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Sous Vide for $20 Answered

Sous vide is a cool way of cooking foods at low temperatures for a long time that makes the flavors more intense as a result. Even the cheapest setup for this is about $150 if you already have a rice cooker or crock pot lying around. Serious Eats has explored this territory before with success and now has a method for doing this with nothing but a simple beer cooler and some ziploc bags.

To do it you need to fill up your cooler with water a couple degrees higher than your target temperature. Then just drop in ziploc bags with your meat inside. Wait an hour or two and voila! Cheap sous vide.

This method only works for a couple hours so it won't help you cook your ribs for 48 hours, but but does give you an introduction to the technique and help you decide if you want to go for the full setup.

Cook Your Meat in a Beer Cooler: The World's Best (and Cheapest) Sous-Vide Hack  via kottke

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dustinandrews (author)2010-08-08

You can see how I used a hacked aquarium heater to maintain my water temp in a beer cooler here: https://www.instructables.com/id/Steaks-Sous-Vide-Vacuum-cooking-on-the-cheap/

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killerjackalope (author)2010-05-03

Noone ever think of basing it around a mini fridge? Almost all of them have a heat function that heats to 140F or 60C...

I imagine the temperature wouldn't fluctuate too badly since it's using a peltier and circuit... They're actually quite decent inside for a meat course, size wise that is... 

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Jayefuu (author)killerjackalope2010-05-03

I'm thinking about hacking one to do that. You've already got the TEC there. You'd probably need to replace the controller since you might not be able to edit the temperature setpoint on the existing one.

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killerjackalope (author)Jayefuu2010-05-03

Can't edit it, however it would actually work at a constant for that temperature, well about it... Maybe a PWM for the TEC? 

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Jayefuu (author)killerjackalope2010-05-03

Yes. PWM for the TEC. Reverse the current to the TEC and the inside will get hot instead of cold. My final year uni project is control of TECs. Could reuse it to do this. Expect an instructable om hacking a minifridge into a sousvide cooker... Argos do a cheap one for £15 that I've used before.

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killerjackalope (author)Jayefuu2010-05-03

The original mechanism for switching could probably be kept and just replace the thermostat mechanism with the PWM control, if it just runs at constant you could probably get away with a relay or power transistor... The one thing I'd say really needs to be modified is the heat delivery, maybe just use heat pipes like elements to get a more even water temp.

Actually you could skip the fridge and use a kettle - the fridge would be good too but replace the fans in them, with something like a server blower, because the noise grates on you very fast.

Good luck with the instructable, can't wait to see it. 

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Jayefuu (author)killerjackalope2010-05-03

A kettle's a good idea! Just hack it so it doesn't get as hot. :D

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killerjackalope (author)Jayefuu2010-05-03

It wouldn't need to be powerful either, the £3 ones from tesco's would do perfectly... 

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Jayefuu (author)killerjackalope2010-05-03

£3 kettle? I'll get one tomorrow :D (You're Ireland right? Coming to maker faire 2011? There're plans for an instructables stall)

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killerjackalope (author)Jayefuu2010-05-04

Aye, over in Belfast... With any luck I'll be over, hopefully with a few projects to bring too.

For the kettle I reckon a simple basket hung in to it above the elements would work - Before you modify it try doing kettle boiled eggs, it's actually pretty good...

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Tool Using Animal (author)2010-05-03

Just an idea, I'd do it, but I'm tapped out right now.

Take a digital thermostat ($20+), desolder the thermostat and install some leads so you can use it in the pot (with requisite waterproofing).  You'll need to spoof the thermostat because they are generally limited to 55-90 deg F, perhaps putting a resistor of equal value to the thermistor in series(or parallel), then you can calibrate to see what recorded temp equals the temp you're looking for.  Use this to control a 120V 12v Coil relay attached to a heater...

The differential on digital thermostats usually +/-1 F 

Just a thought.

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kelseymh (author)2010-04-28

Sous vide sounds like a really intriguing cooking method.  I do have a pragmatic, safety-related question. 

The normal recommendations for cooking temperature (e.g., minimum internal temperatures for meat, poultry, etc.) are designed to protect against bacterial contamination.  The temperature shown in the example (127F) strikes me as an excellent incubation temperature for growing bacterial colonies, rather than eliminating them.

Are there other techniques used with sous vide to achieve food-safety protection?  Specific sources for the meat, etc.?

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kelseymh (author)kelseymh2010-04-28

It took some searching, but I eventually found a reply from the author down in the comments of the original blog. I guess the point is that sous vide is done with thin slices, rather than chunks, so the temperatures of the bath and the "internal" meat are the same.

Here's the author's comment:

Food safety issues are a function of time and temperature. Take a look at the graf on this page to get an idea.

Basically, most bacteria will cease growing around 125 degrees F, and will start being actively killed at 130 degrees F. Below this temperature, they are multiplying, so you don't want foods to sit below 125 for very long (the 15-30 minutes it takes to cook a piece of salmon is totally fine as long as the salmon is fresh).

With dangerous things like raw chicken, it's best to follow that graph. around an hour and a half at 135 degrees, or 35 minutes or so at 140 (that's after the chicken has come all the way up to temp, by the way). As long as you are careful with monitoring your temperatures, there's no real issues as far as food safety is concerned.

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canida (author)kelseymh2010-05-03

Here's the reference we use.  Has lots of useful charts:
http://amath.colorado.edu/~baldwind/sous-vide.html

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fungus amungus (author)kelseymh2010-04-28

Cool. Thanks for digging that up.

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Goodhart (author)2010-04-28

The low setting on a slow cooker crock pot....would that do a similar thing?  Or do you need it pretty well sealed? 

I have cooked chicken in "the pot" until the bones were as soft as the chicken.....but one needs a decent lid,  or else they need to replace lost fluid (from steam) ever few hours.

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fungus amungus (author)Goodhart2010-04-28

No. You want to maintain the temperature to within a degree. Temperature controls on crock pots aren't nearly so accurate.

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Goodhart (author)fungus amungus2010-04-28

I see....hmmm,  I wonder how hard it would be to make it more accurate.....hmmm

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NachoMahma (author)Goodhart2010-04-29

,  Replacing the bimetallic thermostat with a PI (or PID) controller and thermocouple should give you the ± one degree you are looking for. Here's one for $200.* For temperature control, you may want to look at a cascade controller (basically two controllers in one).


*Not a recommendation, just the first good example I found.

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Goodhart (author)NachoMahma2010-04-30
So, it is not only  expensive new, but for this amount of power control, it might be expensive to run. 

I was thinking though, maybe not, if it regulates, rather then just "turns on full, turns off".  

I might even be able to cannibalize one
 

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Subvert (author)Goodhart2010-04-29

The typical method seems to be a special controller that actually cycles the power on the crock pot from a thermostat stuck in the liquid.

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Goodhart (author)Subvert2010-04-29

Yeah,  keeping it within a degree....it would mean removing almost all "electrical hysteresis".   It doesn't sound too ecocnomical really. 

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