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Picture of Sous vide cooker for less than $40
sous vide
[soo VEED]
French for "under vacuum," sous vide is a cooking process in which food is encased in an airtight plastic pouch (typically vacuum sealed) and cooked for a long period of time at a (precise) low temperature.  

Using traditional methods of cooking, you might put a steak on a 750 degree grill, attempting to get the center of the steak to a perfect medium-rare temperature of 130 degrees, without cooking the outside of the steak until it's gray and lifeless.  To make it even more difficult, even when you take the steak off the grill, the temperature of the center continues to increase due to the heat of the meat surrounding it.

The magic of sous vide is that you cook the entire piece of meat at the precise temperature you like.  To cook a steak to the perfect medium-rare temperature of 130 degrees, you cook the steak in 130 degree water.  It takes a lot longer to get a steak to 130 degrees by cooking at 130 degrees, but the benefits are worth it.

1) It's impossible to over-cook.  No part of the steak can get over cooked.
2) The entire steak, from "coast to coast" is exactly how you like it.
3) Timing is easy.  I usually cook my steaks for somewhere around six hours.  If your guests are late, an extra hour (or three) doesn't make any difference.
4) The fat in the steak is always perfectly rendered.  It's absolutely amazing how great inexpensive cuts of meat turn out when cooked sous vide for six hours.  

There are many sous vide cookers out there.  I'm more of a do-it-yourself (cheap) kind of guy, so I built my own sous vide cooker for less than $40.  The fancy, $500 cookers have water circulators and tenth-of-a-degree precision, but from my experience, that isn't necessary.  For $40, you can make absolutely incredible steak!
 
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Step 1: Parts

Picture of Parts
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The heart of the sous vide cooker is a digital temperature controller.  You can easily find them on eBay for less than $25, including shipping.  Just be sure the controller you buy operates at 110V, and can display temperature in degrees Fahrenheit (if that's what you want).  http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=temperature+controller+110v&_sacat=0&_odkw=temperature+controller&_osacat=0&_from=R40

Notice how the controller has 8 screw terminals (second picture).
3 & 4 - These terminals give the device power to operate.
7 & 8 - The temperature sensor connects to these terminals.
1 & 2 - When the controller senses that the temperature is below the set temperature, it closes this relay.  When it's at (or above) temperature, is opens this relay.  We'll use these two terminals to route power to an outlet.

Other parts
Box - We'll also need an enclosure to put everything into.  I used a 4x4x4 electrical box I purchased at Lowes for $9.
Outlet - I like a single outlet.  I got this one from Home Depot for $3.  I had to cut the tabs a little to make it fit in the box.
C14 receptacle - This is a plug like you find on computers.  Get these from eBay, too.  They should be less than $1 each.   http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=m570.l2736&_nkw=c14+receptacle
C13 power cord - If you don't have one around, you should be able to pick one up for a couple of bucks.  Check eBay or MonoPrice.com.
#4-40 x 3/8" screws - You'll need a couple of screws to connect the C14 receptacle to the box.
14 AWG wire
Wire nut
3 female disconnects
- Optional, but very helpful

Step 2: Installing the C14 receptacle

Create a template - It's pretty difficult to measure and draw on the plastic box, so I like to make a paper template and tape it to the side of the plastic box.  I use Google SketchUp because it's free, easy to create templates, and print them exact size.
Drill holes in corners - Use a small drill bit (e.g. 1/8") to drill holes at the corners of the template.
Dremel - Use a Dremel (or similar) tool to cut the straight lines.  Keep adjusting the hole until the C14 receptacle fits. 
Mark screw holes - Insert the receptacle and mark the screw holes.  Drill appropriately sized holes for the screws you're using.
Install - Install the receptacle using short (e.g. 3/8") screws and nuts.

Step 3: Cut holes in the top of the box

Picture of Cut holes in the top of the box
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The top is done the same way the receptacle was installed in the side of the box.

Template - Tape the template to the top of the plastic box.
Drill holes in corners - Use a small drill bit (e.g. 1/8") to make the corners of the hole.
Dremel - Use a Dremel (or similar) tool to cut the straight lines.  Keep adjusting the hole until the controller fits.

The circular hole for the outlet is a little different.  

Drill the circular hole - My outlet was a slightly less than 1 3/8" in diameter.  I used a 1 3/8" drill bit to make the circular hole.  Be sure to clamp the box top to the drill press before making this hole.
Mark screw holes - Insert the single outlet and mark the screw holes.  Drill appropriately sized holes.
Install - Install the outlet with the screws that came with it.

My box had "feet" on it.  For a more finished look, I used the Dremel to remove the feet.

Step 4: Install the temperature controller

Picture of Install the temperature controller
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The temperature controller should fit snugly in the rectangular hole you made in the box top.  The face of the controller is slightly larger than the body, so any imperfections in the rectangular hole are hidden.

The controller is held in place with the orange clips.  The clips slide in grooves in the controller.  Snug them up tight against the top so the controller is secure.

Step 5: Wiring

Picture of Wiring
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Ground - The ground wire on the C14 receptacle connects directly to the ground on the outlet.
Load - The load from the C14 needs to be split and connected to the relay pin (1) on the controller and to the power pin (3) on the controller.  The second relay pin (2) connects to the load of the outlet.
Neutral - Connect the neutral wire on the C14 receptacle to the neutral screw on the outlet.  Using the second neutral screw on the outlet, connect to the neutral pin (4) on the controller.

Note:  The female disconnects make it much easier to connect the load, neutral, and ground to the C14 receptacle.  Without them, you will probably need to remove the C14 to make the connections.

Temperature probe - Drill a small hole in the side of the box.  Pass the wires of the temperature probe through the hole, and connect to pins 7 and 8 of the controller.

Carefully tuck all the wires into the box.

Step 6: Testing

Picture of Testing
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Testing is fairly easy.

1) Plug in your controller and you should see something on the display.
2) Plug a lamp into the outlet on top.
3) Press the "Set" button and release.
4) Press the up or down arrow to set the "cooking temperature."  For testing purposes, set it to 70 degrees.
5) Don't touch the temperature probe.  The controller should display the current temperature.  The "Work" LED will illuminate and the lamp will turn on.
6) Pinch the temperature probe between your fingers.  You'll see the temperature rise.  When it reaches 70 degrees, the "Work" LED and the lamp will turn off.

If something doesn't work, check your connections.  Something probably came loose while you were tucking wires into the box.

Step 7: Cooking sous vide

Prep the crock pot
1) Fill you crock pot with water.
2) Plug it into your sous vide controller.
3) Plug the sous vide controller into the wall.
4) Press the "Set" button and adjust the temperature.  My family likes our steak at 137 degrees.

Prep the steak
1) Don't even think of cooking $20/lb tenderloin.  The coolest thing about sous vide is that inexpensive cuts are fantastic.  I even had a guest tell me that a $4/lb round steak was the best steak she ever had!
2) I like to trim the steak so there isn't a lot of visible fat.
3) If you are cooking a roast, slice it into 1" thick slices.
4) Season the steak with a little salt and pepper, or steak seasoning.
5) Seal the steak in vacuum bags and drop into the crock pot.
6) Put the temperature probe inside the crock pot.  If I have more than one vacuum bag, I put the probe between them.
7) Be sure the crock pot is turned on.  Cover the crock pot with a towel for a little insulation.
8) Wait 4 to 8 hours.
9) You'll see the temperature controller cycle on and off, turning the crock pot on and off to maintain the perfect temperature.

Finishing - The only down-side of sous vide is that it doesn't add any "char" to the steak, but you can do that in a separate step.
1)   Remove the steaks from the vacuum bags and pat dry with paper towel.
2) Heat a cast iron skillet good and hot.  Add some butter and sear the steaks for 30 to 60 seconds per side.  Don't over-do it.  You don't want to cook them, you're just browning the outside and adding some char.
3) Serve your guest the best steak they have ever had.

For some more information about sous vide, see Sous-Vide 101: Prime Steak Primer http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/03/how-to-sous-vide-steak.html
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Funkspieler2 years ago
I made this exactly as instructed and it's completely awesome. Have since made three more for friends. I don't even know how to read an electrical diagram. I also made the vacuum chamber, also awesome, inexpensive, and highly useful. Will think of you every time I sous vide my sockeye!
dapackers made it!1 month ago

Works great with an 18 quart roaster oven. Did 30 pounds of brisket for 48 hours and it turned out as tender as a tenderloin steak! In 24 hours tough spare ribs just fall off the bones. Also ideal for maintaining the proper serving temperature.

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atgdesign3 months ago
pa0lab00m4 months ago

Great tutorial! I want to build one for my boyfriend who's a non-believer of sous vide without having to shell out a couple of hundred USDs. We are here in the Philippines and our sockets are at 220v. Is there any difference on how should how I get parts?

burkelashell (author)  pa0lab00m3 months ago
Be sure you get a 220v temperature controller.

Other than that, I don't know how 220v differs from 110v? I assume that it'll be wired very similar, but I don't know because I've never worked with 220.
to.cor.144 months ago

I am planning my build using a countertop food warmer http://www.webstaurantstore.com/avantco-w50-12-x-20-electric-countertop-food-warmer-120v-1200w/177W50.html or a roaster oven

http://www.webstaurantstore.com/proctor-silex-32918-18-qt-roaster-oven-warmer-120v-1440w/41032918.html to allow for cooking more product. I believe the food warmer may have space to allow embedding the controller inside the box itself. If not, a smaller electrical box can be used to house the temperature controller and connected external to the food warmer/roaster oven.

pa0lab00m4 months ago

Great tutorial! I want to build one for my boyfriend who's a non-believer of sous vide without having to shell out a couple of hundred USDs. We are here in the Philippines and our sockets are at 220v. Is there any difference on how should how I get parts?

CoryKS4 months ago

I made this and it's wonderful! Took some experimenting but finally got it right on the third try. Thanks so much, burkelashell!

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tgodkin5 months ago

You sure polarity is wrong? Wired it as shown, put it together then checked polarity with a tester. Perhaps the image of the C14 is difficult to interpret. Are we looking at the front or the back?

Works like a charm and will probably make more.

Does that temperature controller remember the last setting? I was thinking about adding a programmable timer relay so I can have an auto on/off function, but that would only work if the temperature controller remembers the last setting after losing power.

Yes, it remembers the last setting. You don't really need the programmable timer, though. Just start your dinner when you leave in the morning, and it'll be perfect whenever you are ready for dinner. You can't over-cook with sous vide.

Thanks!

I actually sous vide eggs in shell (a poached egg) for breakfast, but they only take an hour at 63 C. Delicate proteins like the ones in eggs can definitely overcook if left in the oven a long time, for instance, overnight, or even an extra hour.

A $7 programmable timer means I can drop the eggs in at night and set it to start cooking an hour before I wake up. Perfect eggs with no work. Plus, it means my Crock Pot is temperature-controlled and time-controlled.

But you're generally right, meat is more forgiving and can be cooked for many extra hours without adverse effects.

toweyb made it!5 months ago

$40 is for the deluxe version. I used a fixed power cord and double
outlet from my used parts bin. Total cost was under $25. Otherwise I
made it exactly as described, and it works perfectly. I plan to
calibrate it against my digital fever thermometer. If they agree on my
body temp, hooray; if not, I'll know to adjust. Hope the probe doesn't
taste bad! I have admired a lot of Instructables, but this is the first
one that had me ordering parts on the spot. Thanks!!

I Made the Instructables Sous Vide Controller.jpg
toweyb made it!5 months ago

$40 is for the deluxe version. I used a fixed power cord and double outlet from my used parts bin. Total cost was under $25. Otherwise I made it exactly as described, and it works perfectly. I plan to calibrate it against my digital fever thermometer. If they agree on my body temp, hooray; if not, I'll know to adjust. Hope the probe doesn't taste bad! I have admired a lot of Instructables, but this is the first one that had me ordering parts on the spot. Thanks!!

I Made the Instructables Sous Vide Controller.jpg
toweyb made it!5 months ago

I saved a few bucks with a double outlet and a fixed power cord, both from my used parts bin. Otherwise I made it exactly as described, and it works perfectly. I have admired a lot of Instructables but this is the first one that had me ordering parts on the spot. The total price was well under $40--more like $25. Thanks!!

I Made the Instructables Sous Vide Controller.jpg
Jaymenna78734 made it!5 months ago

I got the controller wired and the crock pot filled with water. I set the crock pot to Low and I set the controller for 100 Degrees (with a 1 degree accuracy) to test. Sure enough when it his 100 degrees the relay trips. (you can hear it in a quiet room) and the working light goes off. But my temperature continued to drift up for quite some time. 115+

I backed off on the crock pot heat: dropping it from Low to Warm and set the temperate for 137. (As Im desperate to try a steak and that particular temperature seems to come up a lot in posts on the web.) Took half an hour but it wouldn't go over 121.

So i left it at 137 and cranked the crock back up to low. Finally temperature

The programming instructions that came with my controller were unreadable : but I found some guidance here:

A cheap digital kitchen thermometer I have show the temperate as constantly 2 degrees higher than the controller.

I controller unit does get a tiny but warm, but its impercptable unless your fingers are directly on the unit.

I took the short cut making the unit. I simply cut an extension cord in half and put the controller "inline" I will box it up but Ill drill small oles in the box and simply tie knots inside making the cords unlikely to be pulled out of the terminals but accident.

Ill drop a cheap circulating pump not the mix here shortly: Cant imagine you need a heck of a lot of circulation at these long cook rates and relatively low volume of water.

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maozai836 months ago

what about this controller? $27.5 sold on ebay.http://www.ebay.com/itm/141553021483

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burkelashell (author)  maozai836 months ago
That looks like it would probably work the same way. DIY gives you much more geek "cred", but this controller will probably work, too.

Give it a try and let us know how it works for you.

It works great. Temp reading is accurate. I think it's helpful to someone who know nothing about electric..

And save time

schwing5 months ago

Awesome project. I'm a bit confused about the wiring. Wiring diagram appears to be different than wire configuration in photos. Specifically, wires connected to pin 3 and 4 on temp controller. Which one is correct?

burkelashell (author)  schwing5 months ago
Good eye! You can swap hot/neutral on pins 3 and 4 with no impact. So, either one is correct (but it would have been a better Instructable if I made the picture and diagram match).
aiannar9746 months ago
What do you set your difference value at or at what temp range does the switch kick on and off? I would think this needs to be pretty tight especially for things like eggs

Anthony
burkelashell (author)  aiannar9746 months ago
Look at the specifications of your temperature controller. Most seem to be 1 degree accuracy.
I agree. But I thought they also had the ability to set the on point so if your goal was 135 you might set the on point at 5 deg and it would kick on when it dropped to 130deg. I saw at least one like this maybe they are not all like this
aiannar9746 months ago
Hello - how does the temp controller listed here compare to a PID? Big difference in cost and more sophisticated feedback, but does it matter for this?


Anthony
burkelashell (author)  aiannar9746 months ago
I haven't used a PID controller, but I think your analysis is correct: the temp controller is cheaper and does what you need.
fly-fast made it!6 months ago

This was fun to make. I made a few changes... I added a GFI, two pumps (each on own switch - so I can run just the sensor). Put both pumps inside box. Added LEDs. Upgraded temperature probe per the suggestion of the eBay seller you reference.

If you want pictures, let me know.

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burkelashell (author)  fly-fast6 months ago
I'd love to see pictures. It's really interesting to see the different boxes everyone finds to put it all in.
solarmax made it!6 months ago

Great instructions. Mine turned out perfect and my test run today with a round steak was great. Worth the $30 that I spent. Thanks!

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burkelashell (author)  solarmax6 months ago
Very nicely done. That round steak looks perfect.
timsk made it!7 months ago

I decided to do this using a cooler, and I'm very pleased with the result. :)

Parts list (with links for buying them in the UK):
• cooler: £19.99 if you don't already have one http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0001MQ8E4
• 4mm acrylic sheet big enough to cover your cooler: ~£14 http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/200980451609
• cup boiler: £13.75 http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B007OVCSSU
• digital temperature controller with thermocouple: £10.18 http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/171472800127
• project box: £3.75 from Maplin
• 4W submersible aquarium pump: £5.99 http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LZNM770
• Sugru: 2 x 5g blue + 1 x 5g white to make colour-matched corner blobs that help the acrylic sheet to sit snugly on top of the cooler; and 1 x 5g white to hold the cup boiler in the hole in the acrylic sheet. http://sugru.com/

Total cost: ~£75. So not the "under $15" that some have claimed, but the £75 does include the price of a cooler, and you might be able to find some of the parts cheaper elsewhere. Good luck!

Method

Put the acrylic sheet on top of the cooler, draw round the top using a Sharpie, then use a jigsaw to cut out the shape.

Use a 36mm hole saw (e.g. http://www.screwfix.com/p/titan-holesaws-15-piece-... to make the hole for the Cup Boiler, then fix the Cup Boiler in place using white Sugru. Put four big blobs of Sugru near the corners of your acrylic sheet to hold it snugly on top of your cooler. Leave it all for 24 hours for the Sugru to cure.

Meanwhile, connect up the electrics. The pump should run continuously, while the Cup Boiler should be controlled by the thermostat.

I also fixed the project box to the acrylic sheet by replacing the box's four corner screws with longer ones that go through the acrylic.

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burkelashell (author)  timsk7 months ago
Very nicely done. I really like the addition of the submersible aquarium pump. Great work!

Great idea and great lesson! Thanks,

Especially the techniques used to get the odd holes cut. Really useful! And if any of you haven't tried sous vide you gotta try it! Juciy tender results and dead easy to do.

sharpstick7 months ago

If you are concerned about running a device above the rated current, you can indeed use a relay. You could even use two or more on different breakers, or a higher current, 220 volt device.

I use a "bucket heater" designed to keep horse water troughs from freezing. The interface of that controller was annoying.

I've also burned out a couple even with nothing above their current limits. I now use a Johnson temp controller(I also use it for brewing, to cool a fermentation box.) It has simpler up down controls

I've used a large cooler with an airstone placed beneath the heater, later replaced with a water pump to distribute the heat evenly.

Some temperature probes are not waterproof. I've killed a couple oven probes in hot water. Either make sure the probe is waterproof, or put in in a thermowell of some sort. Most thermometers and probes are not capable of the accuracy required for sous vide. I highly recommend Thermoworks thermometers to calibrate your system. They're supposedly certified to be accurate, and I trust them.

cristiann7 months ago

I got all the parts but the pump. Has anyone used and external pump? something like an "Air-Stone" for aquariums . I was thinking that should do the trick...

Fabri9 months ago
I Made my sous vide controller last week and I'm using a deep fryer.
Even if your instructions are created and simple, I had some trouble wiring all the connections.
I cocked a beef steak and some salmon perfectly and I'm going on experimenting other recipes.
Thank you for this wonderful Instructables

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rehpotsirhc Fabri8 months ago

How many watts is your deep fryer? I was thinking about using a Nesco roaster for more volume but at 1450 Watts it comes to around 13 amps, exceeeding the max amperage of the controller.

hussmanne made it!10 months ago

Tried it out for the first time last night. Salmon came out great! Thank you for sharing. I have a project box that I'll be putting it in.

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Hey! I think i have the same temp controller as you, can you help me with the wiring... I am a noob at this type of stuff and I am having problems understanding the wiring...

Hi there, this worked best for me:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrdOpk10MkE
Had to keep pausing/rewinding the video, but got it eventually
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