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The last year I was in culinary school (2014) my chef instructor was really excited about culinology and the new innovations that were emerging and becoming to be utilized more often in the industry, like for example Sous Vide cooking or "under vacuum" in French.

I was wondering if any one has come up with a solution to obtaining one of these cooking utilities without having to go out and spend a bunch of money.

If so... What do I need to get to make one?

  • Just clarifying, the pressure you mean is water pressure, right? because a sous vide is not a pressure cooker, it's just a (generally immersible) heat source, often with a water pump to move the water around like a convection oven. Where are you and what do you consider "inexpensive"? – Catija Mar 22 '15 at 21:10
  • It means under vacuum, not pressure. (It's also a bit of a misnomer at this point, since plenty can be done without a vacuum sealer. But the name is stuck!) – Cascabel Mar 22 '15 at 21:11
  • I've seen the Anova circulator advertised on Amazon for as low as $165US. ...almost not worth the DYI project. – moscafj Mar 23 '15 at 13:31
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You could probably do it on the cheap, but the temperature precision might suffer in the process:

  • ($0-$3) A container for water that can handle being warmed up a bit. (recycle something or buy a 5 gallon bucket)
  • (~$20) A small submersible garden pump. (I have no idea what temperature they're rated for, but I use one in my greenhouse hydroponics systems, and it gets rather warm in there in the summer)
  • ($10-20) An immersion heater
  • (~$65) : a thermostat control unit

Total : ~$100

If you're comfortable wiring up your own circuits, you could likely make your own temperature control unit for less, as that's the bulk of the cost.

If you're not comfortable with all of this, then the Anova Precision Cooker is under $200. (currently $25 off, bringing it to ~$155). You'll have to supply your own water container.

Update : Ecnerwal got me thinking -- vessels with thermostat controls. (heater is easy, it's the thermostat that's expensive). Crock pots have the unfortunate problem that they only have one to three present temperatures (low, high and warm). There are, however, a few things that might be useful :

  • a deep-fat fryer. Preferably cleaned, or one that can be disassembled to clean. They tend to have very powerful heating elements, so you may need a screen to ensure that the pump and the food don't get to close to it. You'll also want to check the dial for the lowest temperature that it can maintain. (it might not go below 200°F)

  • electric skillet. They're quite shallow, but if you're just cooking a steak for 1 or 2, it might work. (again, check the dial to see what the minimum temp it'll hold is). Depending on he size, it might be possible to put another container inside it to hold more water.

  • Coffee urns. They can be much larger, but they typically just have one setting, so you'dd need a termostat on it.

  • Vessel and heater in one - crock-pot/slow cooker. Just add temp controller and either a pump or an impeller - or an aquarium-air-stone might be adequate and cheapest. Hot pumps (and heaters and controllers) are easy enough to find at a well-stocked brewing supply for one option. – Ecnerwal Mar 23 '15 at 1:54
  • @Ecnerwal : but it's a small container. Most large slow cookers are only about 7qts. A good size roast would fill it, not leaving room for the pump and water ... but you got me thinking ... let me go and update. – Joe Mar 23 '15 at 3:39
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You have several possibilities to approximate sous vide cooking at home.

  1. Manually control a heater in a pot. Absolutely not recommended, needs constant babysitting and is never precise enough. But there are people who try it out as a step in the process of convincing themselves to spend the money.
  2. Beer cooler. Inexpensive (especially if you already have the beer cooler), not precise enough for certain recipes. The idea is simply to preheat the water, fill into an insulated vessel and leave it there, hoping that it won't cool down too much in the next hours. Kenji Lopez Alt published a column about it claiming decent results. Can probably be combined with baby sitting if you have an immersion heater, will need much less frequent adjustment.
  3. Build your own using an existing controller. Joe already explained it in his answer. I don't know how exact these controllers are, hopefully there is some tolerance rating in the product description.
  4. Build your own, programming your own controller. Perfectly flexible, you can do whatever you want with it, for example write an app to control it from your smartphone. It's also the cheapest option - I started the project some time ago and paid just under 50 Euro for everything (electronics, container, heater, pump). The downside is that you have to be able to solder a circuit and program a microcontroller, and have the free time to do it. It is also suitable as somebody's first microcontroller project, as the logic is very simple, and there are already good schematics on the Internet, so you don't have to design your own circuit. I wouldn't suggest doing it if you have never worked with electronics though, as the circuit has a mains side running on 220 volt, and debugging can literally kill you. So if you are new to this kind of thing, get a friend experienced with electronics to construct this part with you and teach you appropriate working habits for being around live circuits in the process.

Note that the market is finally catching up with demand, so getting a commercial device is already quite attractive when you compare it to the price/effort ratio of the DIY solutions.

  • The good news is that the US only uses 110/120V ... which hurts (I speak from experience), and still might kill you. But you can reduce the risk if you're willing to pay more by using an X10 appliance module (~$25)... so you just send a radio signal to turn it on & off. – Joe Mar 23 '15 at 11:48
  • @Joe Very good idea, it sounds like a nice alternative to the traditional optocoupler circuits. Does the module you are speaking of contain both an emitter and receiver unit, or do you have to add radio signal emitting capability to your controller by using an Arduino shield or similar? – rumtscho Mar 23 '15 at 12:07
  • I was wrong about it being radio ... x10 uses pulses along the mains. There are USB adaptors that can be used on Arduino : arduino.cc/en/Tutorial/x10 . It's possible that there might be other home automation stuff that works similarly. (A former roommate had some X10 stuff ~15 years ago, so that's what came to mind ... ZigBee and Z-Wave are newer and there might be others. The important thing is to get an 'appliance' not a 'lamp' or 'lighting' module for higher wattages. (although if you can find a lamp module rated for your cooker, it might be dimmable, allowing better precision) – Joe Mar 23 '15 at 13:52
  • My former roommate got the PID controller kit from AdaFruit ... but he said after his first test, it took a LONG time to come up to temp (almost 2 hrs) and the lack of a circulation pump made it prone to wide temp swings (he thinks it was getting better as it learned as it went, but it didn't seem to save between runs, so it would have to re-learn each time ... this might be fixable in software). – Joe May 25 '15 at 12:04
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I found this video searching the web for sous vide videos. I found this video that reminded me of a question I posted on cooking.stackexchange on how to make a Sous Vide style cooking vessel. This is the YouTube video link explaining how.

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