Picture of Perfect Steaks; Sous-Vide style (Vacuum cooking on the cheap)
Commercial Sous-Vide equipement is $450 for the low end. You can buy the equipement in this instructable for less than $50, and probably less if you have any of the pieces laying around. 

Bonus Extra Instructables:
For less than $70 you can also build your own "PID" controller from an arduino with this instructable. An aquarium heater works well in a cooler to keep a constant temperature. Here is  how to rig it to be always on. With those two projects you can have a "set and forgot" system that is accurate to 1 degree F.

This instructable is unique in the use of the hacked aquarium thermometer to heat the water when it starts to cool. It allows much more precise control than a tea pot heating method. If you don't want to hack a heater, I describe how to heat water on the stove. It's just more labor intensive. This method is still under manual control, but you just plug and unplug the heater. If you add the PID controller, it's all automatic.

Sous-Vide means "under vacuum". As a cooking method, it's a key to perfectly cooked meats that don't need babysitting or split second timing. It's even possible cook eggs and custards to perfection. This instructable will show you how you can experiment with this technique using equipment that is much cheaper.  if you already have a water tight beer cooler and a vaccuum sealer of some kind, you might even already have everything you need. Douglas Baldwin's web page has a lot of information and recipes once you have the basics sorted out.  Also check out EWilhelm's Sousvide instructable, which is partially what got us started.  Eric uses a commercial temperature controller which allows more hands-off cooking, but increases the cost about double what our Aruino based solution did.  If you want to try this cooking method out on the cheap, read through here and you can probably do your first meal with what you have laying around. Beware, you may get hooked on perfect steak and end up spending your weekends soldering up controllers for friends and family.
geoxman3 years ago
Maybe it is just me but I do not even like putting plastic in my refrigerator for storage, let alone cooking with it. Even if the zip lock bags "might" be BPA free, the chemicals leaching into the food can't be good for you.
lross33 years ago
Have you thought about using one of those $5 submersible hot water heaters, like the ones travelers put in a mug of coffee to heat it to scalding?
mdeblasi15 years ago
I could be missing something here, forgive me if I am, but how do you know when your water reaches temperature w/o taking the cooler lid off and raising the temperature? Why would you take the thermostat out of the aquarium heater when you are trying to hold a steady temperature? (Wait, it won't get hot enough, will it?) Although I believe that you do not say, if you find your meat underdone, you should be able to seal it back up and put it back into the correct water temperature again, right? I'm guessing this is going to happen often enough because the water temperature will drop every time you open the lid to check the temperature.
dustinandrews (author)  mdeblasi15 years ago
I use the electronic temperature probe to monitor the water temperature. If you have an instant read thermometer, you can dip it in the cooler to monitor the temp. If you have the kind without batteries, you can just keep it in the water and raise it up to check the temp. I floated mine in the hole of a bamboo scraper before I got the electric probe. I hacked the heater to be always on. When the water gets hot enough, I unplug it until the water cools two degrees F. Normal heaters top out around 90 deg. F. so they won't cook the fish! You could add some electronics to replace hold the temperature. That will be another instructable if I ever get to it. You can always seal the meat back up and cook it some more. Save any juice for the new bag so your meat doesn't dry out. I sealed a thermometer into one bag last time and I could see the internal temp on the thermometer. Don't do this with the kind that has batteries of course.