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I’m not a big fan of air fryers, and as someone who makes beef a rare treat, you can imagine my reluctance to air-fry a steak. The recipe, however, came from a trusted source, so I seared a New York strip in a skillet then popped it in Breville’s new Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro, which blasted the steak with hot air then automatically adjusted its heat way down to let the strip of meat coast to a glorious finish. It was an expensive, tender cut, but the technique recipe was excellent, producing an evenly rosy interior and a dark, crisp exterior.
The air fryer in question is the toaster-oven style, as opposed to the classic style which always reminds me a five-gallon bucket with a drawer at the bottom where the food is cooked. Either way, “air frying” is a market-savvy way to describe convection cooking, or using a fan in an oven to cook food with a jet stream of hot air.
The Joule Air Fryer taps heavily on Breville’s 2019 acquisition of ChefSteps. The company was one of the pioneers of “connected cooking,” a segment of the kitchen-tech market that uses mobile apps to walk you through the prep and cooking stages of a recipe. Cooking with an app tends to be a dismal proposition, but ChefSteps is historically quite good at these connected cooking experiences so I liked my chances here. ChefSteps’ sous vide machine, also slightly confusingly called a Joule, has an app that’s considered a “smart kitchen” gold standard. That steak recipe I tackled when I began testing the Joule oven is vintage ChefSteps—a smart twist on technique that might add a bit of complication, but one that’s aided by helpful videos and delivers a worthy payoff. Most air-fryer recipes don’t have you dirty a pan to sear your steak, but the results won’t be nearly 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 sucker for caramel and custard, so when I hit a snag making the Fantastic Flan recipe in the Joule oven app, it was not a flan-tastic experience. The recipe calls for 330 grams of white sugar “divided,” recipe-speak to signal that those 330 grams will be split between the caramel and the custard. After I set out my mise en place, I proceeded to the caramel-making step, read “combine the sugar and water in a saucepan,” and dumped it all in. Only when I got to the custard-prep step, which calls for sugar to be whisked in with whole eggs, extra yolks, and salt, did I realize the recipe’s error. Neither step gives a sugar quantity as they should, meaning I won’t be the only flummoxed flan fan.
The jury was out on the app, but the appliance quality was immediately clear. I’m more of an “air fry with my home oven’s convection setting” kind of guy, but people go bonkers for air fryers. If I were ever going to get off my high horse, this was the machine that would convince me to do so.
The Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro—which costs $500 in stainless steel and $550 in black—is like the fancy upgrade package for Breville’s top-rated $400 Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro. With both you get a roomy, well-built air-fryer oven that can also toast, bake, broil, warm, and dehydrate. The Joule Oven is distinguished by its app with almost 200 recipes that guide you, and a couple of niche cooking modes like “bottom bake,” which on most built-in ovens just means “bake” and “bottom broil.”
If you’re cooking one of the app’s recipes, a feature called Autopilot can automatically adjust the oven settings as cooking progresses, something it did while I was making both the steak and the flan. For whole-roasted chicken, the app makes the oven cycle between “high outer top broil” with temperatures above 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and 115 degree warming, along with roasting, convection, and air-frying steps. All that was teased out over the course of almost four hours, during which I didn’t have to lift a finger.
If Breville added steam-oven capabilities like those found in the Anova Precision Oven, this would be some primo food-nerd catnip.
There are other perks and idiosyncrasies, too. You can tell Alexa or Google Assistant to set the oven to a temperature, though you can almost always do it faster by twisting a knob hitting a button. You can ask Alexa when your food will be done (info that is also available on the app) or to stop the oven for you. As an Apple person, I noted that the app is available on iPhone, but not the kitchen-friendly iPad.