I’m not one big fan of air fryers, and as someone who makes beef a rare delicacy, you can imagine my reluctance to fry a steak. The recipe, however, came from a trusted source, so I seared a New York strip in a pan and then put it in Breville’s new Joule Oven Pro Air Fryer, which air-fired the steak hot and then automatically adjusted its heat to let that strip of meat cook to a glorious finish. It was an expensive and tender cut, but the recipe technique was excellent, producing an evenly pink interior and a dark, crispy exterior.
The air fryer in question is the toaster-oven style, as opposed to the classic style that always reminds me of a five-gallon bucket with a drawer in the bottom where the food is cooked. Either way, “air-frying” is a clever way of describing convection cooking, or using a fan in an oven to cook food with a blast of hot air.
The Joule Air Fryer benefits greatly from Breville’s acquisition of ChefSteps in 2019. The company was one of the pioneers of the “connected kitchen,” a segment of the kitchen technology market that uses mobile apps to guide you through the preparation and cooking stages of a recipe. Cooking with an app is usually a sorry proposition, but ChefSteps is historically pretty good at these connected cooking experiences, so I liked my chances here. ChefSteps’ sous vide machine, also slightly confusingly called the Joule, has an app that’s considered the gold standard of “smart cooking.” The steak recipe I tackled when I first started testing the Joule oven is vintage ChefSteps – a clever twist on the technique that might add a bit of complication, but is aided by helpful videos and offers a decent payoff . Most air fryer recipes don’t have you dirtying a pan to fry your steak, but the results won’t be as good.
(Full disclosure: I worked as a contract writer and recipe tester for ChefSteps for four months, starting in late 2015.)
On the other hand, I’m a fan of caramel and custard, so when I ran into a problem making the fancy custard recipe in the Joule oven app, it wasn’t a tastic experience. The recipe calls for 330 grams of white sugar “split”, to indicate that these 330 grams will be divided between the caramel and the custard. After I got my set in place, I went to the caramel making step, read “combine the sugar and water in a saucepan” and poured it all in. It wasn’t until I got to the custard-making step, which calls for sugar to beat with whole eggs, extra yolks, and salt, that I realized the mistake in the recipe. Neither step yields as much sugar as they should, which means I won’t be the only custard fan out there.
The jury was out on the app, but the quality of the device was immediately clear. I’m more of an “air fryer on my home oven’s convection setting” kind of guy, but people go crazy for air fryers. If I ever had to get off my high horse, this was the machine to do it with.
The Joule Oven Pro Air Fryer, which costs $500 in stainless steel and $550 in black, is like the cool upgrade package for Breville’s $400 Smart Oven Pro Air Fryer. With both you get a spacious and well-built air fryer oven that can also toast, bake, roast, heat and dehydrate. The Joule oven is distinguished by its app with almost 200 recipes to guide you and a couple of niche cooking modes such as “bottom bake”, which on most built-in ovens just means “bake” and “bottom brown”.
If you’re cooking one of the app’s recipes, a feature called Autopilot can automatically adjust the oven settings as cooking progresses, which it did while making both the steak and the custard. For the whole roast chicken, the app cycles the oven between “high exterior top broil” with temperatures above 450 degrees Fahrenheit and a 115-degree heat, along with roasting, convection and deep-frying steps. air All this was explained over the course of almost four hours, during which I did not have to lift a finger.
If Breville were to add steam oven capabilities like those found in the Anova Precision Oven, this would be an early catnip.
There are other advantages and idiosyncrasies as well. You can tell Alexa or Google Assistant to set the oven to a temperature, although you can almost always do it faster by turning a knob at the push of a button. You can ask Alexa when the food is ready (information also available in the app) or to stop the oven. As an Apple person, I noted that the app is available on the iPhone, but not on the kitchen-friendly iPad.