Hacking Together A Sous Vide Cooker

Those amongst you that are cooks won’t need this explanation, for the rest of us, lets just get this out of the way. Sous Vide is when you cook things at a temperature lower than normal, for a period of time longer than normal to attain specific results in texture. A chef can tell you more intricate details about it, but what we care about is how to impress our friends with a cheap hack and a tasty meal. This video shows how to hack your slow cooker for precise temperature control.  Well, it really shows how to splice a temperature controller into an extension cord, so we guess it could be used for a ton of things, non Sous Vide related.


[via Lifehacker]

40 thoughts on “Hacking Together A Sous Vide Cooker

  1. This is cool, but a true sous vide cooker circulates the water to ensure that the temperature is even throughout and transferred to the food efficiently. For clarification, Sous Vide is french for “under vacuum” as the food is usually encapsulated in a vacuum bag with spices or a marinade. The vacuum helps to inject the flavor deeper into the food and of course keeps the water bath out. One can cook eggs to the precise temperature that the whites congeal but the yolks stay liquid or meat to the point where certain proteins soften but others maintain their texture and then quickly sear the outside of the piece before serving for the nice smoky caramel flavorings that the maillard reaction emparts.

  2. I’ve had great success doing sous-vide meat with a thermometer and oven (mix warm/hot tap water to get the initial temperature and leave it in the oven to slow cooling).

    It is just so easy to make flawlessly cooked meat – Throw some bags in the water and come back later.

    I’ve been meaning to make one for a while but haven’t had the time :(

  3. I’ve done the poor man version, pour boiling water into a small ice chest. I’ve taken cheap pork ribs, put a little salt and pepper on them, vacuum seal (I do have a Food Saver). Toss into a small ice chest and pour boiling water into the chest, put the lid on. Wait 5 hours then remove the ribs and toss on the grill for a few minutes. The results are pretty good.

    This hack would work better because you would use a constant temp instead of a spiked high temp that slowly drops over time.

  4. The thermocouple should be a little deeper in the water. And I would go with an Auber PID Controller with a SSR and not make such a hack job of it. You can see the unit I made at http://www.JazzyJ.ca

    As far as circulating the water you could use a simple aquarium pump however from the tests Ive done in my crock pot its not needed. However it will depend on how much food you are trying to cook in the crock pot.

    As for bacteria it is rather safe due to the absence of oxygen. But its safe to say that if cooked over 125-131º for 4 hours and served right away you are rather safe. However if you are not going to serve right away you need to shock the food in an ice bath and cool immediately.

  5. Hey everyone I am a cook myself and we use a lot of sous vide cooking at my restaurant. But lately i’ve been interested in this new technology that combines cooking under a vaccum its called a gastrovac this is what the website explains as how it works… “By creating an artificial low pressure, oxygen-free atmosphere, the Gastrovac considerably reduces cooking and frying temperatures, maintaining the texture, colour and nutrients of the food.
    Moreover, the Gastrovac creates the “sponge effect”: when the atmospheric pressure is restored, the food absorbs the liquid around it, allowing infinite combinations of foods and flavours…”
    the only problem is for restaurants is it has a very steep price tag at $5000 a machine. its relatively new technology so nobody has really worked out all the possibilities with it yet. Could anybody tell me if it were feasible to build one for cheaper than the $5000 price tag. Thank you for your time

  6. I love sous-vide!

    I’ve cooked about 50 meals to date sous-vide, always in Ziploc bags with as much air as possible removed manually, since I’ve never bothered to buy a vacuum sealer. Some of those were done in an old crock pot, with me periodically checking the temperature and adjusting the dial. Others were done in a pot of water in the oven. And recently, some in a recirculating water bath I picked up cheaply on Ebay. Here’s what I’ve learned:

    * For the best ease of use and consistency, you really do need both closed-loop temperature control and water circulation. Although you can still get very satisfactory results with far more primitive arrangements, just don’t expect perfect results all the time.

    * I’ve never poisoned myself, despite using Ziploc bags, and even sous-viding hamburger patties; which is more “dangerous” because the bacteria goes all the way through. The risk is generally overstated. There may be more bacteria left in a sous-vided item compared to a traditionally cooked item; however, that only becomes an issue if the item is stored improperly or too long after cooking. Not a worry here, anything I make gets devoured immediately, or refrigerated and eaten within a day or two. ;)

    * The biggest wins so far are chuck roast, which I’ve found really can resemble prime rib. Extra-thick hamburger patties made from lean ground beef, precooked to medium before a fast finishing sear. Precooking chicken pieces before battering and deep-frying, which ensures it’s never bloody in the center. And of course, the French Laundry style short ribs. Mmmm!

    The natural tendency when experimenting with sous-vide is to try sous-viding everything. But sous-vide just doesn’t benefit all things.

    * Lean pork, like pork tenderloins, is a fail. If you cook it to less than well-done, the flavor and texture are just weird. Cooking it to well-done fixes that, but instead of becoming tender with the longer cooking times, it just gets dryer and tougher. Traditional fast cooking works better here, especially if you use a temperature probe to tell when it’s done.

    * Sous-viding meat to a temperature less than well-done will NOT significantly render large fatty areas or tenderize gristle, regardless of cook time. Even for my chuck roast (which I cook medium), there are a few spots in the meat which must be cut out when serving.

  7. From a different, possibly more hackers friendly perspective, a group at University of North Dakota (where i am from) used this same concept to control an oven and there by make a cheap Re-flow oven. they simply went to walmart purchased an oven. removed all thermal control from it, placed a thermistor in it, use some A2D converts to read the temperature into a computer, then controlled a relay to turn the stove on and off (a really getto PWM) but it works and that is how we currently re-flow things. it was a approximately 100 $ build instead of purchasing a re-flow oven. also the code writen to control it could be adapted to do many more things. currently it just tries to match a temperature curve, and that curve is user defined.

  8. Ok, I’ve read up on Sous Vide, and it’s rather risky with even good equipment. I’d be wary of eating anything out of this. The really nasty toxins seem to be generated aerobically.

    Thumbs up for the temperature controller use, though.

  9. nice hack.

    also potentially useful for melting small amounts of low melt alloys for the purposes of distributing the component metals evenly.

    on a side note has anyone here ever built a hot plate, if so which alloy did they use for the plate material? i want it to tolerate at least 500C (the maximum my temp controlled soldering station can handle) without melting or deforming.
    current setup is two soldering iron elements in series sitting on fire cement with a single internal thermocouple hooked up to the iron.

  10. @truthhertz:
    slightly above 60°c.

    nanomonkey mentioned soft boiled eggs: you set it to 63°c. the yolk stays creamy below 65 but salmonella will get killed above 60. 15 minutes at 63 and you have save soft boiled eggs.

    if you want to incubate bacteria, you first sterilize, than add the bacteria and set it to around body temerature. the exact temperature depends on whether you’re growing thermophilia or mesophilia.

  11. “Clostridium botulinum bacteria can grow in food in the absence of oxygen and produce the deadly botulinum toxin, so sous-vide cooking must be performed under carefully controlled conditions to avoid botulism poisoning.”

    Leave “Sous Vide” to French people, they seem to be happy with little food in the middle of a big plate.

    Personally, I prefer pressure cooking. It is faster (still slower than microwave though) and sterilizes the food (really good to cook meat). Regarding the taste, pressure cooked meals are more juicy (there is more water retention) with stronger taste.
    There is a safety concern though, careful with the release valve. If you don’t keep it clean, you risk a “pipe” explosion in your kitchen – I never saw that happen though.
    What I saw happening, it does to pressure cooking newbies, is to open the pressurized container *while being heated*. Obviously, soon as you open it, the food will expand very fast and *BOOM* – food all over your kitchen.
    One time I was pressure cooking some meal and a friend went to the kitchen while I was staying in the sofa – *boom*, I heard. LOL, she said she wanted to see if the cook was going *well*. Unfortunately you can’t open it in the middle of the cook, you have to wait until it is depressurized.

    – mods, please delete my previous post.

  12. botulism is of little concern if you are using sous vide and immediately consuming the food.

    Restaurants often use a cook-chill or cook-freeze protocol when using sous vide due to time constraints on service. This is where the fear of potential botulism comes into play.

    Pressure cooking has an entirely different effect on food then sous vide. Each has its place but neither is a substitute for the other. Theyre apples and oranges to each other.

  13. The fat duck got shut down due to contamination unrelated to their method of vacuum cooking: due to pure personal hygeine contaminating the environment. Safety is necessary when using any cooking technique but moreso with sous vide. It is not to be done without any expertise, especially not by someone HACKING together a cooker. Professional devices (Sous Vide Magic: Fresh Meals Solutions) are not that expensive; $250.

    You must always bring meat to a higher temperature of 72 to pasteurize it before beginning low heat cooking. In order to reach 72 degrees the water temperature must go up to 76 to compensate for thermal loss to the bags, etc. Having a straight up temperature controller will not include this computer programming (fuzzy logic) and it will accurately control rises in temperature either.

    Ironically the model of slow cooker they are using (I BELIEVE) already has a built in thermometer/temperature control computer in it. I had a model like that. It is much more effective to cook ribs this way in broth (poaching) than it is to cook them in a plastic bag. The reason for using the plastic bag isn’t to achieve tenderness, which is easy to achieve in a poach, but to create extremely pronounced flavour, which requires a multiple day cooking.

  14. Sorry, final clarification: meat gets cooked to the desired temperature (like 65 celsius) not 72, but the bag containing the meat must first reach a temperature of 72, which is still not enough to cause the outside of the meat to grey.

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