Sous vide, literally meaning "vacuum" in French, is a method of cooking that uses a water bath to cook vacuum sealed foods to exact temperatures. Steaks, for instance, can be cooked to perfect medium rare with incredible texture and flavor without fear of over/under cooking. Sous vide machines are pretty pricey but there are a few new models coming out aimed toward the home cook. Although cheaper, they're still fairly expensive at $199+.
When I first read about cooking food sous vide I was very interested, but I didn't want to spend a few hundred dollars on a machine to experiment with. I did some searching and stumbled upon a few homemade sous vide machines using the STC-1000 temperature controller. It's cheap, available on Amazon, and came with just about everything you need for a primitive sous vide setup. I already had the other main component, a crock pot. Note that digitally controlled crock pots will not work with this setup because the STC-1000 is going to be cycling the crock pot on/off. Digital versions reset to "Off" when they lose power. Make sure the crock pot you will be using has a knob to select the temperature. A vacuum food saver isn't completely necessary but it does make things easier. Ziploc sells a cheap vacuum pump bag otherwise you can use regular Ziploc bags with the submersion seal method that I will talk about below. Here's the full list of parts you will need:
- STC-1000 Temperature Controller - ~$18 (Amazon)
- 6ft - 16 Gauge 3 Conductor Extension Cord - ~$7 (Home Depot)
- Three Wire Nuts
- Enclosure for the Electronics
- Crock Pot with Dial Temperature Settings
- Ziploc Bags / Ziploc Vacuum Bags / Food Saver
- Blowtorch for finishing (optional)
To make the controller, I used a Dremel tool to cut a hole into a plastic enclosure I had laying around. I drilled a couple holes in the back of the enclosure, one large hole for the extension cords and one smaller hole for the sensor. Once I had the STC-1000 fitted, I cut the extension cord and wired it up to the STC-1000 using a few wire nuts. I tied a knot in the sensor wire to keep it from pulling out of the STC-1000. I then used the included instructions to select a set temperature just above room temperature. The heating relay clicked on and an LED lit up on the STC-1000. Using a multimeter I measured the output of the heating relay to make sure it was providing the 120 volts. When I warmed the sensor up with my hand, the relay clicked off, and I verified 0 volts. I've included a wiring sketch below. I wired up the sensor, and sealed the enclosure. I then plugged in my crock pot and set the controller to a few different temperatures to verify the accuracy. All measurements were well within the reported ±1°C accuracy.
To cook with the controller, first fill up the crock pot with water, place the sensor inside, and set the controller temperature. I set mine at 55°C/131°F for medium rare. While the water was heating I prepared a couple of 0.75" thick strip steaks by seasoning with kosher salt, pepper, and a chunk of butter. I used the Ziploc Vacuum bags this time and they worked great. If you want to use regular Ziploc bags, fill up the sink with water and submerge the meat/bag in the water up to the seal. Wiggle the meat around to make sure all the air is out and zip it up. Although not perfect, it works well enough for this. Once the water warms up, drop in the steaks and cook for 1 hour. Once cooked, place the cooked steak on a metal rack over a pan to catch any juice/drips. Pat dry, brush with olive oil, and use a butane torch to finish. Alternatively, you can pan sear the steaks. These came out perfectly cooked, tender, and so flavorful. One of the best steaks I've ever prepared.
Amazon Products used within this Project: