power to decide the exact minute you want your steak cooked.
- A Mellow sous vide is great for hands-off cooking. Sure, the cooking process takes a long time, but you don't need to be actively doing anything to aid the process (no stirring, basting, checking the oven, etc). I did laundry, read a book, and caught up on Tidying Up. And yes, Marie, Mellow does spark joy!
- I wish Mellow did have chat support or a more detailed FAQ. I realized I had a lot of questions about how to prepare the steak, and while I sent an email on Sunday afternoon with my questions, I didn't get feedback until Tuesday morning.
- Not only does it create a juicy, tender texture, cooking with Mellow means you end up with more food. There's no shrinkage or loss of juices like when you normally cooking in the oven or grill. All that deliciousness is sealed up in the bags.
Eliminating error (and some of the fun?)
My roommate asked an interesting question while she watched me prepare one of the bags. “So, does it take away the fun from cooking?” As I've said before, I love to cook. I love the process— chopping up herbs so the smell fills the kitchen, stirring a bubbling braise, hearing the sizzle of meat hitting a hot pan. Did Mellow make the process more clinical, less enjoyable?
For me, not really. Cooking certain thick, finicky cuts of meat like steak is one of my weak points, and Mellow made me feel waaay more confident about the process. I knew I wouldn't serve up anything stringy or undercooked, and that in itself was a great pleasure. Since Mellow can't make sauces or garnishes, I still got to cook down a lovely wine syrup and fill my kitchen with the smell of Christmas. I still got the intense sensory experience of searing a steak in a screaming hot pan (sorry roomies!).
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