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I have an electric oven which has a temperature setting, starting at 50c and goes up in 5 degree increments; [50,55,60,65,...]. It also has a fan to circulate air. (pictured below)

Will this be accurate/stable enough to do sous-vide? I'm asking about modern domestic electric ovens in general as opposed to my particular brand (whirlpool).

If I put my bagged meat in to a pot of, say 65deg water, and put it in the oven set for 65deg. Will the water ever get more than a degree or two above 65?

I suspect that even if the oven fluctuates +-10deg, the thermal mass of the water won't allow it's contents to fluctuate in temperature change so much, assuming of course that the oven will average at 65deg.

Has anyone tried sous-vide with their oven, or are the thermostats so inaccurate that it not likely to work?

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3 Answers

As for accuracy that's not something this forum can say. If the oven is accurate and the temperature does not fluctuate more than a few degrees then yes it would be accurate enough, but if the fluctuations are more then no. The only way to find out is to get a very accurate oven thermometer and test it.

Sous vide cooking requires water to be flowing around the food which is why sous vide machines have a water pump to keep the heat evenly distributed. In an oven pot you'd likely got hot spots and cold spots as there won't be any circulation besides convection, which may not be enough. Without some sort of pump you'd probably get uneven cooking.

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You shouldn't have hot/cold spot problems much in an oven, since the heat is coming from all around. As long as you keep some space between the bags. And keep a lid on, else the water will be much cooler on top. –  derobert Nov 30 '12 at 15:14
@derobert, keeping the lid on seems like a good idea. But if the top was much cooler, wouldn't that set up convention currents in the pot and even out the water temp? Or am I being to optimistic? –  Ken Nov 30 '12 at 15:18
@GdD, I guess I was asking the question about electric ovens in general but hoping that someone would know about my particular oven. I've edited the Q, to make that more clear –  Ken Nov 30 '12 at 15:21
You don't need the water flowing around the food, you just need the temperature to be consistent. –  yossarian Nov 30 '12 at 16:29
@GdD Water (and most fluids) actually spread heat fairly well, given as long as you don't overcrowd the pot. If the sides of the pot are all at 60C, and the lid is on (so there is no evaporation), it'll take a bit to reach steady-state, but once it does, the water will be at 60C too. All of it; there won't be a thermal gradient, because there is no cool spot for there to be a gradient to. It will take much longer to reach steady-state than with a circulator, though. –  derobert Nov 30 '12 at 17:50
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Accuracy of the temperature is going to vary by oven, so there's no definitive answer there. As GdD said, you'll just have to get a thermometer and try it.

However, I think this will probably work fine for most sous vide applications. While sous vide is all about precision, a couple of degrees fluctuation isn't going to make a huge difference for most preparations (eggs are a notable exception), particularly given the thermal mass of the water. You could also throw a pizza stone or something in the oven too to help keep a more constant temp.

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I wonder if the extra amount of time needed to cook using this method is a concern. I seem to remember reading a USDA recommendation saying that it's not safe for food to remain in the 40ºF-140ºF (4ºC-60ºC) for more than four hours. USDA mollycoddling aside, food cooked using this method is going to take longer than regular sous-vide, so whatever awful effects the USDA is trying to protect you against are presumably going to be much pronounced. –  Chris Steinbach Dec 1 '12 at 9:16
@ChrisSteinbach why do you say this will take longer than regular sous-vide? Surely this is just 'regular' sous-vide, the only difference being using an alternate tool to regulate the temperature? Or am I missing something? –  Ken Dec 2 '12 at 11:24
@Ken Immersion circulators will cook faster than your oven since the heat transfer mechanism is convection rather than conduction. Even a non-circulating sous-vide machine ought to be faster since the heating element will be directly adjacent to, or immersed in the water. With an oven, heat is transferred from the heating element via radiation or convection through the air (which has a lower thermal conductivity than water) and then via conduction through the cooking vessel and cooking water to the food. The heat transfer mechanism is less efficient and cooking will, I believe, be slower. –  Chris Steinbach Dec 2 '12 at 23:29
@Chris see douglasbaldwin.com/sous-vide.html#Convection_Steam_Ovens for timing for steam oven sous vide, not sure why you would use a pouch for steam oven sous vide, but that is what they tested. Normal convection oven should be even slower I think. –  Stefan Dec 4 '12 at 1:04
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Of course you can use your oven for cooking sous-vide, though you will not get very precise temperature control and will pay a higher electricity bill than if you use a water bath. I would not use it for long cooking periods at a limit temperature where safety can be jeopardized (around 55ºC) or when high precision is required (e.g. eggs), but otherwise it's perfectly doable.

You must play with your oven model until you find the best settings, usually 10 or 20 degrees C higher than the desired water temperature. Using a heavy pot such as a dutch oven will also help to maintain the temperature.

The technique is analyzed in detail here: http://sousvide.wikia.com/wiki/Give_Sous-vide_a_try_without_buying_expensive_equipment

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Great link, the temperature data in this experiment showed how constant the water temp can be in an oven. Very encouraging. –  Ken Dec 5 '12 at 12:08
Also remember the larger the quantity of water your using the more constant the temp is likely going to be. So when in doubt use a bigger vessel. –  Brendan Dec 5 '12 at 17:40
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