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!
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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!
fhaller2 days ago

This looks like a great project and I am going to build it, but have a question about making it a dual-purpose rig. This temp sensor is clearly for submersion. Do you believe this same design would work as a controller for a wood smoker if it had a different temp sensor attached? If so do you happen to have any recommendation? I was thinking of using a micro-plug in the controller box to make it easy to swap between the two temp sensors...

burkelashell (author)  fhaller2 days ago
I can't think of a reason it wouldn't work. Just be sure your sensor and controller can handle the temperature range, and you'll be good.
wlee1725 days ago

My temperature controller immediately blew when I turned the power on. My lamp survived the trip though. My wires seem to be in place. Any idea on what could have happened? I'm using 220v.

burkelashell (author)  wlee1725 days ago

That's a bummer. I'm sorry to hear it.

One way to troubleshoot would be to connect only the power (connections 3 & 4), and the temperature probe. If the controller powers up, lets you set it, and displays the temperature, you know you have a couple of the wires correct. Then, you can add additional wires.

I hope that helps.

bennelson made it!26 days ago

I built one, just using an enclosure I had kicking around. Working pretty good so far. If you add a Kill A Watt, you can also track power and total cooking energy. For anyone wondering, my Crock-Pot uses 160 watts on high and 90 watts on low, and a simple emersion "tea cup heater" runs at 70 watts.

jaredshearer made it!27 days ago

One word: Awesome. I'll never cook steak any other way.

I find that I need to set it a few degrees F lower than I want it to hold at as the lack of water circulation causes it to overshoot the target temperature by a few degrees. I did calibrate my temperature controller. It might be that I should try it with the slow cooker on low instead of high, but I haven't tried it.

The only "tough" part of the construction was keeping the connectors on the pins of the C14 receptacle while I pushed the top down onto the base. They must have popped off twenty times! Hard wiring the cord in there would have been easier, but being able to remove it is really convenient.

Thanks for the great write-up!

2014-03-09 20.03.44.jpg2014-03-10 17.30.14.jpg2014-03-11 20.53.31.jpg
burkelashell (author)  jaredshearer26 days ago
That's some great looking steak. Nice job!
pindash1 month ago

I seem to have burnt out my last controler with a pot that says 1000watts. Does that make sense and should I be worried about plugging it into the new controller or was the previous one defective.

burkelashell (author)  pindash1 month ago

That really shouldn't burn out your controller. Give it more try. Connect only the power and the probe and see if it works. It might not be dead after all.

shavig1 month ago
(removed by author or community request)
burkelashell (author)  shavig1 month ago

By fluctuation, do you mean variance of temperature in different parts of your crock pot? Or, do you mean that there is a big swing from too low to too high? The controller should turn on when the temperature is below the set temp, and off when the temperature is above the set temp. That should keep things in a nice narrow temperature band.

thanks for quick reply, I mean that if I were to set to 50, it will drop to 49 then rapidly jump to 54, then drop back very slowly to 49, then loop and do again, so it spends very little time at the set temp, the only thing i can think to do is set it 4 degrees lower than desired temp and add cooking time, but i dont know if that might be unsafe to cook some things, am missing something?

SQWIB shavig1 month ago

@Shavig This may have something to do with your method of heating the water. I have a roaster and on my roaster I had a 5.4°F differential using a celsius temperature controller, I swapped it out for a Fahrenheit controller and now get a swing of 3.7°F . A rice cooker or Coffee urn should have less of a swing than a crock pot or roaster due to their design.

It should never go lower than your Low Limit but what happens is you get carry over heat (Convection) from the appliance, this is where the temp swing is coming from.

If you want more precise temps, your going to need a PID controller

The burkashell controller works great and has its place, but is not great for precision cooking.

@Bhole they are recommending Solid State Relays for builds that are using higher wattage items such as the immersion heaters, this relay in this controller works fine on a Roaster, Crock, Coffee Urn, Rice cooker.

I strongly suggest a circulator but beware if running temps higher than 160° it may melt.

Also make sure to calibrate the controller with a high quality thermometer such as a Thermapen

I love the project, but you've got the neutral on the wrong side of the receptacle.
teeps1 month ago

Shipping from China takes forever. You can get the same prices fulfilled by Amazon with Prime shipping :



project box:

Thanks for the awesome instructable!

shavig1 month ago

i have made one, but have been having problems getting it to hold temp, How close can you get to your set temperature? and how far above your set temp does it rise? mine is jumping 4 degrees over temp every time it kicks on

I forgot a very important point. Temperature sensor placement is very, very important. It should placed immediately next to product being cooked. If there are two packages place sensor between them.

If the sensor is too close to the heat source (ie. touching or very near the cooker wall or bottom) temperature fluctuations can occur as you have indicated..

If you are using a PID controller you are experiencing over-shoot due to too narrow a 'proportioning band'. Go into the menu and try increasing the proportioning band (reduce gain = same thing). Widen the prop. band until system stabilizes. If the stable temp is below the setpoint you need to increase the "Integral" a little bit at a time to allow the controller to match the 'actual' temp to the 'setpoint' temp.

Remember, too narrow a proportioning band may cause oscillation. If temp stabilizes below setpoint add a little Integral. Easy-peasy. ;-)

I spent 30 years selling and teaching about these little buggers! They work great once you understand what's going on. (Maybe I should post an Instructable!?) Good luck.

Here's a link that might help.

PM if you need more help.

Cheers for the info! and yes you should do an instructable, I'm sure there are others out there like me that would find it handy!
bhole26 months ago
One of the other DIY sous vide articles says not to use temperature controllers that have built in relays. I honestly don't really know what this mean but the one you picked out seems to have it. Should I be worried about this?

There was bad information given re relay vs solid-state relay. There is no difference between them that matters. The mass of the water and the product being heated is large enough to average out the actual cook temperature. Even an inexpensive controller can anticipate the rise and fall of the temperature and act to finely tune the power needed to accurately control the temp.

burkelashell (author)  bhole26 months ago
That other article must have a different way to control the temperature. My approach uses the relay in the temperature controller to turn the crock-pot on and off.

If you want to link to that other article I can take a look and see why they said you don't need a built-in relay. My goal was to keep the project cheap and easy, and still cook a great steak.
Sorry, should have included this. Here is the link:

It refers to a PID controller, which I'm guessing is different from what you're doing? Sorry if I'm totally off here. Thanks for the quick reply!
burkelashell (author)  bhole26 months ago
Ah. He made different trade-offs. For cost and simplicity, I used a temperature controller with a mechanical relay to switch the power on and off. He had an experience where a mechanical relay failed, so he's using a temperature controller without a relay, and using an external solid state relay (with no moving parts).
sle51 month ago

U.R.Awesome! :)

mknapen2 months ago

I bought a 220v STC-1000 temperature controller, and the pin output looks slightly different: pins 1&2 are labeled "power supply 220V", pins 3&4 "sensor", pins 5&6 "heating", pins 7&8 "cooling". Can I use your wiring diagram, replacing your 1&2 with my 5&6, and your 3&4 with my 1&2?


burkelashell (author)  mknapen2 months ago
That's exactly right.
sherring32 months ago

Hi. I have just ordered the temperature controller from ebay uk. It is a 240v version for use in the UK. My question is on regards to the wiring. Is load what we guys call the 'live' wire? I.e. 240v coming into the appliance. I assume neutral is the same term we ise in the UK and I am assuming ground os what we know as earth connection? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

burkelashell (author)  sherring32 months ago
You're right on:
Load = Live (i.e 120v or 240v)
Ground = Earth
Neutral = Neutral
IamGutter3 months ago

Thanks for this well designed controller Instructable. I built it exactly as shown, worked without a flaw right from the start. I am using it with an old rice cooker and the first things that came out of it were 3 perfectly cooked steaks. My wife is sold on it and wants to try many other foods in it! Thanks again, well done!

burkelashell (author)  IamGutter3 months ago
That's awesome. I hope you enjoy many perfectly cooked meals in it.
zgrace3 months ago
Does the controller get hot? I saw another instructable that used a wooden box to contain everything and I want to do something like that. Just don't want a possible fire hazard!
burkelashell (author)  zgrace3 months ago
>> Does the controller get hot?
Not at all.

Post a picture when you're done. I'd love to see your enclosure.

Will do. The controller is being shipped now so hope to have it done soon.

chris.klim3 months ago
re problems from November. the power supply cable was faulty. it was the very last part I checked and the only one I have not build myself! Thank you again for that project
primer1114 months ago
I got the controller working fine, with a dual socket to run a immersion heater and an aquarium pump. But the thermometer stopped reading accurately. The temperature reads 30deg C lower than true, based on values 0 and 100 in an ice bath and boiling water. The cheap thermocouple must be broken, but there's no cheap way I've found to replace it. According to the operating limits on ebay listings of the Willhi, the unit works up to 55C or 122F, which isnt hot enough for sous vide meat. Has anyone had a unit fail like this? I'm debating buying a new thermostat controller to swap in, and then to coat the thermocouple, which might prevent oxidizing the metal end, but wont prevent another high temperature failure. Any advice?
burkelashell (author)  primer1114 months ago
>> the unit works up to 55C or 122F, which isnt hot enough for sous vide meat.
55C/122F certainly isn't enough for sous vide cooking.

The controller I purchased has these specs:
Temperature Measuring Range: -58 ~ 194 deg F
Sensor Type: NTC (10K/3435)

>> The cheap thermocouple must be broken
I think you're right. Searching eBay shows lots of results for "NTC sensor". You should be able to get a replacement fairly cheaply.

Good luck,
The thermocouple came in on a slow boat from China. It works flawlessly. Just finished cooking a chicken porchetta 140F, possibly the best chicken I've ever had. Thanks for this.
fns7204 months ago
I built this and I designed a compact 3d printable case to the controller device - it's free, you can download it from Thingiverse:

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