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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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7 Answers 7

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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. Dec 1, 2012 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, 2012 at 11:24
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    @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. Dec 2, 2012 at 23:29
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    @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, 2012 at 1:04
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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, 2012 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, 2012 at 15:18
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    You don't need the water flowing around the food, you just need the temperature to be consistent.
    – yossarian
    Nov 30, 2012 at 16:29
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    @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, 2012 at 17:50
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    Both of you are correct. If the food is heated all through and the water is heated all through, there is no cool spots (except outside the pot). No circulation required. But normally (at least in the beginning) the food will be cooler than then water, therefore the water closest to the food will be reduced in temperature, therefore you get a cool spot and you need circulation to heat the food effectively. This is an issue with e.g. PID/rice cooker and sous vide supreme. But it still works, just not as fast as with circulation.
    – Stefan
    Dec 3, 2012 at 1:55
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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, 2012 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, 2012 at 17:40
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Oven thermostats are very inaccurate, and by design allow very large temparature swings. A heavy pot full of water is a pretty good buffer ... it will even out the temp a bit.

There are precision ovens designed for this, called c-vap and combi ovens. They are expensive and power-hungry and complex. Even these have issues with precision. They are more than good enough for low-temperature cooking a roast, but the imperfect temperature stability causes problems for small things.

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I believe the answer is you can't use your oven like a sous vide because the physics are very different. Air is a terrible medium for heat transfer while water is one of the best. This is what makes sous vide work.

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  • Creme Brulee disagrees with you ! Certainly it is less efficient and nowhere near as accurate, but as others have mentioned you can fashion a very crude approximation.
    – Greybeard
    Oct 18, 2023 at 17:15
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Of corse you can use your oven and the physics do make sense. This type of cooking is different, because you cook in sealed bags that retain all the FOID’s moisture and natural juices. These specialty bags placed in a Pyrex bowl works exactly as the bags placed in a smaller container with circulating water. The “physics are the same. Enjoy.

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Flexible wire probe thermometer

If you can, get a digital thermometer that has a long probe wrapped in steel wire with a magnet on the back. They are designed to attach to the external door of the oven while measuring the temperature of a roast in-situ. Firmly clamp the probe so that it rests floating in the water (but not touching the dish itself) and attach the thermometer itself to the door or any surrounding metal.

That way you can a) calculate how far out your oven thermostat is and b) see how quickly your bath responds to temperature changes. As a guide, my water circulator increases at ~ 1 degree C per second (when the water cools from set temperature) in a 10 litre bath without insulation at ~ 22-25 C ambient. Your oven I suspect will be a lot slower to respond than this due to the factors others have mentioned. This way it will give you some idea as to how much longer you need to keep your recipe in the bath to compensate.

Once you have conducted these tests, I'd also suggest looking to acquire an enameled pot that you can unscrew the handle from the lid. That way you can insert and place the probe centrally while reducing evaporation. When using the lid in the oven it will assist in keeping the temperature stable.

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    The problem with this suggestion is that there is no means to circulate the water, which is what your circulator does. That is what allows for the consistency in temperature. Without circulation, you will have different temperatures in different places. Depending on the desired cook temp, this could be unsafe.
    – moscafj
    Oct 18, 2023 at 17:16
  • Totally agreed, the oven method really is a major compromise and I certainly would not recommend using this for any recipe at the lower end of the spectrum. I would be very wary of using this technique in a regular gas or electric oven, as a fan oven would help distribute the temperature more effectively. I know people have had reasonable results with steak using a similar insulated cooler method, as to other ingredients (minced meat etc.) I would concur that this could be unsafe especially if the meat was not seared afterwards.
    – Greybeard
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:27

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