Introduction: Sous Vide Cooker for Less Than $40

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!

Step 1: Parts

Picture of Parts

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

Picture of 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

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

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

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

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

Comments

Funkspieler (author)2012-10-31

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!

BryanC70 made it! (author)2017-02-06

My first instructable! After reading through everyone's comments, I've gathered multiple suggestions from all of you to finally make my own controller. The finished product turned out great! Everything is enclosed in a project box with an added decal for style points.

Thanks to the author and everyone who posted above!

Can't wait to try that first steak.

Tha

chuck9000 (author)BryanC702017-09-13

Did you custom make the jack for the probe? If so could you give me some pointers on how to? Very slick build.

EthanK43 (author)BryanC702017-04-04

Could you point me in the direction of where to get a project box like that?

BryanC70 (author)EthanK432017-04-05

I purchased the project box from a store called Sayal Electronics. I'm Canadian and not sure if they are in the US or not. I was in a rush to finish the controller so I opted for going to a brick/mortar. I'm sure you can source one on eBay for cheaper.

Best of luck with the build and if you have any other questions, shoot away!

P. S. My first steak was INCREDIBLE.

EthanK43 (author)EthanK432017-04-04

I also really like the removable probe, and the black square outlet you used, any tips would be greatly appreciated!

burkelashell (author)BryanC702017-02-07

Beautiful build. I love the removable probe, and you definitely get points for the decal. Now start cooking!

yagedk (author)2017-02-07

It's definitely been fun making two of these and of course using them for all things awesome in the kitchen, but China is catching up and ebay now has a controller for around $13. I ordered one to test it out and it works very well and does the same as the DIY one. It's also smaller and cheaper than making your own.

The advantage of the DIY is still that you can replace the temperature probe if it fails (which mine did) and that the controller itself can be customized a bit more. And of course it's more fun making your own :)

Here's the link to the one I bought: http://www.ebay.com/itm/391373376655 (you can also search ebay or google for "mh2000 temperature controller" to find it).

Psyckosama (author)yagedk2017-08-11

Not really much of an option for people in the US. Differnt voltage and plug design.

Psyckosama (author)2017-08-11

I did a cheaper version of this.

Rather than sourcing wire and sockets, I simply used an old extension cord. It was cheaper and happily did the job. Then I used a dead harddrive enclosure as the case.

WayneH97 (author)2017-08-01

This is an awesome tutorial and build, thank you! I replicated your process an it worked out great, then I discovered an all in one solution which also works (http://www.yourharts.ca/2017/07/28/my-mouth-was-pleased-a-sous-vide-story/). This was a great starting point though, so thanks again!

D.R.O (author)2017-05-11

this seems like pure genius. I am going to ask my brother, who happens to be an electrical engineer to make me a box.

zonexo (author)2017-04-05

Hi, I've got the sensor working. However, how much water should I put in and should I close the lid? I read somewhere to fill 70% and close the lid. However, frequently, the temperature continues to increase pass the set temperature and overshoots by 5 - 10deg. It then slowly cools down until it reaches the set temperature. The sensor is turned on but it continues to cool again by 5 - 10deg. So how can I improve my situtation? Thanks!

burkelashell (author)zonexo2017-04-06

I've had really good results, so I haven't experimented too much with these variables, but this is what I do:
-I fill the pot pretty much full. I think this prevents rapid temperature swings.
-I cover the pot with the lid.
-I put a towel over the crock pot to add some insulation.

I suspect your problem has to do with the temperature probe location. I like to put the probe next to whatever I'm cooking. I usually put a small bowl in the crock pot and put the packet on top of the bowl to keep it in the middle of the crock pot. For one packet, I usually place the probe between the bowl and the packet. If I have two packets, I place the probe so it sticks out between them.

I hope that helps. Do some experiments and let us know what you find out.

zonexo (author)burkelashell2017-04-06

Hi, thanks for the tips. I'll give it a go and update my results!

Pa1963 (author)2017-02-10

Most store boughten sous-vide cookers include a water circulation feature, but simple convection would seem to be sufficiently even for successful cooking. I suppose an aquarium pump would be easy to wire to this controller. Can't wait to put mine together.

whiteboardwarriors2 made it! (author)2017-02-05

Nice idea. I was going to make one with Arduino and just never got around to it. Then my wife got The Food Lab Cookbook and the pressure was on when I saw your idea. I actually had it basically set up already to use as a controller for a cooling fan for her plant starting chamber so I just 3D printed a box and routed a top from a cheap cutting board so it would look good in the kitchen. We've done salmon and steak so far and they are amazing. Just ordered 4 more controllers from eBay ($10.75 each) to make them for other family members. Thanks again.

yagedk made it! (author)2017-01-24

This is awesome! I made it like the instructions and it's perfect. Bought an electrical box on ebay and it fits perfectly. Made steak, eggs, carrots and used it daily for 8 hour oatmeal.

Unfortunately my box got stolen so I'm now making a new one. I got an outlet with an on/off switch this time, but I'm having trouble with the wiring as this outlet obviously has more places to connect the wires.

Does anyone have an idea how to wire an outlet with a switch? See attached photos.

Thanks a lot in advance!

burkelashell (author)yagedk2017-01-24

The connection at the top with the "arrow looking" symbol is ground (https://i.stack.imgur.com/dCYJg.png). I assume "L" means Load and "N" means Neutral.I don't see labels on the other pins.

One way to figure out what they are is to use a multi-meter. Use the resistance setting to see which pins on the back are connected to each other (zero resistance), and which plugs on the front are connected to the pins on the back.

mauriceh (author)2017-01-12
maozai83 (author)2015-01-29

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

harley1974 (author)maozai832016-11-21

New improvements as time goes on. Less than $15 US!

Temperature Controller Thermostat 110V, model RC-112R or RC-112

http://www.ebay.ca/itm/131741648218?ssPageName=STR...

I have no idea of the quality or actual usability of this since i've never used it, but it looks like an interesting development.

ucn (author)maozai832016-01-18

UPDATE: I've received the electronic temperature controller from ebay and tested it out with my analog crockpot and it works pretty great as a sous vide machine. (See photos)

The PID temperature reading is accurate, and you can also calibrate it if necessary. (+-3.0 deg)

There is a bit of temperature fluctuation to be expected when using a crockpot, up to +- 0.5 deg (C) on 'low'', because the crockery continues to emit/absorb heat even after the heating element turns off/on. However, that's more than good enough for me. 63 degree eggs turned out perfectly runny, 64 degree eggs turned out with a nice yolk that barely holds together, and 55 degree salmon was lovely, although it could benefit from a couple of degrees less heat for a creamier texture.

Critiques:

1) When it came the contacts in the socket were not 'tight' enough so I thought it was broken. I just needed to tweak the contacts (without opening it up, and without powering it up) with a tiny screwdriver to make them contact my crockpot's plug better. Works fine now.

2) There are a lot of detailed settings to play with but only 4 buttons, so you really need the manual to figure out where you are in the menu of options. The manual is in decent english. But once set, you're good to go.

3) You must either set the gadget to work in 1.0 deg increments OR 0.1 deg increments. So if you want accurate control (eg set the crockpot to start heating when temp falls by 0.1 deg below target), then to set the target temperature you have to use the up/down buttons to scroll to the desired temperature in 0.1 deg increments. A little bit slow if you need to change the temp by more than 10 degrees, but you can just hold down the button as it scrolls up/down.

All in all, not bad for a $23 gadget! Would buy it again any day over a $200 immersion circulator.

ucn (author)maozai832016-01-05

Wow, that's a great find! I've already ordered one myself, and will update once we receive it and test it out. In the meantime we've done some sous vide cooking experiments, using just a styrofoam box and a digital thermometer. Worked great, although it requires some monitoring. See more here: https://www.instructables.com/id/Styrofoam-Sous-Vide-Salmon

burkelashell (author)maozai832015-01-29

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.

maozai83 (author)burkelashell2015-02-01

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

And save time

AlexanderS232 (author)2016-11-21

But how do you actually heat the water-bath? :)

harley1974 (author)AlexanderS2322016-11-21

This Instructable uses a crock-pot / slow cooker as the heat source, so the sous-vide container is also the heater. I've never tried this.

Personally, I use a large Coleman cooler with an 800watt submersion heater and external aquarium air pump with a similar eBay temperature controller and wired outlet setup. Works well.

Other than my concern about the compact size of the slow cooker and how much it lets heat escape from the un-insulated container, this method should also work fine.

DerekMellott made it! (author)2016-11-13

This is great and easy to make, I just used both ends of a short extension cord for simplicity. Thanks so much for this!

babycody (author)2016-10-16

Just got this hooked up. This is the first project I have ever tackled on instructables. Looks like it is working great. I am ready to celebrate with steak. Your instructions were easy to follow. The hardest part was waiting twice to receive parts from China. Thank you for taking the time to show everyone how to do this ourselves.

Tony_D1 (author)2016-10-14

This is an amazing idea. The ones I've seen before this involved a cooler and a probe thermometer which is a less expensive and more primitive way of doing it. I can see that you have taken some time to think this out. Congrads!

philwieda (author)2016-03-18

Could you substitute a large turkey roaster for the crock pot so more than one item can be cooked?

burkelashell (author)philwieda2016-03-18

Sure. The only down-side is that without anything to circulate the water, you're going to have some temperature differences.

I've actually found that to be just fine, though. Different people like their meat done to different temperatures.

ravenryder (author)burkelashell2016-05-20

I use an aquarium air pump with an airstone for circulation put in center bottom of large oval crockpot...

philwieda (author)burkelashell2016-03-18

Perhaps adding a circulating pump might help. There would be room for it

NathanP62 (author)2016-05-07

I bought the $10 controller with the orange clips on ebay. I am using a receptacle and a c13 cable and i plan on cutting one end of the c13 and put it straight into the controller. Does anyone have a diagram or a walk through on this method?? Not sure how to wire the receptacle and the c13 cable

Thanks!

burkelashell (author)NathanP622016-05-08

Just use the diagram in Step 5 (Wiring). Skip the C14 receptacle, strip the wires on the cord, and connect the load/hot (red or black) to screws 1 and 3 on the controller. Connect the neutral wire (white) to the outlet and on through to screw 4 on the controller. Connect the ground (bare or green) to the outlet.

Easy peasy. Good luck and bon appetit.

burkelashell (author)kevohill2016-05-05

I got a response back from yorkshireukpeter

He said, "If it's on the internet and is free... it's not stealing"

Amazing. I guess some people just don't get it.

burkelashell (author)kevohill2016-05-05

That's not me. Wow. They definitely stole the picture and description from my "ible".

I contacted the seller and eBay to have the listing removed.

Thanks for letting me know.

MattW120 made it! (author)2016-04-13

I followed this instructable which was very clear and well laid out. The Inkbird F1000 controller i ordered had different numbers for terminals (1 and 2 for power, 5 and 6 for relay, 3 and 4 for temp probe) but it wasnt difficult to reassign the diagram to them.

The only changes i made were 1) using a switched outlet mainly because i couldnt find a single where i was and didnt want the risk of someone accidentally plugging a second one in / asthetics). It also let me turn off the circuit while still using the probe to measure temp). This switch also had a pilot light which was useful to see when it was active while in the on position). 2) My outlet didn't have a second neutral screw so i joined the two neutrals from the outlet and the controller using a wire nut back to the c14 receptacle. 3) My ABS box had a metal faceplate so i figured it would give it some character. I used electrical tape across inner side to insulate it (just in case...) 4) i haven't gotten around to it yet but will be soldering temp probe to 1/4 inch mono jack so its removeable like shoe007.

Great instructable and ill be enjoying my new sous vide cooker. Thanks so much for the great meal and ones to come!

burkelashell (author)MattW1202016-04-13

Very nicely done! That steak looks great. I think I'll have to do some sous vide cooking this weekend.

mhdguy (author)2016-04-13

not the prettiest system in the world but I'm loving coming with my new sous vide controller

mhdguy (author)mhdguy2016-04-13

Cooking*

MikeD179 made it! (author)2016-04-11

Thanks for this instructable! I've made virtually the exact same temperature controller for a beer Keezer in the past, but this post made me realize I could use my old crock pot as a diy sous vide. What I really liked was using the c14 receptacle for the power plug. The one I made for the keezer used a c13 cable with the end cut off and directly connected to the internals, so the plug always has to remain with the unit. I really like being able to unplug the cord!

SpareiChan made it! (author)2016-03-28

Worked good, used an extension cord and snap shut mini tote instead though. Thank you for step-by-step.

burkelashell (author)SpareiChan2016-03-28

That simplified a couple steps and cut the cost, too. Nice work!

shawngerkin (author)2016-02-08

Has anybody found these temp controllers locally?

Home Depot, etc.

JeremyW35 (author)2016-01-13

note, always have the switching on the hot, not the neutral. All netrauls should be common, and the controller be grounded. By switching the neutral, you could break the path to ground which is not an good idea when mixing electricity and water.

Be safe.

timsk made it! (author)2014-12-18

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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