A sous vide machine you can make at home

Mr Edinburgh Foody writes on Sous Vide

We have been impressed for some while by the quality of food cooked sous vide by various chefs, including those on The Great British Menu. Sous vide is the term used for vacuum sealing food in a bag, and then cooking it in a relatively low (but very accurately controlled) temperature water bath. The purpose of the vacuum being to ensure a good contact between the water and the food inside the bag, without any air insulating the food from the water.

While there have been cheffy sous vide cookers on the market for a while, they have been prohibitively expensive for the home cook. The most highly recommended commercially available sous vide cooker for the home cook, which was initially only available in North America, and now in the UK is the Sous vide supreme £349 or Sous vide demi £245

It was with great delight I found Seattle Food Geek who had found a way of doing a bit of DIY to make a lower cost sous vide cooker. His claim is to make a DIY Sous Vide heating immersion circulator for about $75. So I set about sourcing all the components to have a go myself.

Do give yourself plenty of time to round up the essentials and please read the disclaimers before you start on this project.

Our sous vide cooker and coolbox!

Our sous vide cooker and coolbox

Ingredients

All prices exclude postage and packing. Updated November 2014

  • Control unit/display (eg a PID temperature controller with an SSR (solid state relay) output like the JLD612/TET612. I originally purchased this from an eBay shop however, this is no longer available. There is an equivalent PID controller bundled with an SSR available from Amazon for £23.99 + free delivery (November 2014 price). Sestos Dual Digital Pid Temperature Controller 2 Omron Relay Output D1S-VR-220
    Note that this controller comes with a free temperature probe (K type) which in theory is not as accurate as the PT100, but which could be used instead. In this case connect to terminals 9 and 10 only on a JLD612 controller. Note that the terminal numbering is different on the Amazon (Sestos) controller – the manual can be downloaded. Terminal numbering equivalents are:-
    JLD612   Sestos D1S-VR
    1              9
    2              10
    6              8
    7              6
    8              3
    9              4
    10            5
  • Temperature probe PT100+ (about £5.00 from Amazon)
  • Heater – I used a 1000W coffee cup heater from Ebay which I am not recommending as the quality was poor (it corroded after a short while). This one for about £7 + shipping, or this one for about £15 + shipping may do the job. Depending on the amount of water your container holds a smaller one would probably suffice.
  • Circulating pump (£13.90 (November 2014 price) for an Eheim Compact pump 300 part 13227.0 from Zooplus.co.uk). It is not rated for water bath temperatures, but I have used it for a while without a problem. It is not essential (and there isn’t one in the Sous Vide Supreme), but ensures a consistent temperature throughout the bath.
  • Switch (Something like a simple rocker switch from Maplin at £0.99) – I used an old switch I had available.
  • Plastic/wood/metal (or a plastic box) for mounting equipment into
  • Wire, connector blocks, and heat shrink sleeving
  • Screws/nuts
  • Bucket/tub/insulated box for putting the water in. (I used an old cool box so that as much heat as possible could be retained. It holds about 11L or 2½ gallons).
  • Silicone sealant
  • Vacuum sealer – not part of the sous vide, but you will need one to seal the bags of food for cooking. We bought the reasonably priced Andrew James High Quality Vacuum Food Sealer and Food Sealer rolls 28cm X 10 from Amazon.
    .

Utensils

Wire cutters
Soldering iron and solder (not essential – terminal blocks could have been used instead)
Screwdriver
Saw (for cutting container / mounting materials)
Hair dryer (for shrinking the sleeving)

Edinburgh Foody Sous Vide Wiring Diagram

Edinburgh Foody Sous Vide Wiring Diagram

Method

  1. Decide what container to use for the water bath. This will determine the minimum size of the support for the equipment box.
  2. Cut the wood / metal / plastic for the equipment box to size.
    I used a sheet of thin plastic (sold for greenhouse windows) as the main support base covering the whole of the top of the old cool box that I was using as the water bath. I cut this piece of plastic in two, and held the two bits together with small hinges so that I could access the water bath, but also keep it covered most of the time to keep the heat and steam in. (I made the mistake of making this base out of wood to start with, but it got very damp with all the steam).
  3. Next cut or drill holes in the base to fit the heater, temperature probe, and the circulating pump cable.
  4. Form the sides and top of the equipment box
    I used 4 pieces of plywood about 6” (15 cm) square to form the sides and top of the equipment box. I used a piece of stainless steel about 6” wide by 11” long to form the front of the box, but also to mount the circulating pump on. (This could be made from plastic instead).
    I cut the square hole in the stainless steel front to mount the temperature controller in, and drilled holes to mount the SSR (a good reason to use stainless, as the SSR should ideally have a heat sink, but as it is not handling much power, it may not need to be mounted on metal).
    I drilled holes in one of the side panels to mount the mains switch on and allow the incoming mains cable to pass through.
  5. Screw the sides and front of the box to the plastic base, and mounted all the components.
  6. Wire everything up as per the diagram.
    I soldered solder tags onto the bare wires that were going to the temperature controller, and the SSR, and covered them with the heat shrink sleeving, although none of that is really essential – the bare wires can make a good connection under the screw terminals.

Setting up/calibrating/commissioning

DO NOT turn the unit on until the heater is immersed in water otherwise the heater will quickly burn out.

The instruction manual for the control unit can be downloaded from the JLD612 manual.

So, having filled the bath with water and ensuring that the heater and the tip of the temperature probe are under water, turn the unit on. The top line of the display is showing the actual temperature, and the bottom line is showing the temperature required.

The first thing to do is to set the control unit to recognise the correct temperature probe. On the control unit, press ‘set’ and enter ‘0089’, then press ‘set’ again. [Use the > button to move along the digits, and ∧ or ∨ to increase or decrease]. Press ∧ until ‘Inty’ shows in the display, and press ‘set’. Press ∧ again until Pt10.0 shows in the display, and press ‘set’ again. ‘Outy’ should be set to 0002.

Next you may want to calibrate your temperature probe. Do this by putting the probe in ice water and boiling water. (Not forgetting that if your heater is connected it must remain immersed. I temporarily disconnected the heater to do this.)

Once the temperature reading stabilises at each of the 2 temperatures, record the values. Go back into set up mode on the control unit, and scroll until ‘ PSb’ shows in the display, and press’set’. Adjust the value to give an equal and opposite offset at the 2 extremes. Note that the 1st digit can be set to minus. [For example my probe read 99.8 and 0.6 initially. I then made ‘PSb’ –002 (= -0.2), and checked that I then got readings of 99.6 and 0.4].

The next thing is to autotune the parameters in the control unit. This measures the characteristics of the water bath to give optimum control. This is affected by the size, shape, volume and insulation properties of the water bath, and also the response of the heater and temperature probe, and the target temperature. I found that the whole bath needs to stabilise a bit before starting this.

Set the target temperature by pressing the ∧ or ∨ buttons to about 5° C lower than you normally expect to use it at. Once it has stabilised at that temperature, change the target temperature to what you would normally use, and then press and hold the > button until the ‘AT ‘ indicator blinks.

The unit will automatically do 2 heating and cooling cycles and then store the optimum parameters. You do not need to do anything to save the values. (For reference my values at 60° C are P = 0.7, I = 411, D = 102, but this is unique to my set up).

In use, I have found that the connection of the wires of the temperature probe to their spade terminals has not been particularly good, causing the unit to read either high or erratically. I have taken these apart, and soldered them on to ensure a good contact.

By now you should be ready to go!

Results

We’ve mostly experimented with cooking fish: mackerel, plaice, barramundi, gurnard, john dory fillet, etc. Most of these have been done for about 40 minutes at 60° C it always comes out very moist and flavoursome. We have also done beef cheek, mutton valentine chops, duck and chicken with more varied results. Check out our sous vide top tips.

Disclaimers

The steps we have described above are a guide and provided for information only. You are entirely responsible for your own, and others, safety. Please do not attempt to construct this unless you are satisfied that you are sufficiently competent. Water and electricity can be a lethal mix.

Food should be sufficiently cooked so as to destroy harmful bacteria, etc. Please ensure that you have selected appropriate temperature and time settings. See references below for further explanation.

Prices and availability were valid November 2014.

References

Sous Vide for the Home Cook – the book by Douglas Baldwin. This is the “bible” on sous vide. However, it is an American publication and the cuts of meat are not familiar!

The technical stuff from Douglas Baldwin’s book.

Sous-Vide and Low-Temp Primer Part I from the French Culinary Institute. Lots of useful information: temperature charts and pictures of things you would not expect.

© 2011 EdinburghFoody

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About Bread Baker Danielle

Danielle founded Edinburgh Foody in 2010. Having qualified as a professional bread baker in France in 2014, she is now on a new adventure in Gloucestershire. Check out severnbites.com Look out for occasional posts for Edinburgh Foody

33 Comments

  1. Hi.
    Have built my own sous-vide cooker, but cannot find a good quality immersible heater element in the UK. The link to the German Company does not work. The element that I am using shows signs of corrosion after four hours of use. Any help would be much appreciated. Although I had worked out my own circuitry, your blog helped to confirm it. Keep up the good work.

    Keith Dugdale

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  4. Hi,

    I’ve been thinking of converting a commercial deep fat fryer that looks amazingly like a commercial sous vide – all stainless etc. etc.

    Just looking for an honest opinion – am I completely bonkers or may this work with an adapted temperature control?

    The element may be a complete overkill as well and difficult to regulate at temperature.

    Anyhow just thought I’d ask an opinion.

    Jon

    • This is a little difficult to answer without knowing what your fryer looks like, but in principle, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work. You would need to ensure that there is no way the bags can touch the heating element, and you will have to replace the thermostat in the unit with the thermocouple / PID controller arrangement, and ensure the solid state relay is big enough to cope with the element. The fryer would need to be large enough to hold enough water to allow the bag to be fully submerged, and there would need to be enough volume of water that the temperature doesn’t drop too much when you put your bag in.

      Although the element may be overkill, the auto-tune feature in the PID should accommodate it. I was using a 1kW element which worked fine. It should have the advantage of getting up to temperature quickly.

      Good luck,

  5. Just a note – I got worried by the pump situation. As a result, I got
    thinking, and I ended up with a nice little solution.

    Simply, I have a small electric motor attached to a model-boat propeller
    – the total being around €10, easily available from your
    local ‘hobby model’ shop.

    I’ve fixed the motor so the propeller is almost vertical in the water,
    I played around, and this seemed to work quite well, and means
    I dont even need to support it in the water.

    The solution is fantastic. I’ve chosen a transformer that keeps the motor
    going at a fairly slow rate, it’s silent, and the water flow is great.

    I hope this helps somebody 🙂

  6. I’ve just put a machine together following these instructions. After a lot of research trying to find suitable heaters, I ordered a cheap replacement kettle element from eBay (took ages to arrive from China, but got here eventually). My SSR is rated at 30A so I don’t anticipate any problem with the load. I haven’t completely decided on my final container so for the moment I am using a 24l coolbox with bubblewrap for cover – looks ghastly but works fine.

    Today we christened the machine with duck fillets cooked for 1hr at 58deg, and finished off in the pan, with mango and sour cherry sauce. Yummy!

    Thanks for the great post.

  7. Good point about filling it up warm. I’ll do that next time. I did the auto-tune. I found this manual http://auberins.com/images/Manual/SYL-2362%20instruction%201.6.pdf which is for a very similar controller but seems to be written better than the one for my model, thought it may be of interest. It notes at the end that if you get fluctuations in temperature reading then a known cause is the thermocouple cable being too close to a cable with strong polarity, I was just wondering that it might have been part of the cause of your connector issue its worth knowing about either way.

    Half of the difficulty of my build was finding somewhere to put it where it wouldn’t upset the wife too much (the water bath is not the prettiest looking thing to have on show and its bulky too). I spent most of Sunday building new storage in our kitchen!!

    Your ham hock sounds nice- did all of the tendons break down at that temp like it does is you simmer it? I’m on the look out something interesting to try out this weekend. I was going to try ox cheeks or short ribs or maybe some pieces of pork belly. Any recomendations for 1st time wow factor to win over the wife?

    • I’ll let Mr EF reply to the techie bit. Oc cheeks are great idea just remember that you’ll need to make a separate sauce!

    • Sent from my iPhone

      Begin forwarded message:

      From: Graham Ellis
      Date: 7 March 2012 18:53:46 GMT
      To: Edinburghfoody
      Subject: Re: Fwd: [Edinburgh Foody] Please moderate: “A sous vide machine you can make at home”
      Reply-To: me@grahamellis.me.uk

      I have had a quick scan through the manual, and it certainly looks quite good. I have seen comments elsewhere about the thermocouple needing to be earthed to stop fluctuations, but when I tried it, it didn’t make any difference. My connector problem was definitely about the crimping of the thermocouple wires to the spade terminals, as I have never had any more problems since I soldered them on. Good luck with your storage!

      • Thanks to both of you. the system is a complete success so far and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to build it without the detailed information in your blog. Its been really inspirational. I’ll be sure to point interested friends to your site.

        Let me know if you are ever down in Bristol and I will take you out for a beer.

        Pete

  8. Thank you very much for the help. I will let you know how I get on with it. All the main bits are ordered.

    Cheers

    Pete

    • Hi

      Just thought I’d update with my project: I built a system to your specs and its working great. I made my container from a 24l plastic storage container, which i insulated with loft insulation.

      For the heating element I used a 1000W element from an Orbit travel kettle (purchased from ebay) which was bolted to the side of the container and made waterproof. the thermocouple is also bolted on in this fashion.

      So far i’m very pleased with it. It holds temps to within 0.1dc. The only issue i have is that if you let the system warm up from cold the PID overshoots its desired temperature and continues turning the element on even though the system is too hot. if you turn it off and then back on when you are above the required temp it sorts itself out but its a bit annoying. Did you experience similar issues with your PID EF?

      Just waiting for my Vacuum sealer to arrive now and then i’m well away.

      Cheers

      Pete

      • Great to hear that everything is coming together, and you are nearly ready! We have just done a ham hock for 2 days at 60 deg C which came out really tender and flavoursome.

        Yes, I get an overshoot initially as well. If you haven’t already done it, then I suggest you do the auto tune, but while this will minimise the overshoot, you will still get it. You don’t need to turn the PID off, it will settle down of its own accord within about 10 or 15 minutes. (I always fill from the hot tap to minimise the initial heating).

  9. Thanks for getting back on this- certainly a bit to think about.

    I had another idea for a budget version. I’m considering using a standard 24 litre storage container and insulating it with some left over loft insulation. I have also found that it is possible to get a very cheap kettle from wilkinsons for ~£5 these have 2200w immersion elements. would this be too much for the sousvide set up?

    • Your PID will learn the characteristics of your heater, so although it is a bit overkill, it will still work. You will need to make sure the element is mounted safely (ie not mixing water and electricity, and no exposed terminals , and bearing in mind that kettle elements are designed to be 100% immersed), and also ensure that your SSR is rated sufficiently to supply this element.
      Mr EF

  10. I did the slow cooker version, worked surprisingly well.

    I used a k-type thermocouple and just dropped it in the slow cooker. They take a long time to heat up though.

    I just used a cheap slow cooker set on the highest setting.

  11. Hi

    I have read you blog with interest and am keen to have a go at building a similar device based on your guide.

    Can you tell me if this PID setup would work connected to a slow cooker instead of an immersion heater? the reason i ask is that i have one lying around and it would mean that I could omit the cool box and the immersion heater from the build cost

    Thanks

    Pete

    Thanks

    • I guess in principle a slow cooker would work. However, if you are not going to hack into the insides of it then you will be connecting into the main power input to the slow cooker and turning it on and off via your control circuitry. If there is any reset or start button on the slow cooker, then you would need to be pressing it every second which is impractical! Some of these are controlled by microprocessor circuitry which would not take kindly to being connected in this way. Also you would need to turn up to maximum any temperature control on the slow cooker, so that the temperature was being controlled by your circuitry and not by the slow cooker thermostat.

      If you are going to attempt this then you will need to consider how to install the temperature probe in the slow cooker. I would also recommend creating a stand alone control box with the output being fed into a 13A socket into which the slow cooker can be plugged.

      I recall seeing posts on the internet about others who have done this so you may want to do a quick search to check their experiences. There is one at Egg Chow Fun about connecting to a rice cooker.

      Mr EF

  12. thanks for the link to the http://www.eibmarkt.com. I have been searching for ages for a reliable source to get water heaters. Hopefully these ones will be up to scratch when they arrive. They also look like they will be easier to mount as the handles dont taper away towards the top.

    • Do let us know how you get on!

      • Finally got mine up and running using two heaters from ebimarket. Seems to work well, but the water does get a little electrified! Anyway, this is my build http://hubpages.com/t/1f3d08. I have a two unit set-up, controller and heater. I have used a high temp espresso pump to circulate and I have made the addition of an old CPU heatsink and fan to cool the SSR. Parts and source list included.

        • I was thinking of doing this and didn’t like your comment re: electrified water?!?!? What do you mean?

          • I can’t see a specific reference to ‘electrified water’ in the post, but electricity and water can be a lethal mix if the water becomes electrified – possibly due to an exposed wire, or the heater shorting out. It is really a matter of taking care that the two cannot mix. Risks can be reduced by earthing everything (like I did with the front metal panel on mine), and using an RCD. You should be OK using care and common sense, but if you are uncomfortable about the risks then do not attempt it and call on someone with suitable experience and qualifications

  13. I was not keen on using the ‘cup of coffee’ type element. So, after *a lot* of searching, I managed to find a cheap electric kettle that had the element connected to the side rather than the bottom. Dismantled the kettle to claim the element. It had a thermocouple sensor attached that could just be removed (found out by continuity testing). Used an electric hole saw to drill through the cool box only to find the box was thicker than the kettle wall. Got round it by drilling a bigger hole in the outside wall but would have been neater if I had drilled the bigger hole first.

    Fitted the grommet into the inside hole then attached the element and filled with water. Yipeee – no leaks. Because the element is now near the bottom I have dispensed with fitting the pump (despite having bought one). Managed to connect wires to the element using the plastic encased screw in wire connectors (probably would not pass health and safety but good enough for me). Another plus is that the element fitting incorporates a switch which did away with the need for a separate one.

    • Great to hear from you. Sounds like a great solution.

    • In theory it doesn’t matter which blue wire is connected to which terminal. The red must always be as shown. I found that the blue / yellow wire configuration can make a slight difference to the calibration, so try one way, check how far out the calibration is, and then swap the 2 blue wires and re-check the calibration. Choose the configuration that gives the most accurate readings. It wont make a massive difference, so don’t worry if you can’t be bothered with the calibration routine. Here is a technical explanation

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