Introduction: Sous Vide Temperature Controller for $50-$100

Picture of Sous Vide Temperature Controller for $50-$100

Update June 6: Added step for using a bucket heater and cooler.
Update March 8: I added pictures for the fuse and switched to using a SSR.

This will show you how to build your own accurate temperature controller for cooking with sous vide.  How much you spend depends on what you use for a heating element.  This controller is accurate to 0.1° C and is able to keep a steady temperature within 0.2°C of the desired temperature.

First I need to give credit to Scott at Seattle Food Geek.  This instructable is inspired by his genius DIY sous vide.  Check it out for an alternative to mine at http://seattlefoodgeek.com/2010/02/diy-sous-vide-heating-immersion-circulator-for-about-75/

My controller is a little more generic than Scott's in that it can use any electric heat source to keep the water bath at a constant temperature.  I use a cheap crock pot but plan on using a bucket heater in a cooler when cooking for large parties.

Let me know if there are any mistakes of missing steps and I'll try to fix them asap.

Step 1: Parts List

Picture of Parts List

Here are the parts you need:

1) PID controller.  I got mine on Ebay for ~$35 (including shipping).  Most controllers will do but avoid ones that have a built-in relay--the relays usually aren't rated for the current your heater(s) will use and will blow out your PID controller.  The wiring for this instructable assumes your controller puts out 12v to control an external relay.

2) Aquarium pump for water circulation.  You don't have to get too fancy--it seems that most pumps can handle the heat for common sous vide cooking (< 70° C).

3) 10+ amp electric relay.  I originally used a mechanical relay (see pictures) but it eventually wore out.  I've updated the build with a 10 amp SSR that I got used on EBay for $4 (many people on Scott's page are using 25 amp SSRs).  If you don't know anything about SSRs make sure you get one with DC control voltage and AC output voltage.  This one will do: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004HZN628/   Depending on what you're using for a heat source you may want to get a heat sink.  See my discussion in the step that installs the SSR.

4) 10+ amp switch.  I bought a light switch from Home Depot like the following (mine was cheaper): http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1vZ1xh3/R-100356855/h_d2/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053 .  Get a rectangular one because it'll be easier to cut the holes in your enclosure.

5) 10+ amp dual socket like this one: http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1vZ1xh3/R-100117108/h_d2/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053 .  Again, get a square one because it'll be easier to install.

6) A 3-prong power cable with bare leads.

7) A PT100 temperature probe (thermocouple).  Get a three-wire probe because it'll be a little more accurate (and because I don't know how to hook up a two-wire probe to the PID controller).

8) Some sort of plastic enclosure.  I went with a junction box because they're easy to cut with a Dremel and very sturdy but at $11 it's overkill.  You can get a plastic acrylic box for ~$4.  I'd advise against a metal box to avoid electric shorts.

9) 10 amp fuse and fuse holder.

10) Various wires and screws.  For doing the AC power wiring you want wire rated for 10 amps.

11) 8-screw terminal block.

12) Electric heat source.  A crock-pot works well.  Make sure you get one that turns on with a mechanical switch--the controller is going to continuously toggle the power to the heat source and you don't want a digital crock pot that has to be reset after every power cycle.  I got mine at a thrift store for $15.

Not required but handy:

1) An outlet wallplate to use as a template when cutting your enclosure.  (Like this: http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1vZ1xh3/R-202059861/h_d2/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053 .)

2) LED for indicating when the heater is on.  Most PID controllers have a little light but I wanted mine to be obvious.  I got an LED assembly with a built-in resistor.

3) Male and female three-wire audio jack for hooking up the PT100 thermocouple.

Step 2: Prepare Outlet

Picture of Prepare Outlet

The outlet has two plugs, one that will always be on and one that will be controlled by the PID/relay.  Standard outlets come with both plugs wired together.  Break off one of the tabs to isolate the plugs.

Step 3: Solder Male/female Audio Jack

Picture of Solder Male/female Audio Jack

This step isn't necessary--you can connect the PT100 directly to the PID controller.  However, my PT100 has a metal sheath and I was concerned it might come in contact with an AC wire and shock me.  So I wired a male jack to the end of the PT100 and soldered wires on the female jack for connecting to the PID.

Step 4: Cut Up the Box.

Picture of Cut Up the Box.


Cut and drill holes in your enclosure to fit the electronics.  Something you want to pay attention to is how the components will fit once they're all inserted.  Some of the components may get in the way of each other if you don't do it right.

1) Cut a hole near the bottom for the power cord.
2) Use the wallplate template to draw a box on the side of your enclosure for the outlet.
3) Cut out the hole.  A dremel makes quick work of this.  Insert the outlet to make sure it fits.
4) Now we need to drill the holes for the screws that will hold the socket in place.  Insert the socket "backwards" (see picture) and use it as template for drilling the holes.
5) See the picture for how it looks when it's all screwed in.  Don't screw it in permanently because it'll be a pain to wire.
6) Do the same for the light switch, the PID controller, the power LED, and the female audio jack.
7) Drill two holes near the hole for the power cord to hold the terminal strip.

Step 5: Solder Wires to Relay

Picture of Solder Wires to Relay

Updated March 8, 2011 with SSR.

My original relay burnt out so I upgraded to an SSR.  Installation is straight-forward (see pictures) except for one thing: depending on your heat source (and the electrical load it makes) the SSR can get hot .  I did some tests with a 1000W space heater and the SSR got hot enough to burn one's fingers (which, like a dummy, I found out the hard way).  As you can see in the pictures I screwed the SSR to a metal plate to act as a heat sink.  With the heat sink the space heater made the SSR very warm but it seemed manageable.

However, once I got it all wired up the heat sink appears unnecessary.  I hooked up the crock pot and cooked some beef brisket and the SSR never got warm, even when it was on full-time to heat up the cold water.  If/when I try a 1000W bucket heater I'll update this with my results.

Old text is below for reference:

I got a relay intended for socket boards, which made my wiring a bit more difficult but it works.  Make sure you use the heavier wire for the AC power.  The wires that control the relay can be thinner gauge.  Use wires long enough to fit between the different components.

A note about wiring: you'll have a tangle of wires at the end.  Try not to leave any exposed AC wires or you run the risk of a short.

Step 6: Wiring It All Up.

Picture of Wiring It All Up.

See the diagram.  Start by connecting the the power cord to the block terminal.  Then wire up the rest of the components.  All the wiring in this step requires only a screw driver.

If you have a LED for indicating that the heater is on connect it to the same PID pins as the relay.

Double check the wiring to your PID before plugging it in for the first time!  I was careless and had the AC power connected to the wrong pins and fried it.  It's not necessary but you should connect the ground wire to the ground pins on the socket and switch.

Once it's wired plug it in and turn it on.  Hopefully it won't blow up.  Here's where things get finicky.  My PID controller needed some configuration changes and the documentation was not at all intuitive.  I had to tell the PID that my thermocouple was a PT100 and then raise the highest "set value" from 40° C to 90° C.

Step 7: Calibration

Picture of Calibration

Since sous vide relies on precise temperatures, you need to calibrate your unit.  There are two tests you want to make.

1) Boil water (preferably distilled) in a pan and insert your temperature probe.  The PID should show 100° C (at sea level).

2) Fill a glass with ice and then add water.  If much of the ice melts add more.  Your probe should measure just a hair over 0° C.

If your measurements are off you should be able to adjust a setting on your PID.  Mine was off by 2.3° C.

Step 8: Your Done!

Picture of Your Done!

Last thing to do is to mount your thermocouple in your water.  I was able to unscrew the handle on my crock pot cover and slide in my probe, which fit perfectly.

You should now be able to plug your pump into the always-on socket and your heater into the controlled plug.  You'll probably need to tune your P, I, and D settings on your PID to make it accurate (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PID_controller for some help).  My PID has an auto-tune function that ended up working pretty well.

This controller should be generic enough to work with any electric heater.  You could, for example, use a hot plate with a large pan on top.  I plan on trying it with a bucket heater and a large cooler to cook steaks for a large party.

Happy sous vide!

Step 9: Using a Bucket Heater and a Cooler

Picture of Using a Bucket Heater and a Cooler

The crock pot works great for smaller meals but at times I need to cook for 10+ people, so I bought a Marshaltown bucket heater on Amazon for ~ $35 and used it with a cooler I had.  The results were great!  The heater had no problems heating up the water and the PID kept the water at a rock-steady temp with the same PID settings I used with the crock pot (i.e. I didn't have to run auto-tune again). 

Some points:

1) The heater is a lot bigger than I was expecting and there was no way to close the cooler lid (the heater is *not* completely submersible). I cut a couple of squares out of packing foam I had laying around to put on top of the water.  This helped to insulate the water and it made it trivial to position the thermometer.

2) The Marshaltown heater is 1000 watts which can put stress on your controller's SSR if it has to run steady for a while (e.g. if it has to heat up a lot of water by 70-80 degrees).  I used hot tap water to fill the cooler which meant the water was most of the way to the desired temp.  My SSD got warm but was never in danger of over-heating.  If you can't start with hot water it might be a good idea to start with the heater plugged directly into the wall.  (Just remember to plug it back into the controller.  One time I forgot and overcooked a brisket.  It was ugly.)

3) The one downside is that it requires a lot of water which means it requires a lot of energy to heat up the water.  I assume I don't have to have the bottom half of the heater completely submerged but I've always done so.  It's not real practical for small meals.

4) If you're cooking a lot of items, keep in mind that once you drop them in the cooler the water level will rise.  So don't fill the cooler all the way up.

Comments

SQWIB (author)2014-03-14

Awesome build, Working on one now with the JDL612 but not sure how to program it.

I have the set value set but the heaters never shut off If I hit autotune it works fine but I have to do this every time I set a new temperature and it takes an hour or so, any tips you can offer for settings, the manual is useless to me.

chugachpowder (author)SQWIB2015-11-14

what are you using for your pump components?

Deeg (author)chugachpowder2015-11-16

I've used aquarium pumps submerged in the water. The problem is that I've melted a few; they can't survive temperatures > 160 degrees or so.

For most of my cooks, though, I find that the pump is not real important and don't use it much any more. Most of my cooks are for 8+ hours and the temperatures are pretty even--even without the pump--once the water gets up to temperature. When it does matter an occasional stir with a wooden spoon evens out the temps.

My heating element is usually at the bottom of the container and that seems to create enough movement as the hot water rises to the top.

Deeg (author)SQWIB2014-03-14

Thanks SQWIB. Unfortunately I don't have much help for you since I've never used the JDL612. You could try posting a question on the original Seattle Food Geek article because some people there have used it. You might not get an answer, though, because it looks like the comments have been taken over by spammers. =/ Good looking build, btw!

Deeg (author)Deeg2014-03-14

The SFG link might be helpful, no? Here it is:

http://seattlefoodgeek.com/2010/02/diy-sous-vide-heating-immersion-circulator-for-about-75/

ao'dell1 made it! (author)2014-04-13

Great add! $78 total.

Deeg (author)ao'dell12014-04-13

Good looking build! Thanks for the pictures.

pb404 (author)2014-03-30

Wondering if you think this would work. It's a waterproof probe on a thermostatically controlled power outlet. Just add the aquarium pump... http://www.dhgate.com/product/waterproof-probe-intelligent-thermostat-adjustable/163988652.html

Deeg (author)pb4042014-03-31

I would think that would work but it's relatively low power (6 amps) and it's for 220 vac. The other question would be how accurate it is.

djsnowman06 (author)2014-02-08

As an electrician I must tell you that it is against code to switch the neutral sid of the plug. Split the brass side/ labeled black or hot. Tie the white directly thru and do all the switching on the black side

rkinch (author)2013-03-13

Why does everybody call the PT100 device a thermocouple? Isn't it a resistance temperature detector? The circuitry and troubleshooting are quite different for one versus the other.

mrkrog (author)2013-01-10

I just finished building a sous vide controller using a JLD612, a PT100, and a rice cooker. As soon as the probe went into the water, the temperature reading started jumping all over the place. I soon figured out that it would go crazy any time the probe contacted a grounded appliance. (My non-grounded crock pot, for example, didn’t cause any trouble.)

Some PT100s have a metal braid around the cable.  If you have one like this, you should add a wire that connects the braid to one of the non-red (usually blue, yellow, or black) wires coming from the PT100.  (All 3 PT100 wires still need to be connected to the temperature controller.)

My PT100 is a cheap unshielded version. (No metal braid around the cable.) So, I solved the problem by connecting a non-red PT100 wire both to ground (the green wire in the power cord) and the temperature controller. Now the temperature reading is perfectly stable.

I hope this information helps somebody.

fkan (author)2012-11-17

Great article. Thanks for sharing. I am a newby to electronics and wiring and have a dumb question. How do you connect a 3 wire PT100 to an audio jack? I thought the audio jack only has two wires. Thanks for a great article.

Deeg (author)fkan2012-11-17

hey fkan, I used a stereo audio jack which has three wires.

Mindmapper1 (author)2012-01-06

Another good starting point which has given me loads of ideas. I am thinking of adding a countdown timer to switch the whole lot off at the end of the preset cooking period, has anyone else tried this?

Deeg (author)Mindmapper12012-02-03

You could try using an outlet timer like this one: http://www.amazon.com/Woods-59377-Digital-Appliance-Settings/dp/B000IKQRTU

Not necessarily elegant but easy and cheap. Just be sure it can handle the wattage of your heating element.

Mindmapper1 (author)Deeg2012-02-08

Hi Have built mine with a countdown timer which is excellent. I will be posting my design later.

freeworking (author)2011-01-31

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like you have the switch connected to a neutral wire. I believe that, as a matter of safety, the switch should be connected to the live wire instead. The device will be functional as pictured, but in most every case it is a better practice to have the switch on the live or "hot" wire.

Deeg (author)freeworking2011-02-08

You may be right; I didn't pay much attention to the hot/neutral wires. I need to do a bit of rewiring so I'll check on that. Thanks for the tip. :)

tnsoftailrider (author)Deeg2011-11-19

FYI, It is a violation of the National Electrical Code to switch the neutral. The reason being that even with the switch off, power is still supplied to all of the components. If a short were to occur between the switch and the components they will come on, even when you don't want them too.
In addition, never cut or shorten/lengthen the leads on a thermocouple. They are calibrated at the factory. Changing the length of the lead wires changes the resistance which changes the output of the thermocouple causing an error (probably what caused yours to be off by 2.3 C).

devineDIY (author)2011-06-17

I would guess that one could plug many of the same model crock pots into a power strip that which plugs into the controller. Have to have the about the same amount of water and food in each, but it would be fully scalable.

devineDIY (author)2011-06-17

The outlet looks lice, but mounting it is a bit of a pain.

Another option:
Buy a 6 foot extension cord;
cut the female end off with about 1 foot of cord;
drill a hole for the cord;
add a simple gromet for strain relief and your done.

You already need the male end to plug into the wall.

jchen10 (author)2011-06-14

I've been looking online for a JT100 and i couldnt really find anything. Where did you get yours?

Deeg (author)jchen102011-06-14

That would be because I have a typo in my text--you want a PT100 thermocouple, not a JT100 (I'll fix this shortly). Here's one similar to the one I've been using: http://cgi.ebay.com/2m-Thermocouple-Temperature-Control-Sensor-PT100-EL12-/180679636181?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2a115874d5

Sorry about the confusion.

mpap89 (author)2010-12-26

i bought a relay but i'm having trouble hooking it up. I think i bought the same blue 10 amp one from radioshack. do the signals from the pid go to the "coil" pins then 120vac going to the normally open and the incoming 120vac to the "com" pin? thanks
Michael

Deeg (author)mpap892010-12-26

Yup, that's correct. If you have a multimeter you can verify that you're getting positive voltage from the PID that controls the relay..

mpap89 (author)2010-11-02

i'm trying to find the proper pid controller on ebay but it seems that almost all of them have 3A relays. should i get one with a solid state relay like this one:
http://cgi.ebay.com/PID-Temperature-Controller-SSR-Kiln-Furnace-Fah-Celsius-/350407846579?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item5195ef6ab3#ht_3939wt_1150
I'm excited about this build. Thanks
Michael

Deeg (author)mpap892010-11-02

It looks like that PID will work. If I understand it correctly it has both an internal relay and output for controlling a relay (you can probably confirm that by requesting a link to the spec sheet.

You might want to look into getting a different thermocouple.  The 'K' type thermocouple packaged with the PID isn't as accurate as the PT100 (Wiki has an article on thermocouples here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermocouple#K) and it's a little short, which will make it harder position in the water bath.  I've had good luck using this PT100: http://cgi.ebay.com/2m-Thermocouple-Temperature-Control-Sensor-PT100-EL12-/180575577154?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2a0b24a442.  (Note: It'll take at least a week to ship if you're in the US.)

aeray (author)2010-10-31

Excellent, and a hell of a lot cheaper than a commercial unit. Favorite'ed.

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