Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >
Mar 20, 2011 09:04 PM

Home jerry-rigging sous vide?

Hello everyone,

Last night, I went to a pretty cool underground dinner thing here in San Francisco that really got me inspired to start trying some more molecular gastronomy here at home. Does anyone have any experience jerry rigging sous-vide at home? Is it even feasible without buying incredibly expensive equipment, or is it a major investment only? Any tricks of the trade?

Thanks so much!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Hate to say this but Chow has this awesome video of how to hijack your slow-cooker (crock pot) to do just as you are asking.

      1. Here you go:

        Haven't tried it myself but all the comments are quite positive and the author really knows his ish...

        7 Replies
        1. re: Evilbanana11

          Of all the solutions I've read.....I'm most excited to try this. I can do it tonight without even needing to buy anything! Thanks.

          1. re: egbluesuede

            My cooler wasn't the best at holding heat, because it's a cheap piece of junk, but I did ziplock bag a flank steak last night, and held it around 145 degrees while I went for a bike ride. It came out a pretty decent medium rare after a quick finishing sear on a cast iron skillet. My wife thought I was crazy, but couldn't tell me the steak wasn't delicious. I tried to slow poach eggs in the same cooler and they just came out ok. I was looking for a 140-145 degree egg, but Iost a little too much temp in the cooler over the course of an hour. Not too bad, but for me, eggs need a little more precise control. I'd try again with a better cooler and see if I can get better temp retention.

            1. re: egbluesuede

              140-145 is a little low for an egg anyway unless you're going to fry it on very high heat afterward, or maybe put it in a hot soup (like ramen) last minute. You'd probably get better results if you get the water temp just a couple degrees above 150 and let that slowly drop as the egg cooks.

              I recommend trying even a little lower for steak. Restaurant 'medium rare' is usually around 130-135. Though to account for heat loss, your starting temp should probably be in the upper 130s.

              Also - since you already have a thermometer, do you also have a large stockpot? If you do, I recommend giving that a try. The stockpot method is far more versatile than using a cooler. There's a little bit more monitoring, especially early on, but once you get the hang of it, it's not hard.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                Thanks for the tip. I usually use a large dutch oven with my lowest burner, and find that I can hold pretty steady temps with mininal adjustments every 5-6 minutes or even up to 12-15 minutes once I get it where I want it. The egg was just about right for me....I was adding it to my morning oatmeal. (I was inspired by the recent Lucky Peach Ramen issue) It really isn't that hard to do, especially with the ziplock bag trick like you said. I should try it more with other "sous vide" preparations. But......I've never cooked anything in a beer cooler and just HAD to try it. It was probably worth it for the eye rolling i got from my wife. Tonight....I am taking the cooler with me to my poker game, and there wont' be steak and eggs in it!

                1. re: egbluesuede

                  I used to use a CI dutch oven, thinking that it would hold heat the best and be more insulated than a stock pot. But it really is more about having a large volume of water than about insulating it. Ideally with a stock pot, you fill it with enough water so that the temp slowly drops when it's on the lowest setting on your stove. Then get it to stabilize further by turning the heat up just a bit. Once the food/meat is up to temp, I could get a stockpot stable enough that I only had to check it once every few hours - it would reliably drift about 2 deg F in that time.

                  Apologies if you don't have a stock pot though. There's a lot you can do even with a beer cooler.

                  In any case, glad to see you're enjoying the results and playing with the sous vide process. Always happy to see a fellow convert.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    I do have a nice big stock put, but I thought the heavy cast iron would hold heat better. That's interesting. I'll have to try this with the stock pot now. I have a really nice burner that I can really dial in the temp, so that may be even easier than the dutch oven. Thanks for the tip.

          2. re: Evilbanana11

            I have done this according to Kenji's instructions with much success. Doing sous vide in a cooler is best for short cooking times. I have done salmon and lamb both with great results. Some additional tips: make the bath five degrees hotter than you will need it to be to account for the temperature drop when adding the food, a larger amount of water will hold the heat for longer and a medical-grade styrofoam cooler is quite good at keeping an accurate temperature over long periods of time if you can get your hands on one. I have also done a water bath in a dutch oven which was then put inside my oven set at the desired temperature. This worked well for veggies which need to go higher and longer.

            It is an excellent party trick and the results are delicious, have fun!

          3. To get started you will need:

            Big pot
            Ziploc bags
            heat source

            Once you figure out what you like to do and whether it's for you, you can investigate jury-rigging a slow cooker, or buying chambar vacuum sealers and circulators. What I just mentioned above works pretty well for anything that requires under 2 hours of cooking; after that, watching the temperature and controlling it gets old.

            2 Replies
            1. re: wattacetti

              I've pulled off the above method for preparations over 20 hours. Had to cook many pounds of pork shoulder for a wedding - much more than my PID + slow cooker could handle. I was able to set up a water bath whose temperature reliably rose by under 2 deg F over a period of 6 hours. I was even able to sleep once I had the bath stable, and wake to a bath that was predictably moderated.

              This method works much better than most people expect it would. Heating a pot from the bottom up makes circulation a non issue - simple convection will get the job done. Constant monitoring is only really necessary in the early phases of cooking, since once the food has reached water temperature, the bath should be fairly stable, predictably warming or cooling very small amounts over a predictable time period. I should note that I use a 16 quart stockpot (always filled to the same point), and also that my stove is electric and not in a drafty part of the house. I find it works best to tape the tops of the ziplock bags to the outer rim of the pan, and also to use a lid on the pan. I recommend this method to anyone considering buying more expensive equipment.

              I should also note that under normal circumstances, I use a PID (~$150) hooked up to a slow cooker. It's more convenient for day to day use. Here is a thread I posted a while back about using a PID.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                Well Cowboy, you've got more patience than I do; the longest I've ever done with this method is about 6 hours (duck). 22 L pot, cover, induction hob so more or less same setup. I was clipping fishing weights to the bottom of the bags to have them sink down.

                Looking into a Julabo circulator since I'm used to those from all those years in the lab (maybe with an insulated tub), but in the meanwhile, pot/cover/thermometer since I don't have a need to buy stuff twice.

            2. Here's something a friend sent me recently... I did a quick browse and the setup looks reasonable. I just need to find the time to give it a go.


              I've also used a very big pot of water (10 quarts), a digital thermometer and my stovetop burner set on low to simmer. I took about 20 to 30 minutes to tweak the burner setting and get the feel for how the water temp reacted to the tweaks.