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SideKIC: Cheap sous vide circulator.


cbread
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Mine arrived today too. Well, Chris beat me to an initial review, and with his thorough photos, and testing in water, has given a better review than I could so far.

Duncan should be commended for impressively fast shipping! I haven't even put mine into water yet, so I can't comment yet on operational aspects, but my responses so far: I was immediately impressed by the shipping, simple and effective packaging and by the forthrightness of the instruction manual.

I really want to see some sort of clamping mechanism so that it will remain level. The substantial width of the "hook" that hangs it from the side of a cooking vessel is a mixed blessing. That's one of those design decisions that no maker can ever satisfy everyone with. Too narrow and people won't be able to hang it off the thick rim of a beer cooler. Too wide, and the unit won't set level on a narrow rim.

If it is hooked on the rim of a narrow edged vessel, the unit hangs down so that it is quite a bit off level. Since there is only a modest difference between the too empty and too full indications, and since it is important not to run it too full or too dry, on a slant it becomes more difficult to determine what would be the correct water level.

Regardless I discovered that if I hang it on the corner of a 8 Qt Cambro, it sets quite well. Maybe I need to get a small beer cooler so I can see how it works hung on a cooler.

Photos will follow as soon as I can make them. I'm posting my immediate responses in a brief window of opportunity.

Anyway, so far I am impressed. I believe I have received a very good value. I will have more to say soon.

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Here's how I've got it set up right now (making some soft-boiled eggs a la Modernist Cuisine):

Eggs and SideKIC.jpg

I tried tucking it into the corner like cbread suggests, but that puts the nozzle too close to the side of the container and creates a substantial vertical wave that threatens to overtop the container. In the end I decided to just let it hang however it wanted to. I might concern myself with it later on for long-time cooks, but for 35 minutes I'm not going to stress out here.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Duncan,

Are you offering a warranty of any kind? I didn't see it mentioned on the website.

Sorry, that _should_ be on the amazon page but I can see that it's not. We're offering 45-day return for any reason. We should have that visible by tomorrow but if it's not on Amazon I'll make sure it's on our page.

Founder at ICA Kitchen

(Read comments with bias in mind!)

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Let me stressed that this is a well-designed item (for the price you pay). I didn't mean to critize. Just asking questions.

Hey, I knew what I was getting in for by jumping in on this forum. You guys are tough, but you're also obviously knowledgeable. You will be the toughest critics that I can face. Frankly you guys aren't really even the target market, but I really want to win you over - even if the current machine isn't good enough, I'm going to keep trying.

The use of a non-ZC triac device to control the heater I believe eliminates the contact issue as well as giving a much better isolation of power to ground leak problem. Not bad!

There's a minimum 5kV of optoisolation on the triac and the ZC detector (via separate optocoupler).

Cheers,

Duncan

Founder at ICA Kitchen

(Read comments with bias in mind!)

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And more for the "Let's make Duncan cringe about retooling costs" angle:

The heating unit looks basically like an inverted J.

I think it should look like an inverted U, and it should be deeper. And there should be knobs akin to C-Clamp screws on both the X and Y axis* to accommodate differently-shaped containers. I don't want to have to worry about evaporation.

Currently updates to the software appear to be using the "send it back to us" model. How about a USB plug and downloadable updates?

I'll echo the sentiment that a beeper of some kind is a key feature -- especially warning beeps if temperature goes out of range. Some kind of battery backup to save the elapsed time might be nice, too.

Finally, the heating element should be connected to the controller via a plug. That way, if something goes wrong, the end user only has to replace the broken part, not the whole thing. That would also lead the way for a do-all controller, and various heating elements suited to the user's cooking requirements.

Of course, I realize that these suggestions will increase the cost of the unit. But when you get down to it, there isn't much of a market for entry-level sous-vide contollers. The concept hasn't yet trickled down to America's soccer moms.

* A knob at the bottom of the U to change the depth of the unit, and one at the side of the U to lock it to the container.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Hey, I knew what I was getting in for by jumping in on this forum. You guys are tough, but you're also obviously knowledgeable. You will be the toughest critics that I can face. Frankly you guys aren't really even the target market, but I really want to win you over - even if the current machine isn't good enough, I'm going to keep trying.

Who *is* the target market? There's not that many people interested in Sous Vide and I reckon we have a pretty representative sample of those who do on this board.

PS: I am a guy.

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I'm going to disagree with ScoopKW on a few points:

I think it should look like an inverted U, and it should be deeper. And there should be knobs akin to C-Clamp screws on both the X and Y axis* to accommodate differently-shaped containers. I don't want to have to worry about evaporation.

I agree completely that it ought to stick deeper into the water, but I don't think I'd find any use for adjustable depth (do other units on the market have such a thing?), and upon actually using the device I'm not sure the addition of another moving part and another point of failure to make the unit clamp better is actually a good tradeoff. The simplicity of the current design is an asset, I think, I just wish it went deeper. I should also note that evaporation is always a concern, regardless of the pump depth: you can't ignore it on long cooks no matter what device you are using.

Currently updates to the software appear to be using the "send it back to us" model. How about a USB plug and downloadable updates?

The software is very simple: I think once the unit has been shipping for a while and they've made a few revisions it will stabilize completely. I don't want an electrically conducting hole in an appliance that sits next to a big splashy pot of water. And a plug to cover the hole is yet another part to fail. Again, I don't see this as being worth the tradeoff.

Finally, the heating element should be connected to the controller via a plug. That way, if something goes wrong, the end user only has to replace the broken part, not the whole thing. That would also lead the way for a do-all controller, and various heating elements suited to the user's cooking requirements.

Having observed water droplets trickling down the cord that connects the two again I'm in favor of the one-piece design that minimizes failure points and connections where water might infiltrate the controller. The unit isn't big enough to worry about whether I have to send both pieces or just one in for repair.

In my opinion there are two physical non-software changes that should be considered: the addition of a noise-making device of some kind for alarms and the like, and increasing the depth that the circulator reaches into the water by perhaps 5-10cm. Otherwise, keep it simple.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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That addresses part of the problem, but I still find that I have to fill the container higher than I would like, and therefore have to be quite careful about how much the water level is going to rise when I add the food. The margin for error is just a bit too small for my liking. I agree that the whole point of the device is "that it is small and simple and cheap" however, so if adding a few cm of depth brings the price over $200 it's not worth it.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Here is an idea for SideKIC to consider:

The temperature sensor, the pump and the 300 watt heater all together are very light in weight.

The entire assembly can constructed to be floating on water. This way it will not matter what size vessel you are using, and how deep the water is. This will not increase manufacturing cost.

Having only the sensor cable and a small power line, it will be much easy to put a cover on to prevent evaporation for long cooking time. The way now it is designed to be hanging, it is difficult to cover the water bath.

dcarch

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Let the abuse begin... yeah, the beer cooler is quite a bit more than 10 liters, but it's very well insulated, and with the lid on there the SideKIC managed to raise the water the last 10°C (from 53°C to 63°C) in just under an hour. There's a brisket in there now for the next 72 hours. Fingers crossed...

Beer cooler SV.jpg

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Well, I haven't cooked with it yet, but I heated up a couple of gallons of water last night in a mock cooking run to 135 F. and am impressed. It did everything it should and nothing it shouldn't.

It sat against the side of the cooking vessel with better stability than I had expected and just seems quite solid.

I am less inclined to insist on clamps than I had previously. I'd still like them, but the design decision seems more valid than I had thought.

The control set up is extremely simple and very user friendly. I can't complement Duncan enough for that. Bravo. Easy as heck to set up. I liked the continuous temperature read out.

I'd like to see a slightly longer tether between the heating unit and the control unit.

I found myself wanting to have strain relief at each end of the tether.

I still want to see any future iteration of the design go deeper into the vessel and have more wiggle room between lowest and highest acceptable water levels.

Overall, though, it's a surprisingly rugged, solid feeling unit and not a toy.

Chris, I like your insulating top. Prompted by your fine example, I'm going to get a beer cooler very soon.

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On the natural market for the SideKic - My guess is that sous vide is going to gradually work it's way into the mainstream household kitchen. I wish I could tell Duncan I believe that a good unit at low price alone will quickly make it mainstream but I think the idea will require time for the diffusion of knowledge about sous vide technique and theory.

I think that the cooking fanatics, hobbiests, and early adopters to be found in places like this forum are the real market for now.

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You guys with it in hand, do you think a small round cooler would be a way to go with it? Depth to place the items and let the circulator work on the top with lid placed on top although ajar?

Look carefully at Chris Hennes' cooler setup. You can see the water is covered with a piece of Styrofoam.

That's the way to do it. It sholudn't take you more than a couple of minutes to make one.

dcarch

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I agree (obviously!) — the styrofoam top dramatically reduces evaporation: even with this unit's water-depth sensitivity issues I didn't have to add any water until this morning, my loss is around 1cm per day at 63°C.

ETA: it also lets me use a much larger-than-recommended water bath since it greatly reduces heat loss.

Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Hey, I knew what I was getting in for by jumping in on this forum. You guys are tough, but you're also obviously knowledgeable. You will be the toughest critics that I can face. Frankly you guys aren't really even the target market, but I really want to win you over - even if the current machine isn't good enough, I'm going to keep trying.

Who *is* the target market? There's not that many people interested in Sous Vide and I reckon we have a pretty representative sample of those who do on this board.

You're right, I think that was inartful on my part. I certainly didn't mean to give offense, and you guys are the target market. What I meant was that there are a handful of people on the vanguard - people who are knowledgeable, who tinker, who like to know how everything works - and these are the people who've been asking most of the questions.

While I think SV isn't mass-market yet, I'm trying to build something for the second wave - that is, people who want to experiment with cooking but for whom most of the stuff out there is too expensive or too complicated.

Founder at ICA Kitchen

(Read comments with bias in mind!)

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This morning the heater noise has increased considerably. You know the noise a drip coffee maker makes when its internal heater kicks on? It's that noise. It has gotten louder since yesterday, though, so I'm not sure what gives (I don't actually know the physics of what causes that noise, so I have no hypothesis here).

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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You might be hearing boiling water. It's possible that there's a small amount of water boiling just at the surface and around the heater. If so, you might also notice a small bit of steam generated around that area.

That would be because it's not transferring all the heat from the loop at the base, some is being transferred from the "stem". It likely changed because the water level is slightly lower or the environmental temperature is cooler. This will result in lower power efficiency. I would suggest adding some water, but I'm going to leave it to you (you're obviously putting the thing through it's paces).

Edit: if this is the case it will also increase the rate of evaporation.

Edited by Duncan Werner (log)

Founder at ICA Kitchen

(Read comments with bias in mind!)

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The water should be below the top of the top screen. I'm reading our manual and see that we are somewhat confusing about that, apologies. I generally have it just around the bottom of the top screen. Around the middle of the top screen would probably give you the best level to allow for some evaporation.

Note to self: mark water line on housing.

Founder at ICA Kitchen

(Read comments with bias in mind!)

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