It was the temperature sensor that made me first nervous about the Brava connected oven. There is a warning in The Brava Book guide to make sure you tuck the TempSensor cord under a flat metal sensor guard to protect it from the “intense heat of the lamps.”
This immediately made me paranoid that I wouldn’t tuck the cord in the right way and I’d potentially break this brand new, $1,000 smart oven (which was a review unit, which made it worse because it wasn’t mine). This little detail turned out to be emblematic of my overall experience with the Brava, which cooks very well, but is snagged by the small details.
The Brava is a connected smart oven that uses “Pure Light” technology to cook food. Instead of normal heating elements or microwaves, the Brava uses light. As my colleague, Mike Wolf wrote when Brava came out of stealth, the oven uses “different wavelengths along this spectrum from the Brava’s light bulbs to apply heat either indirectly to the food for baking emulation using longer wavelengths (“that’s how we do baking emulation like a toaster oven”) to smaller wavelengths where the photons hit the heating tray directly (“this is how we emulated induction skillet heating”).”
Size-wise, the Brava specs are:
Height 11.3 inches
Width 14.1 inches
Depth 16.7 inches
Weight 34.4 lbs
Cooking Chamber Dimensions
Height 6.4 inches
Width 13 inches
Depth 12.5 inches
It’s a squat, silver, almost-cube that feels solidly built. There’s a touchscreen on top to guide you through your cooking, an internal HD camera so you can see your food and an accompanying mobile phone app so you can check in on and receive notifications about your cooking remotely.
Unlike just about every other countertop oven on the market, the Brava is solid metal all around — no glass. I presume this has to do with the supernova-like light blasting the food, which you can see pulsing at times through the gaps in the door like some scene from an 80s sci-fi movie.
The baseline Brava package costs $995 and comes with a special metal and a special glass tray. For the $1,295 Chef’s Choice package you also more trays plus an egg tray, a chef’s pan and credit in the Brava food marketplace where you can purchase special meal kits for the oven.
The Brava “Bravos!”
There is a lot to like about the Brava oven. It’s a smaller footprint than say the June, so it doesn’t take up a ton of room.
Brava does offer a marketplace where you can purchase meal kits meant for the device, but I was more interested in the appliance as a standalone oven, to see how versatile and useful it is in every day settings.
While the Brava camera won’t recognize the food you put in it (like the June does), it offers really nice granular controls over the food you cook. Instead of just a “steak” setting, it breaks it down into specifics like strip steak, flank steak, filet etc.. This granularity extends to other proteins like chicken and pork, as well as vegetables. It also gives you recipes on the touchscreen that you can follow.
The Brava cooks fast. I’m no scientitian, but whatever they are doing with light works. In addition to being fast, you can also cook multiple things at once with multi-zone cooking. Over the course of a week we cooked:
- Filet Mignon
- Fried Eggs
- Fried Egg + veggie sausage
- Chicken breast + sweet potatoes
- Tofu + broccoli and cauliflower
Without fail, everything came out delicious using the pre-set programs. The steak in particular was a highlight. A filet mignon took just eight minutes and came out perfectly medium rare. My 8 year old son and I did a taste test, cooking a filet in the Brava and one in the June. The Brava one had a better sear, and, according to my carnivorous kid, was “more flavorful.”
The touchscreen on the Brava shows you how to lay out your food on the pan. The multi-zone capabilities weren’t as robust as I’d hoped, as of now, you can only cook a protein plus one other item, like a vegetable or a starch. You can’t do all three at once (at least not as options on the touchscreen).
Fried eggs were another treat in the Brava. Using the special egg tray, a fried egg with a runny yoke took three minutes and did so without my hovering over a hot, greasy pan.
Whomever is writing the cook algorithms is doing their job well. All I had to do was insert the TempSensor, tap through a few options on the screen and VOILA!
As I mentioned before, it’s the little things that stop me short of loving the Brava.
The TempSensor is actually a great example. As mentioned earlier, you are instructed to tuck it under the temp guard. But the rigidity of the metal casing of the wire makes that difficult without touching or moving the food around on the tray.
The TempSensor is also a measuring tool to determine how thick your proteins are (to calibrate the cook program). But you have to plug it into the wall of the Brava first. The cord is only 9 inches, so it doesn’t extend very far out of the oven, so you have to remember to measure first, or do this balancing act with the tray sort of dangling out of the oven as you take your measurement.
The other hassle with the temp sensor is that it’s not easy to remove. It plugs into a USB-like slot in the oven wall, but the handle is short, and hard to use with oven mitts. Because the cavity is small-- and hot-- it’s difficult to pull the sensor directly out of the meat.
That may seem like nit-picking, but if you cook a lot of proteins (something the Brava excels at), it’s something you’d encounter frequently.
The camera is also odd. It’s at the front of the device, so your view is sort of fisheye lensed-- warped and hard to see what’s in the back. It’s also the only way to check on the food. The door is solid metal so you can’t look into it. This isn’t something I realized I wanted until it wasn’t available. And because the light pulses, watching it via the camera meas that it will go super bright and then dark, and then super bright. That plus the fish-eye lens makes it difficult to get a real sense of how the cook is going.
The Brava’s cooking cavity is also small. The edges of the special metal tray shrinks that cooking surface size down even further. Cooking two chicken breasts plus a bunch of sweet potatoes was actually fine, but when I cooked bacon, I could only do three pieces as a time. Because of the horizontal cook zones, bacon had to be laid out horizontally, and only one piece would fit in each zone. Perhaps I was overthinking it, but given the precise nature of the cooking, I felt like mis-aligning anything, or having bacon laying across zones would mean an improper cook.
Should You Buy a Brava?
I went on a strange journey with the Brava. I was skeptical at first, won over by the cooking, but put off by the little annoyances. A thousand bucks is a big chunk of change for a countertop oven. On its own, I think the Brava is best suited for younger (affluent, I guess) folks living in smaller spaces, and younger couples who are busy and want to automate their cooking.
It’s less of a physical space commitment than the June (which is $600), and can cook multiple food items at once. But it’s less transparent, literally, which makes it more of a black box. To be sure, it’s a black box that works well, but also makes you feel less connected to the food you are making, which may or may not matter to you.
Will Brava’s light be enough to make it shine brighter than the rest? Tis the season to find out.