From old-fashioned slow cookers to newfangled sous vide machines, there seems to be a never ending array of appliances aimed to take the guesswork out of cooking. But they're often limited in functionality -- you can't really deep fry something in a sous vide machine, for example -- and they take up valuable storage space. The Meld, which launches on Kickstarter today, aims to change that. It's a cooking solution that aims to bring precise cooking controls to a multi-purpose appliance you already have -- your stove.
The Meld is essentially made up of three components: a smart knob that replaces the existing knob on your stove, a temperature gauge that you can clip onto your existing cookware and an app that you can use to monitor and adjust the temperature. So, for example, if you want the pot to be at a constant 180 degrees, you can set it in the app and the knob will maintain that temperature based on the data it gets from the clip, turning and adjusting as time goes on. The knob has a microcontroller and a Bluetooth chip (which is how it communicates with the app) and the temperature sensor is built with a high-end thermocouple.
"One of the nice aspects of this, is that it's not just for sous vide," says Jon Jenkins, the CEO and co-founder of Meld. Jenkins was the head of engineering at Pinterest before starting Meld and worked for nine years at Amazon prior to that. The other co-founder, Darren Vengroff, was a developer of Sous Vide Dash and PolyScience Sous Vide Toolbox, a couple of apps designed to let home cooks fine tune their sous vide cooking skills. "You can use it for deep frying and it works in the exact same way. You can also use it for tempering chocolate or making caramel sauce," adding that it works for slow cooking, poaching and even brewing beer. Jenkins says that there are also a ton of additional uses for it that goes beyond cooking, like making soap for example. "It's for anything that needs a very specific temperature."
Jenkins says they've developed a slew of recipes in the app and converted terms like "medium high" to actual temperatures. So instead of "cook on medium-high" you would get something like "cook at 250 degrees," which Jenkins says makes cooking a lot easier for novices. You can also use the app to manually create your own recipes.
As for reaction times, Jenkins tells us that the response time is "very fast." "In less than three seconds, you'll see the knob move to capture the temperature difference." He also says that the Meld system should work across a wide variety of stoves, though obviously it would have to be one that uses a manual knob.
As cool as the idea is, I'll admit I'm rather skeptical about how well it'll work across different kinds of cooktops (gas, electric and induction) and different kinds of cookware. How fast will the temperature really take to change, especially with an electric stove? Additionally, while I would feel comfortable leaving a sous vide machine on for three days for long and slow cooking, I can't say I feel the same about leaving my stove on for that same length of time.
"It's hard to provide a definitive answer across all stoves," Jenkins admits, though he does suggest using heat diffusers and larger pots if you need to maintain something at a super-low temperature with a less than capable stove. Additionally, the Meld solution won't be great for everything, like sauteing or pan-frying. There are still some cooking jobs that you'll have to do on your own.
Still, despite our skepticism, it's an intriguing idea. If the Meld does work as promised, it has the potential to make cooking much less of a hassle while replacing several different dedicated appliances. Also, the Meld is pretty affordable for what it promises -- it'll retail for around $129. And if you get in early enough on the Kickstarter, it'll only cost you $99.
"Despite all the technology in our homes, we're still cooking like our great-grandparents. Meld has brought cooking into the 21st century," said Jenkins in a statement. If successful, the Meld knob and clip will start shipping this fall.