Sous Vide Crock Pot Controller

Tempted by what sous vide cooking has to offer, but balking at the price for a unitasker, [Lee’s] father in law set out to see if he could rig up his own precision temperature controlled cooking system on the cheap. He immediately hit eBay and shelled out about around $75 to get his hands on a solid state relay, PID controller, and temperature probe.

As you can see above, a crock pot serves as the cooking vessel. We’ve seen this method before, either splicing into the power cord, or providing a single outlet on the controller. This version provides a PID controlled outlet to which the appliance can be plugged in. The other outlet in the socket is always on and powers an aquarium pump that circulates the heated water during the cooking process.

The result works quite well, even though it wasn’t a huge cost savings. There are a few issues with positioning of the temperature probe, but that may be where experience comes into play.

12 thoughts on “Sous Vide Crock Pot Controller

  1. I built a setup like this and found that the crock pot didn’t have enough horsepower to regulate the heat. It would take a long time to reach my target temperature, then when I added some food the temp would drop and take a long time to recover – leaving the food in a sub-optimal temperature for some time. I switched over to a rice cooker and all my problems went away.

  2. Good sous-vide build and documentation.

    Although it’s said this wasn’t a huge cost savings, the nice thing about this is you can always recycle many of the parts; they can be transferred to a larger or smaller crock pot as needed, a rice cooker like James suggested, or even to a DIY cooker built to your specs.

    But it sounds like the caterer served an intact *whole* chicken; and if he’s trying to duplicate that, I think he guessed the cooking method wrong.

    Dark meat and white meat have to be cooked to different temperatures. You cannot achieve that using sous-vide and a *whole* chicken (though you can easily do it with a cut-up chicken, which Lee already tried).

    Chances are the caterer brined the chicken. That enhances flavor, tenderness, and heat transfer (reduces cooking time). Even if the white meat is slightly overcooked, it can still be unusually tender; though if it’s cooked to perfection, it is spectacular.

    Then cook using some method where the dark meat heats faster than the white meat. There are many ways to do this. I usually slow roast on a V-rack, breast side down, for most or even all of the cooking time. Exact temperature varies depending on how much of a “hurry” I’m in; though times are still reasonable because the brine speeds cooking.

    Finally, if you must have not only a delicious but picture-perfect chicken, finish the skin with a torch or heat gun; or flip it and crank up the broiler.

    Works great for turkeys too. Everyone who’s tried my turkey says it’s the best they’ve ever had. I also give it a few injections with a mix of butter, white wine, white pepper, and some pureed onion and garlic. Little or no salt if you’ve already brined. Other herbs may taste good too, but careful about colors; pockets of green in the breast meat look odd. Stole that one from a caterer, which has a good seasonal business of shipping precooked turkeys packed in dry ice all over the nation every Thanksgiving. They had a pressurized CO2-powered injector, and it’s funny to watch a turkey inflate as easily as a helium balloon.

    Also, don’t be afraid to contact the caterer. While they may take their exact recipes to the grave, if you ask nicely and pile on the compliments, they will often share enough general details to point you in the right direction.

    Keep experimenting. Kitchen experiments are the best kind. Some day a caterer or restaurant owner may ask you for your recipe, and that is a great feeling. ;)

    1. Hello Chris, I am Lee’s father-in-law (also named Lee, as it happens.) I was aware that cooking a whole chicken to the temperature that makes the breast perfect will leave the dark meat a bit chewy. Actually I see that as evidence that the caterer had cooked it that way. They were slicing whole birds but the dark meat went on a plate to the side and was never pieced or offered to the guests.

  3. i wish people wouldn’t mindlessly blab so much in their blogs. totally turned off this guy’s project because it’s 8 miles of reading. could have been good stuff, if i had read more than the first 3 lines.

    tip to other bloggers, just show good quality pictures, numbers (math) and limited text to your projects. we are all busy and don’t have time or care to read your life story about the dog/cat/wife/kids/whatever.

  4. Also note that you can order PID controller, probe, and SSR from for under $60 USD. Mine came straight from Hong Kong (to New Zealand), but seems to be decent quality and has been working perfectly for weeks.

    Still not sure I have the hang of sous vide, though. My cheap whatevers-on-sale steaks cooked for 24 hrs come out tender – but in a weird way – and not otherwise exciting.

    Also, I have to agree that a crock pot isn’t the best vessel. They’re meant to never boil even at full blast for hours, so they’re a bit under powered and not good at temperature recovery. A cheap deep fryer works well, though it loses a lot of heat to the room.

    1. Hello Brian, I’m still trying to zero in on recipes myself so I can’t offer much help there except to say the getting a good sear on the meat after it comes out of the Sous Vide seems to be the key. As to crock pots being too wimpy, they work better is you fill them with water near the temperature you want. A 50/50 mix of tap-water and boiling water from a kettle will usually be within a degree or two of 140f. If you are going to be adding cold food add a bit more boiling water. With a PID controller they will hold temps in the 130-160f range like a champ.

  5. Built one like this a few months ago, also used a crock pot which I later switched for a rice cooker. Spliced a powerboard onto the PID so changing the device you use to cook in is easy and doesn’t require any modification. Drop the probe in, drop the pump in, go for it :D awesome stuff

  6. To those having trouble with “underpowered” slow cookers; start off with a mix of cold and boiling water from your kettle, above the cooking temperature; the food will cool it, and with experience you can just about hit the right temperature from the start.

    Works for me.

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