Which approach to sous vide?
April 25, 2013 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I’ve gotten a bee in my bonnet about sous vide cooking, but I’m not sure whether I want to build from scratch, buy an integrated PID with a SSR (Dorkfood, Auber) and a crockpot, or an integrated solution like the Sidekic. I’m not in the market for more pricy options (Sous Vide Supreme and above)—unless the other alternatives really don’t cut it (especially with eggs, which apparently are a little fickle, but would be something I’d love to cook this way). What’s been your experience with these alternatives?

DIY would be fun, but despite being handy, I don’t know that I would want to build from scratch if not in a kit—I don’t know that I (or my SO) would be comfortable leaving a DIY solution on for 72 hours straight.

PID w/SSR, like the Dorkfood and Auber, hooked up to a crockpot seems workable, but blogs (e.g., Wirecutter) suggest there can be temp variations that lead to inconsistent results. I suppose I could address that with a high temp pump in the crockpot as a circulator.

Sidekic seems like a great idea, but the design doesn’t grab me (can’t use a lid, and water level needs monitoring).

I know a bunch of you have been sous vide cooking—which route do you suggest?

Bonus: I was thinking of the FoodSaver V3240 as a vacuum sealer; is there another model you'd recommend?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You can choose some sous vide options that aren't quite so extreme. Instead of jumping into cooking for a week straight at 140.00001 degrees fahrenheit, you can practice with some options like braising a roast in the over for 5 hours at 200 (or however the recipe works out) in an airtight package.
posted by gjc at 1:48 PM on April 25, 2013

I have had great results using the Dorkfood, an old crock pot, the cheapest FoodSaver that Walmart has, and bulk vacuum bag rolls from eBay. I see no use for a circulator pump. If you were cooking for more than about four people you will probably need something bigger.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 1:58 PM on April 25, 2013

I don't have any experience to share yet, but I'm eagerly anticipating the arrival of my Nomiku, so I thought I'd give you yet another option since I didn't see it linked here already. It appears to be similar in concept to the Sidekic.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:22 PM on April 25, 2013

I have the Sous Vide Magic from Fresh Meals Solutions. It's a PID controller that you can use with a slow cooker or other device. However, I decided to purchase it as part of a kit with a submersion heater that allows you to use any food-safe container for the water bath. I like this approach because I can just use a stock pot or food-storage container, and I can pick the container that best suits the amount that I'm cooking. The temperature probe is integrated into the submersion heater, and it also has an air pump attached if you feel the need to use it. You can use a lid with this set up.

I haven't had it long, but so far it seems to work great. I've used it to cook egg yolks for homemade mayonnaise and was very happy with the results. I haven't had the chance to try anything that needs to be cooked for more than four hours, though, so I can't tell you how it handles the 72-hour short ribs and related tougher proteins.

Re: the vacuum sealer. I have the basic Foodsaver (not the one you linked, but a cheaper model), and I'm happy with it. However, I find that I use zip lock bags (and the water displacement method) more often than the vacuum sealer for most of my sous vide needs. But I've found that I like the vacuum sealer for other reasons--most notably using the accessories such as the bottle caps that let you vacuum seal your wine, vermouth, sherry, etc.
posted by crLLC at 2:46 PM on April 25, 2013

My Sous Vide Supreme has terrible temperature stability compared to the poly science immersion circulators I've used. Whatever you end up with just be sure it has a pump. Otherwise it'll only be useful for things that aren't particular about temperature.
posted by foodgeek at 3:36 PM on April 25, 2013

I built an enclosure for a Watlow PID controller to run our crockpot, using a thermocouple as a temperature probe. It works fine and was easy to put together. Without circulation the temperatures are pretty non-uniform. While a pump would be ideal, I found that using an aquarium bubbler to mix up the water improved temperature uniformity enough to get good results.
posted by pombe at 4:12 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wait for the Nomiku. They're very close to shipment.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:13 PM on April 25, 2013

Sounds like you may be beyond this level, but I've had fun experimenting with poor man's sous vide (one link of many), though it doesn't sound safe for long term meats done with low tolerances. Could be fun to play with while waiting for the intriguing Nomiku...
posted by Mngo at 4:48 PM on April 25, 2013

Another thing: a water bath will correct for a lot of temperature control ills, the same way a big slab of steel makes a great griddle. Thermal mass.

If you go homebrew, just make sure you design it to fail obviously (so you aren't eating botulism stew) and to the off position. Make the logic look like "if the temperature falls below X, turn on" instead of "if the temperature rises above Y, turn off".

Also, design in double temperature controls. There is your normal thermostatic loop, and then have a hi-limit switch in there somewhere that will pop if the thermostat circuit fails.

Finally, make sure you are using plastic that can handle the temperatures you are subjecting it to without offgassing awfulness.
posted by gjc at 6:49 PM on April 25, 2013

I've used an auber and a sidekic, and they both have their plusses and minuses:
I started out with an Auber. Cool device. Things to note:
I had a electric deep fryer (like this one) lying around. That plus the auber and I was good to go. The nice thing about this is that the fryer heats from the bottom, so I didn't actually need a circulator. I got one though, just in case.

If you do use a crock pot, don't bother with a high temp pump. You just need something to keep the water moving. What I did was bought a cheap external aquarium pump with a hose and bubbler. I plugged that into a power strip that the auber was powering. That way it only bubbled occasionally, but that was enough to keep the water moving for no hotspots!

The other thing the auber has going for it is the versatility - It can temperature control anything with a plug. For example, get a cheap electric hot plate, put a cast iron pan with wood chips on top, and put it inside a barbecue. Bam. Instant electric smoker.

- The SideKic is pretty easy to use as a set and forget device. You can use almost any vessel as a cooking pot, and it doesn't have to be on a counter - I've used camsquare containers, and for large amounts of food (think a whole round eye or brisket) I've used a giant restaurant tub. So, I can scale the water bath to the size of what I'm cooking, which is nice. WIth a crock pot solution, you can only go so big. As for a lid? Buy a bunch of practice ping pong balls, and float them on the surface. There's very little evaporation anyway, as sous vide is way below boiling, but they do conserve energy.

One other tip - don't use the crockpot or the sidekic to heat up the water. Do that with a kettle to get close to the right temp. It is a lot less stress on the devices. I usually fill up the tub to where I want it full with warm water (don't forget the displacement of the food!), and then pull out one kettle's worth, and boil that, and use a thermometer to get the temp within ~10 degrees or so. Doesn't take long.

Just so you know, once I got the sidekic, I haven't pulled out my auber setup - The sidekic is just easier, and self contained. However, now that the weather is turning nice, I may smoke me up a brisket.
posted by Philbo at 2:11 PM on May 10, 2013

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