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Affordable equipment to maintain constant temperatures?

So I've been in yogurt making lately and while I get decent results by letting the oven heat up a little and then leaving it in there overnight, it is a little inconsistent. I've been also looking into seed sprouting and read that you need to get brown rice at a constant 80-100 F for it to germinate.

Are there incubators or water baths out there that can keep constant "high" temperatures that don't cost an arm and a leg?

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  1. Have you tried looking for used medical equipment online or at auctions? Universities with strong science departments, and medical schools, sell their outdated equipment reasonably.

    1. The most affordable equipment I can think of to improve the consistency of temperature for something like yogurt is a wide-mouth thermos. I know I've seen whole web sites devoted to cooking with residual heat, but have no links to hand.

      1. <Are there incubators or water baths out there that can keep constant "high" temperatures that don't cost an arm and a leg?>

        I agree with ellabee. A yogurt maker probably is the most affordable options for you. Alternatively, you can get one of those rice cookers with a germination function.

        16 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Hmm I looked into yogurt makers and they would be the perfect solution except it seems as if most of them only have one temperature setting. I'd like to be able to adjust to whatever temperature for multiple purposes.

          I saw some rice cookers have "gaba" brown rice setting, but again it also only has one temp setting at 104. Plus they seem to get pretty pricey.

          In other words I don't want to buy anything that isn't a multitasker.

          1. re: takadi


            Their folding bread proofer is great for bread, yoghurt making, and for tempering or melting chocolate. Honestly it's great for anything you need a constant temperature on. The limits of this machine are mostly the interior size (Which the company is currently in the works to making an expander for their original machine to make it bigger and not make customers that need the extra space to rebuy a bigger version of the machine) and the imagination of the user when it comes to a temperature and humidity controlled environment.

            I don't know if you would consider it to be affordable ($148), but it is a great multitasker and its temperatures can be manually set anywhere in between 70-120 F.

            If you do any bread baking or chocolate work it might be the tool for you. They are great machines and the company is very helpful and friendly when communicating with customers.

            1. re: KungPaoDumplings

              KPD, do you actually have this proofer, and if so, how sturdy is it? Is the thermostat accurate and approximately how large is it (all-in) when folded?


              1. re: iyc_nyc

                I do not currently own one, I have personally used one though (And really want one).

                They are very sturdy if you follow the instructions correctly when assembling.

                The thermostat can be off (But, isnt necessarily) by about 5 degrees either way, but if you put your own thermometer in with what you are doing you can adjust the temperature and it will stay constant (As long as your ambient room temperature doesn't change drastically).

                King Arthur says these measurements:

                Inside box (open): 12 1/2" x 15" x 8 1/2" high
                Outside body (open): 18" x 14 1/2" x 10 1/2" high
                Outside body (closed): 18" x 14 1/2" x 2 1/2" (It also says 2 3/4" as well, so I would account for 2 3/4") high

                Despite the small discrepancy that King Arthur Flour has about the height when closed the dimensions seem very accurate.

                You're welcome, not a problem!

                1. re: iyc_nyc

                  I own one, I've had it for 2 years now. It's held up fine and you can fit a 13x9 pan in it.

                2. re: KungPaoDumplings

                  someone who had a chocolate shop used to temper with an electric roaster. i dont know how low they go but over 400 degrees.

                  1. re: KungPaoDumplings

                    So I purchased the Brod and Taylor last year and have been using the unit with relative success. However I do notice that the temperatures seemed a little low than what the thermastat tells, I would have to let the yogurt sit in the unit much longer than the recipe required for it to firm up.

                    Last week I finally gave in and got a thermapen and the first thing I did was measure the temperature accuracy of the proofer. According to the website it should be off by 1 or 2 degrees but it was off by 4 or 5 degrees and as much as 10 or 11 degrees in some temperature ranges. I called Brod and Taylor and they actually sent out a new unit..unfortunately this new unit, after testing, is also inaccurate.

                    1. re: takadi

                      I have one I got for proofing bread dough but, since I have it, I finally tried it for yogurt. I didn't bother confirming the accuracy of the temps but it does the job very simply and reliably.

                      I also was recently making a monster batch of brownies. I was supposed to chop up almost 3lb of chocolate to melt and there was no way I was dealing with the mess of 3lb of chopped chocolate. I put it in the B&T at 120˚as chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate in 1/4-oz chunks in the bowl I was going to mix in. It took a little longer than an hour (OK since I plan the best part of a day for these monster bakes and had plenty of time). And it wasn't so heated that I really needed to cool it to incorporate in my recipe.

                      To my mind this was MUCH better than the waste and mess of all that chopping!

                      Next, I'm going to try it for cultured butter.

                      1. re: rainey

                        Are you culturing it from raw cream or pasteurized cream? If you are using the former, then all you need to do is set out the cream at room temperature for 24 hours. Pasteurized cream needs an inoculation of buttermilk (most commercial yogurt contains mostly thermophilic lactic acid bacteria whereas buttermilk contains mesophilic bacteria). From then you can also culture at room temperature for 24 hours

                        1. re: takadi

                          I wish I could find raw cream. Not living on a dairy I doubt I could get my hands on any since the food police took over everything. ; >

                          I haven't done cultured butter yet but wouldn't my homemade yogurt be adequate? The first ingredient listed on the dry culture I originally made my yogurt from is bulgarius. Thermophilus is the second ingredient. Acidophilus is the remaining ingredient. I see no mesophilus listed at all. Is that essential?

                          The buttermilk in my fridge only lists "bacterial culture".

                          1. re: rainey

                            I think bulgarius is thermophilic as well. Mesophilic and thermophilic create different flavors and textures, which might affect the end product. I'm not an expert so I don't know what will happen if you use thermophilic bacteria to make cultured butter...I'm predicting the cream will end up very thick and cheese-like which will make it difficult to churn, but you should try it out if you are curious.

                            Buttermilk is made from mesophilic bacteria, mostly S lactis and leuconostoc types.

                            You could do a side by side, culturing one with buttermilk culture and another with yogurt culture

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I would have preferred 100 at maximum but I did look into the Brod and Taylor bread proofer and it seems like a neat little device. The only thing I really don't want to do is pay for some 400-500 dollar industrial grade piece of equipment, like those sous vide water circulators.

                  1. re: Alan408

                    Modern heating pads turn themselves off for safety reasons. I have returned numerous pads for this reason. I used to use them to create a proofing box.

                    1. re: smtucker

                      Any recommendations? Most of the ones I see only have one temp setting. There's one I see on amazon that seems to have temperature adjustments, but I'm not sure what the range is. It also will only heat for a maximum of an hour, definitely not long enough for my purposes

                  2. Ghetto sous vide might be a bit impractical, but it would certainly work and certainly be cheap (if you already have a large stock pot and a decent thermometer, especially).

                    I haven't made yogurt, but directions using sous vide are easily found on the web. Here's one.

                    As for the set-up, the cheapest method that works well is using a large stock pot on the stove. The bigger the pot, the more stable you can make your water bath. With a 4.5 gallon pot, I've done 30 hour preparations that worked quite well - the bath temperature changed only 2 degrees overnight as I slept, once stabilized. The downside is you'll have to check the water temperature and adjust often in the first hour or so to get it to a stable temp. It can take a bit of practice.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      I'm actually into aquariums and fish keeping and I was actually thinking of making a "ghetto" sous vide water circulator using a tank full of water, one of those aquarium heaters, and those water pumps to circulate the water. The only problem I would think is that the jar might float in the water instead of stay submerged

                      1. re: takadi

                        Well, if you're into aquariums (as I am), can you live with adjustable temps that top out in the low to mid 90s?

                        Float your germination container in a spare tank of water (I usually have spare tanks around - or get one for this purpose) and buy an appropriately sized aquarium heater. For example most in the Hydor line have a 70-94F range, and are accurate to +- 1F. Since you wont have anything to look at, you can even insulate the tank.

                        Small tanks are cheap (especially spare tanks), and a good heater is <$30.

                    2. dehydrator. get one that's competent (~100 bucks).

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Hmm that actually works? I would have thought that the radiation from the microwaves or the excessive heat would kill off the bacteria

                          1. re: takadi

                            Were you around when Sam was? He's one of those hounds that to me had a huge amount of credibility.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Oh yes, I know of Sam, he was awesome. Helped me out when was experimenting with stock making. I miss that guy

                            2. re: takadi

                              It works.. I've done the microwave method. But I prepare stovetop (just feels more consistent with healthy homemade yogurt :-)).

                              1. re: iyc_nyc

                                Just re heating milk (I take mine up to 185 F to create thicker yogurt), I've been using a microwave since finding that milk heated in a metal pot is really hard to clean!

                                So now I put my milk in a large glass Pyrex 8-cup "measuring cup"
                                https://www.google.com/images?q=Pyrex... and heat till a thermometer stuck in a few times to check reads that temp.
                                Glass is a breeze to clean even with heated milk.

                                (I then leave it in the steamy microwave environment a few minutes, cool in a large bowl of water,** and pour into my now-unavailable cheapie Salton yogurt maker for 4 hrs.
                                **The DH physics-person makes that happen even faster by doing something like wrapping the exterior with a paper towel and pouring water down it a few times making it into something like an evaporative cooler--that's what he does to cool stock, etc, too.


                                I don't use the Pyrex's flexible lid when heating, but come to think of it I could put that tight-fitting lid on after bringing temp down, then also incubate in the Pyrex--perhaps just wrapped with a towel in a box.

                              2. re: takadi

                                "radiation from the microwaves"?

                                I realize that microwaves work differently than radiant heat, but... why would microwave heating be lethal to lactobacilli?

                                1. re: ellabee

                                  Well microwaves work by moving water molecules around rapidly correct? So don't bacteria contain water molecules themselves? But I'm mostly confused on how microwaving it for a minute on high won't get temperatures high enough again to sterilize the yogurt and stop the culturing process

                                  1. re: takadi

                                    Microwave radiation has frequency lower than infrared radiation (higher wavelength). In simple terms, microwave is of rotational energy while infrared is of vibrational energy.

                                    Either forms of energy can kill organisms -- including bacteria.

                                    As long as you have good control, you can use microwave to assist (instead of killing) bacteria. For example, microwave is routinely used to assist proteolytic digestion.


                                    "2. Microwave Rising

                                    The microwave oven can also be used for the first rising of doughs. Place 1 cup of water in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. Heat on high for 2 minutes. This creates a moist environment to keep the dough soft during rising. Place covered bowl of dough in microwave and close the door."


                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      hmmm chowhound, dispelling one myth at a time. This is why I love this place. Thanks for the links

                                      1. re: takadi

                                        Thanks, Chem.

                                        Given the wide variation in power among microwave ovens, it does seem like a risky way to heat foods where you want to maintain live cultures, but I think the risk is about the degree of heat, not the kind of energy creating it.

                                        1. re: ellabee

                                          <Given the wide variation in power among microwave ovens, it does seem like a risky way to heat foods where you want to maintain live cultures>

                                          I agree. I think household microwave oven do not really maintain temperature. There is much temperature fluctuation.

                                    2. re: takadi

                                      With my microwave it takes 2 minutes to bring 8 oz to near boiling. In Sam's recipe, he has 3 1/2 qt of milk. It's sounds reasonable that 3 minutes will bring that up to the 110F range, and 1 minute every hour will bring the warm milk back up.

                                      If your microwave has a temperature probe you could use that. Just keep in mind the usual heat distribution issues (less heating toward the center, more around the periphery).

                                2. re: c oliver

                                  That's interesting!

                                  I do the milk on my stovetop checking the temperature when heating it and then when cooling it prior to adding the live culture. Then I incubate it in my microwave without turning it on. Works for me.

                                  I wouldn't heat the milk in the microwave but then I only do a quart at a time and that would boil much faster than the amount he did at a time.

                                3. "constant 80-100 F for it to germinate" - you could incubate it with your body heat. :)

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: paulj

                                    Sleeping with a jar of brown rice sounds like fun, much cheaper than a therapist, lol

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      I was thinking exactly about that, but didn't write it because I thought some people won't find it funny.

                                    2. Get a reptile heater or seed starting mat and thermostat. All set!

                                      1. I use an insulated lunch bag that has more of a gel insulation (the brand is Packit and I've seen it in a number of retailers including Bed Bath & Beyond; about $20 for a good sized one). When my milk is cooling and awaiting inoculation with the live culture I warm the lunch bag for a minute in the microwave so it's just warm.

                                        When the yogurt is all combined and in jars (I use widemouth 8oz canning jars) I put the jars in the bag. It will hold 6 + one 4oz jar that I reserve for my next culture nicely. I put that in the microwave overnight with a sign on it warning everyone else not to turn the microwave on. The microwave is never turned on. It's just another layer of insulation that lets the yogurt incubate at a very slow rate.

                                        I do a quart of milk at a time since that will get used up in about a week.

                                        Usually, when I retrieve the jars in the morning to stick them in the fridge for storage they're still a little warm.

                                        The consistency is excellent. That may owe something to the fact that I add 1/2 cup of non-fat milk powder to a quart of milk and use 2% milk. Whatever. The flavor is great and the texture is silky and firm -- at least as firm as Greek style -- without any staining.

                                        For flavor I sometimes also steep a vanilla bean in the milk while it's heating and add 1/4 cup of condensed milk or dulce de leche. YUM!

                                        1. I used a qt-sized thermos for a while (an insulated coffee pot) that I bought in a thrift shop; the problem was it started to smell after a while. I solved this by putting a plastic bag in first (the kind that come with twist-ties, not ziplock), pouring the warm milk into the bag in the thermos, and tying it off at the top before screwing the lid on. This worked pretty well. I really like the Pack-It lunch bag idea and think I'll try that. (I got out of the habit of making my own a couple of years ago.)

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: bkrumm

                                            Very clever to put a plastic bag in a thermos! I bet it also made it easier to get all the yogurt out of a narrow mouthed container.

                                            When I first started making my own yogurt a few months ago I was using a nifty wide mouth thermos jar that had a removable liner. That worked out great too but when I found out how good homemade yogurt was I started eating more of it and my little 12ox bottle just wasn't making it anymore. ; >

                                            BTW, in case you haven't discovered it yet, denture tablets and an overnight soak with warm water are godsends for thoroughly cleaning things like deep and narrow bottles. Doing that every third or fourth cleaning would probably eliminate the odor that you objected to. I do that periodically with all my coffee makers, tea pots, vases, etc.

                                          2. Hi, I make yogurt with 1 gal. milk at a time. I heat the milk to 186 F, then let it cool to 96 F. Add the culture or yogurt from the last batch, 2 cups of dried milk(optional) & pour it into a large clay bowl I have. I put that in a water bath. I heat my oven to btw 100-110 F & turn it off. Stick the bowl in, covered with a towel & leave it overnight. You can put a heating pad under it all too. I like my yogurt really thick, so I do strain it. I use the whey in bread, in smoothies & for watering my plants. The website cheesemaking.com (New England Cheesemaking Supply Co.) has recipes & cultures. My favorite is their creamy culture.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: celinafoodfiend

                                              How quickly do you use up a gallon of yogurt? And how many people are eating it? I'd be happy enough to make a larger batch less often but I guess I also want my little quart to get used up within a week. ...not sure what I'm thinking would happen if the last one was 10 days old, but using it quickly makes me feel more comfortable.

                                              I'm amazed that you have an oven that has such a low thermostat. I think the lowest possible temp on either of mine from different manufacturers is 170˚.

                                            2. I fill my slow cooker almost to the top with cold milk -- any kind -- and heat for three hours and 15 minutes. I turn off the pot and let it cool for almost 3 hours, or until it reaches 10 degrees. I then add yogurt from the previous batch (or store bought without any added ingredients) and keep it on a cheap heating pad at medium without an automatic turn-off, then let it sit for 18-24 hours because I like it thick. I refrigerate it until cold and then strain it. (I'm lactose intolerant; the whey contains the lactose.) I've been doing this for about 2 years.

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: MessyVirgo

                                                You must mean that you inoculate your milk at 110˚, no?

                                                I've wondered about using a slow cooker to do yogurt but since I do such a small batch (1qt at a time) it's faster and easier for me to do it on the stovetop with my little digital thermometer.

                                                I am fairly loose about my temperatures. I heat my milk to 180˚-195˚ and inoculate it between 110˚-125˚.

                                                1. re: rainey

                                                  Since I strain the yogurt of as much whey as I can, I usually wind up with about 5 cups. But yes, I inoculate the milk at about 110˚, and I don't know what temperature it ferments(?), but it comes out tangy and delicious. (OT, how did you get the degree symbol? I just copied yours to put in this reply.)

                                                  1. re: MessyVirgo

                                                    Do you use a Mac? It's super easy: just use Option and the key for "k". If you use a PC I'm sorry but I can't help you. =o

                                                    PS You might want to edit that post that says you inoculate at 10˚. ; >

                                                    1. re: rainey

                                                      option-0 is even better!

                                                      º vs ˚

                                                      1. re: smtucker

                                                        I didn't know about that. Easier to remember for sure!

                                                        I wonder why they programmed it in twice...

                                                        1. re: rainey

                                                          one problem i had was stringy yogurt. this talks about that, using sam's method.

                                                          1. re: divadmas

                                                            Interesting to read about that. I've never experienced it and it looks as tho it's important to make sure you do the first step of heating adequately.

                                                            Most recipes for ice cream also call for heating the milk tho I've never seen one be temperature specific. I always thought it was to kill of enzymes but now it seems more probable it's the same denaturing going on.

                                                    2. re: MessyVirgo

                                                      On Windows machines, copy and paste from the Character Map for non-English letters, symbols, etc.

                                                2. I wrap my yogurt in a towel and set it overnight it in the cabinet above my refrigerator. The steady warmth from the fridge motor directly warms the bottom wood panel of the cabinet and seems to be enough to make the yogurt set--and that's electricity I'm already paying for!