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Inexpensive/beginner/DIY sous vide setup


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I'm interested in getting my feet wet with sous vide. I want to do so without spending a fortune. Although I am planning a kitchen upgrade in the next year or so, for the moment, counter and storage space is at a major premium. I have looked on the forums quite a bit, and to be honest, I am more than a little overwhelmed.

I have a couple of slow cookers, so I was considering the following:

A slow cooker that I already have with the SousVideMagic 1500D Controller

For a vacuum sealer, Best Vac from minipack®-america. (http://www.dougcare.com/foodstorage/homeequip.htm#bestvac). Chamber sealers are more $$ than I want to spend.

So, for similar or less money, can I so better? Thanks!


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A little help, please? Lots of reads but no responses... I have waded through some of the many looonnng threads but it seems like most are more are for people already doing sous vide, and they get rather technical very quickly. I'm looking for basics just to get started.

I would especially like help with the decision about the vacuum sealer, as there are a gazillion out there, and I have had a couple (including a mid-priced FoodSaver model a few years back) that did a really crappy job.

Also, is the controller sufficient with the slow cooker or do I need something to circulate the water? I have a large electric roasting pan that we use for making cheese:


Will that work for making larger quantities? I work a fair number of hours during the week and have to take call (so sometimes will have to leave with no notice in the evening), so it would be nice to have some packaged and ready sous vide meals in the freezer that my husband can just heat up for him and the kids. I tend to do lots of cooking on the weekends but evening meals are usually rushed in their preparation. I see sous vide as helping with this, since I do have both the time and the desire to make lots of food on the weekends. And the method seems fairly forgiving if I am making something while on call and need to leave for a little while during preparation - just leave it in the water bath a bit longer.

I am looking at the sous vide technique for a combination of being able to make some really interesting new meals and for the convenience and flexibility that it appears to give.

Edited by tikidoc (log)
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I think you have the basics covered, for basic value sous vide!! AS far a vacuum sealers, I have had the Foodsaver Pro II for yrs and it worked fine, just make sure you have no creasing in your bags for any sealer. I use an Auber temp control, but your selection is the much better. I do my sous vide in a crock pot ( not digital ) good for just 1- 3 people in my family and is fine. A large roaster pan will help provide more water volume to damping temp swings.

You'll be fine for the basic stuff for 1-3 people.

Im ready to move on to Poly circulator. after the holidays if Santa doesn't come thru :)

Just me.. happy holidays

Edited by Paul Bacino (log)

Its good to have Morels

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Many people seem to have used similar set ups.

I know size of the sous vide thread can be discouraging but try looking at the index for the original topic that will contain the bulk of the information to answer your questions.

As to specifics: the water needs to circulate to give consistent temperature across all items that are being cooked. PedroG for example has created a rack the goes over the top of his cooker from which he hangs his packages vertically via hooks. This maintains space between the items that will encourage water flow. If you want to get something a bit more direct that agitates the water to give better thermal distribution, try an aquarium bubbler (the one that has a hose going into the cooker, not that sits in the hot water). I use an Eheim air pump 100, which you can get from an aquarium supplier for around US$50.

In summary, don't crowd the cooker and make sure that water can circulate to give a consistent temperature across the cooker. Have fun.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Cool, thanks. So looks like I am on the right track with the controller and the slow cooker. I'd like to know if anyone has the vacuum sealer I mentioned. It looks pretty heavy-duty for the money. There are so many brands, and models within brands. I have had two vacuum sealers in the past, and they both did a pretty terrible job, so this is where I could use more help. Would like to stay at around $200 (or less if I can get a good one). We didn't get to do much gardening last year because we just moved and needed to augment the crappy soil, but are in better shape for next year and will also want to use the vacuum sealer to freeze fresh produce. So I want something that can last with a lot of use.

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I use a Presto Kitchen Kettle (I think they're calling them Multi-Cookers now), Food Saver and a Thermapen. But I have gotten by using a pan, a Ziplock bag and a cheaper digital probe thermometer. I don't have any circulation and I don't think it's an issue for what I do. I routinely test with the Thermapen at different locations in the bath and never notice much, if any, difference in the Kitchen Kettle.

The biggest downside is needing to stabilize the temp at the beginning. I have to set it initially to some marks I've made on the dial with a Sharpie. Then as it gets into the ballpark, I keep tweaking the dial until it's holding the temp I want. From there it requires minimal attention and doesn't vary beyond 1-2 degrees F. That's close enough for what I do (meat primarily).

I've been meaning to test the manual Ziplock pumps. I think they'd work pretty well for low temp applications. Then, one could get into sous vide for under $50. 80% of that is the Kitchen Kettle, but you're also getting a deep fryer, slow cooker, and with its frying basket, it proves pretty handy for pasta as well.

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The manual ziplock pump works great for me and I prefer it over my foodsaver. If I could do it all over again I would have skipped spending $200 on the foodsaver, used the manual ziploc system, and eventually saved up for a chamber sealer.

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Tikidoc, I've used nearly all of these extensively, and introduced sous vide to a number of others who are going through the same growing pains you are.

The first thing you absolutely must have is a good working thermometer, and a secondary reference thermometer. for calibration I would recommend the All-Clad or Sur la Table thermometers, both of which can also be used as an oven thermometer; plus the Geratherm liquid (non-mercury) basal or ovulation thermometer for calibration purposes. But save your receipts until after you have calibrated your working thermometer -- I've had some that were off by 1 to 3 degrees C -- totally unacceptable. And get used to working in Celsius, as that is what most of the international recipes use, and we in the US ought to use, if it weren't for our medieval insistence on obsolete measurements systems!

Your choice of the Sous Vide Magic controller is excellent. I was a beta tester for them, and have owned, calibrated, and sold a couple of dozen, at least. They are relatively inexpensive, and quite reliable and accurate. See the PID tuning manual on the Fresh Meals Solution web site for helpful calibration and tuning hints

Start with whatever you have -- a dumb CrockPot will work just fine with the SVM, and if water circulation is an issue, buy a $10 submersible garden fountain pump -- just don't use it above 65C. An inexpensive rice cooker is also an option, and particularly if you are cooking SV eggs, as it won't gum up the works if one breaks. Later, you might add the Fresh Meals Magic circulator and heater with your SVM. A second SVM would allow you to cook both meat and veggies simultaneously, without breaking the bank.

I happen to think that the Sous Vide Supreme is overpriced for what it does, compared to the SVM and a rice cooker or CrockPot. YMMV. If you win the lottery, you will probably want one or two immersion circulators, but even then the SVM setup will be a useful addition.

For starting out, use ZipLok bags and the Archimedes principle to remove most of the air from the bag. I have a couple of FoodSavers, and prefer the more advanced ones you can get on-line, rather than those sold in department stores, particularly the upright type. I don't know anything about the Best Vac. But I agree -- save your money for a real honest-to-God chamber vacuum, like the MiniPack MVS-31X sold by PolyScience and Doug Care. The ease and versatility of handling liquids, and the significantly cheaper bags, makes it a worthwhile investment, I think. Yes, it's expensive -- but so was my Canon camera, much less a bunch of lenses!

Get a good propane or MAPP torch -- they're cheap, and they won't smoke up the house as much as using a skillet and hot oil when searing your meat.

That's it in a nutshell. That will get you started, probably for less than $200, depending on what you already have. After that, it's most convenience, rather than whether it works or not.

Good luck, and happy holidays!

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I'd agree with that except for the following....

And get used to working in Celsius, as that is what most of the international recipes use, and we in the US ought to use, if it weren't for our medieval insistence on obsolete measurements systems!

I like using grams and milliliters, There are clear advantages, especially when working with liquids of a water-like density (since there are direct, easy to calculate correlations between volume and weight).

But temperature measurements don't really benefit from this in any practical sense in the kitchen. It really comes down to the difference between two scales. And the Fahrenheit scale is a bit more accurate if we're giving temps using integers. There are 180 notches on the Fahrenheit scale between freezing and boiling, and only 100 notches on the Celsius scale.

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Which Food Saver models would you recommend? I have been through two in the last few years, but neither were high end (not the super cheap ones either - the FoodSaver was maybe $125). I'd like to keep it around or below $200, but I also want something that I can use for a long time and can use for both sous vide and preparing things for the freezer.

I don't see getting a chamber vacuum anytime soon, for a couple of reasons. Price, obviously is a big one, but space is another (my kitchen is, to say the least, limited in space). Also, correct me if I am wrong, but the smaller (affordable) chamber vacuums geared more towards home use than commercial cannot be used to pack larger items, and since we live on a farm and freeze things like large chickens and bigger bags of produce, I would think the ones that work on the edge are going to be more applicable to both sous vide and general storage.

So, is the FoodSaver brand the one most would recommend? Any other brands I should consider? And specifically, what models should I look at?

I have a small propane torch already (I make a mean creme brûlée). And I have several reasonably good thermometers (but will look at the W-S one next time I'm there).


Oh, and Rob, I'm with you on the temperature scale. I absolutely prefer metric for weights and volumes, but as far as temperature, the main reason I can see for switching from F to C is to be consistent (everything metric) rather than significant advantages to the metric temperature scale.

Edited by tikidoc (log)
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I have and liked the FoodSaver V2490, but it may no longer be available. Look for one that has five vacuum levels, not just two, and will take an accessory hose, for things like marinating containers and dry good storage.

It's true that most chamber vacuums, e.g, the popular MVS-31X, won't hold a whole chicken, must less a whole turkey. But you don't want to vacuum pack a whole bird (because of the interior cavity), or even a whole ham -- you should cut it up into pieces that are (generally) smaller than 70mm thick -- otherwise it will take too long to cook them, assuming you are cooking from frozen. Secondly, a chamber vacuum CAN also be used as an edge sealer, so if you want to protect your shotgun from rust, you can seal it in a long FoodSaver roll just fine. You just have to allow a little more space at the top , so that the bag extends to the seal bar.

I think you will find that the small torches of the type used for creme brûlée won't be adequate for searing a steak or large roast. And I meant to say butane, rather than propane, as some people claim that propane leaves an odor. I switched to a MAPP torch from the plumbing section of the local hardware store -- it wasn't very expensive, the tank lasts forever, and it has an ignition switch built-in.

I'm not going to try to persuade a died-in-the-wool Fahrenheit man to switch, but because all of the sous vide devices support both, and so many contributors to this thread and others live outside of the US, where Celsius is the norm, I don't want to have to keep converting their recipes or temperatures, or force them to convert mine. And there are a thousand points between 0.0 and 100.0!

(Now, I confess that my oven still reads in Fahrenheit, although I don't often use it; and when I'm talking about the weather, 70F is more intuitive than 21C. Nobody's perfect!)

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For now, I'm going with an edge sealer. Convincing my husband that we need that took some effort (due to the bad experiences with the previous sealers), he would laugh me out of the room if I told him the price of a chamber sealer. I'm still considering the Minipack sealer. It has 4 settings and the accessory hose. One of the advantages of this one over the FoodSaver is that it is easy to get parts for (including replacement wire and tape), which I understand is not available for the FoodSaver. It has a 3 mm (1/8") seal, a moisture trap,, automatic and manual settings, and a fan so you don't have to wait after doing a couple bags. It is sold by Doug Care, which I have heard good things about, and although I have not seen too much about the sealer online, I have seen plenty of good reviews on Minipack products in general.

As far as the chicken, I would cut them up before vacuum sealing but it is still a fair amount of bird. We raise a small number of birds each year for our own use, but life always comes up when we should be harvesting them, and they always end up being done later (and therefore bigger) than planned.

And you are right, it is a butane torch not propane. I do also have a propane torch from the hardware store as well, so I'm set.

No strong preference on temperature scales, I just don't see a distinct advantage to one or the other. I am used to using centigrade at work (medical), although I moved a year ago and the hospital where I am now uses F, and it seems weird to me, when talking about body temperatures. When it comes to air temperature, I would have to get out a calculator if someone told me an air temp in C. For my oven, I am used to F but would have no issue with using C. Same for sous vide, I suppose.


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GlorifiedRice - It depends on what part of the rice cooker "died." If it's just the thermostat or timer, then sure, you are going to be bypassing that with a PID unit anyway. If, on the other hand, it's the heating coil, then you are out of luck.

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  • 2 weeks later...

If you're handy with electronics, you can easily build a decent rig for yourself utilizing a hot plate for less than $150, I should think. You can even put in a regular outlet so you can use a submersible heater.

Try here for an idea?

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  • 4 months later...

Hi all,

I've made my home DIY sous vide bath with a sestos PID controller, an SSR and a GFCI outlet that I can plug a heating element into. I was a bit nervous when I was building it because I don't have much practical electrical knowledge but I followed directions I found online. I have a few questions:

1. My GFCI is not connected to a ground source (I think most people use switches for a ground source?), is this OK?

2. I use a 25A SSR, if I use a higher rated SSR like a 60A will this be safer/it won't get as hot? I already use a heat sink and it has never even gotten to a noticeable temp when I touch the heat sink but the most I've ran it is about 8 hours.

3. On/Off or proportional, this is where I'm really out of my league: I've read a lot about how these PID controllers are either On/Off or allow a varying levels of electricity through and that the On/Off is not as good. Is this true? Should I be fiddling around with my PID to change it?

I've been using the box for months with no problem other than it always maintains a temp 1/2 degrees above the set value which I just factor in. Thanks for any help from those with more experience!

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1. In order for a gfci to work, the outlet needs to be grounded to the source. The heating element doesn't but the outlet does.

2. 25a SSR should be fine for most applications as long as you have the heatsink on. The rating is based on using a heatsink and having some ventilation. If you are using say a 1200w heater, the draw is 10amps @ 120v. this means the 25a is rated twice as high which is a good rule of thumb to follow. Most SSRs can handle 1/2 of their rating without a heatsink so 25 is safe. I'm using a 40a because it was only a couple of dollars more.

3. PID is like magic! The reason to buy the controller is the PID function. This allows you to reach temp without overshoot and maintain that temp. IF you are maintain a temp over long periods of time, are you sure you do not have it set to PID. I find on/off always overshoots and undershoots. If your temp is a bit off, you should be able to adjust the readout to match the actual temp. this is a common issue because of the variable resistant in wring and sensors.

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What I meant is the the GFCI functionality of the outlet wouldn't work. This is true, sort of.

GFCIs work by sensing voltage change. When this happens the cut the power and ground the terminal to release an residual power in the circuit. The most important part is that it "cuts the power"

Without the ground connected, it will still cut the power. This is good, but grounding is better.

If you have your heater on and you hit the test button, does it turn off immediately? If so then it is cutting the power and you should be okay.

Another issue is that you don't have ground for your heater. This is not a big deal if you are using a non-grounded element. If you are using a grounded element without attaching ground, then this is a hazard.

How have you wired power to you setup? If you are using a 3 prong cord, why don't you just wire the ground and and then you will be killing two birds with one stone. Just run the green wire from the power cord to the ground on the gfci outlet.

This will give you the most protection and you will be set if you upgrade your heater.

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Here's a good description i grabbed from online:

The ground-fault circuit interrupter is a fast-acting device which senses small current leakage to ground and, in a fraction of a second, shuts off the electricity and interrupts its faulty flow to ground. The rapid response of the GFCI is fast enough to prevent electrocution and this protection is independent of the condition of the grounding conductor.

Though a GFI will activate if a grounded appliance develops an electrical short circuit to ground... such as when YOU touch a metal saw and become the path to ground... you will experience a momentary electrical shock. This could be a minor tingle or could be more catastrophic, especially if you are on a ladder or roof.

According to the NEC, it is allowable to install GFI's in ungrounded situations. This makes sense, since the GFI is not dependent of the ground to function. It does not measure shorts to the ground, it measures the current difference between the hot and neutral wires. A sudden difference, indicating that there is another path for the electricity to flow through... you, for example, causes the GFI to open the circuit and save you from permanently curly hair.

The NEC allows GFI's to be installed in ungrounded situations PROVIDED THAT the outlet is labelled "ungrounded". Though not "officially" approved in the NEC, the grounding hole in the GFI can be permanently defeated by using an epoxy or other adhesive to seal the hole.

Most safety-conscious electricians prefer not to install a grounded-type "three prong" outlet in an ungrounded situation. Think about it... once the outlet is installed, there is no way for anyone to know if the outlet is really grounded or not without testing it. Thus, there is a hidden shock hazard should an appliance or tool that needs grounding... has three-prong plug... is plugged into this outlet.

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To answer your question on the relay, first you should calculate the amount of amperage that you system is drawing. Power = Voltage * current. So to determine how many amps you are drawing you solve for current and get I=P/V. So if you have a hair dryer rated at 1200 watts and you have it plugged into a wall socket of 120 V (I hope it is GFCI plug with a ground), then you are pulling 10 AMPs. A relay rated for 25A is just as good under these conditions as one rated for 60A except the 25A will be cheaper. Assuming the manufacturing of the relays are similar, the temperature will be the same in each relay. Just make sure the electrical wire from the plug to the unit is right-sized. You can find numerous on-line calculators to perform this calculation. Since heat is proportional to resistance, you want a wire from the plug to carry the appropriate amperage. Let‚’s assume you calculate for a blow dryer as above: 1) you need a circuit that is rated for at least 15A; 2) the GFCI should be rated for at least 15A (on a 15 Amp circuit, more is waste of money -- spend it on making it grounded -- always, always, always); 3) make sure the wire from the plug is at least #14 wire; 4) make sure your hair dryer pulls 20% (rule of thumb) less than the rated outlet.

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