Cheap Sous Vide Immersion Circulator

Discussion in 'UK Smokers' started by molove, Jan 6, 2016.

  1. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    It arrived a couple of days ago - I used it to warm some pulled pork last night and I am trying it out with some chicken and pork tonight. Hope to post some photos over the weekend. So far I have been impressed with it but it is still early days...
  2. mummel

    mummel Master of the Pit

    Sweet!  Glad to help.  Did you try it in a cooler and sealing the lid?
  3. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    As a quick test I simply used the body of my pressure canner. Even though the pot was round the easy-to-fit clamp fitted perfectly. As there is a large surface area for heat loss, in order to give it the best chance as maintaining temperature I used some tin foil as a lid. I found that the heater was powerful enough though and it wasn't actually required. For speed of testing I did assist it to initially get the water up to temperature with the gas hob, but even before I did that it was steadily heating the water from cold on its own.

    The settings were simplicity themselves. A button to toggle between C and F, Temperature up and down, cooking time up and down, start and stop. Once at temperature it kept the water to within 0.2 Deg C for the two hour cook, which I regularly confirmed using my Thermapen.

    For the testing I used some chicken breasts (marinated in a Chinese style sweet sauce) and some pork loin steaks (with a herb crumb). Both were from the reduced shelf at my local Tesco supermarket. These flavours were not selected for any particular reason other than they were there and were inexpensive. For suggested cooking times I used the information here. They use the USDA Pasteurisation tables for calculating the minimum required cooking times at different temperatures.

    For eating hot they recommend 140-150 F (60-65.6 C), and for cold slicing 150 F (65.6 C). I used 65 C for 2 hours (the minimum required safe cooking time being 2.8 minutes).

    After the 2 hours the bags were taken out and the contents examined

    Still in the vac packs the chicken looked like cooked chicken [​IMG]  but the pork slices did not look much different to when they went in. I think that this was due to the herb crumb that was on the outside. There was a little juice in the bottom of each bag but this was minimal.

    When cut open the chicken looked perfectly cooked and the meat was juicy, soft and silky, with a little of the traditional soft stingy texture starting to form. It melted quickly in the mouth but also still had a good texture. The flavours of the Chinese sweet marinade were intense but not to the point of being unpleasant.

    When cut the pork was also cooked well. The texture was soft and juicy and it too melted in the mouth. The herb flavours were intense and it was even possible to identify the individual herbs that were used in the coating. It tasted amazing.

    On it's first real run I was impressed with the way the Sous Vide unit operated, and at £99 I think that it is excellent value for money.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2016
  4. molove

    molove Smoke Blower

    Hi Wade

    Glad you are pleased with the circulator. I thought it was a bargain at £99+

    I've never tried cooking chicken breast sous vide, but that does look good. I've had good success with sous vide duck confit and it also works with whole chicken legs too.

    I don't know how accurate my thermometers are so would be interested to learn if there was any discrepancy between the circulator's temp gauge and the thermapen.

    I find that the hot water out of my tap is about 54ºC and the circulator only takes a couple of minutes to bring it up another 10º or so.

    I have an 11 litre pan I bought to brew beer with that is no longer used for that (I now have a 50L boil kettle) which seems perfect for the circulator, the lid is just thin steel so I cut a slot in it (I have other lids that also fit this pan so it's not a problem if I need the pan for other uses)

    Apart from the brisket the other day I have only tried cooking eggs with it, which I think I need to experiment a bit more with as they are quite different from an egg cooked in boiling water.

    I tried one at 63ºC which was all a bit runny for me, I then increased the temperature to 68ºC and cooked another egg, this one the yolk was a bit too firm for me.

    I used ChefSteps egg calculator
  5. smokin monkey

    smokin monkey Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Glad to see you guys enjoying your Sous Vide machines!

    Nice app available from the App Store, SousVideDash.

    Choose the meat, the cut, the thickness then how you would like it cooked (rear, medium rear etc) and it will tell you cook time etc.
  6. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thanks Steve. I couldn't find that one on Android but I have downloaded another. I am trying the Sunday beef joint in it today.
  7. That looks fantastic, I read the link you put up, it's a interesting read. Again it takes time and experience to get it right, but it does look juicy.
  8. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I had a roasting beef joint in the freezer that I bought from the supermarket "reduced" fridge a few weeks ago so instead of the FEC-120 I thought I would give the Sous Vide heater a try. Some of the people we had over for lunch do not like their meat Rare so I decided to go with Medium Rare to be safe. In the Sous Vide for 6 hours at 60 C (140 F) as advised by Chefsteps. To test the stability of the water bath temperature I also used my temperature logger - which I started about 30 minutes after the meat was put in..

    The logger measured 0.1 Deg C (0.18 F) lower than the Sous Vide heater - but I can live with that. The temperature fluctuation was a maximum of 0.2 Deg C (0.36 F) over the 6 hours - I can live with that too

    The beef joint when it came out was perfection. slightly pink in the middle (well pretty much throughout) with very light brown running juices.The light in the photo does not do it justice.

    The flavours of the rub were all there and were all recognisable - salt, pepper and a little garlic. The texture was melt-in-your-mouth whilst still retaining a good texture. This has certainly gone into the "must do again soon" file. [​IMG]  
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2016
  9. It's impressive at keeping the temperature stable. Your Joint looks impressive as well, very nice.
  10. smokin monkey

    smokin monkey Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Looks like the smokers will be on eBay next week😂😂😂
  11. Well, you have got me going on this one. I have ordered a PID controller and a fish tank pump off Ebay.

    I am now after a deep Gastronorm pan to put it all in and I reckon I can get hold of a second hand 500w element that might come in useful.
    I'll need a small project box to cover the element terminals and I have one down the shed to mount the PID in. I am hoping that I can find a nut that will fit the temp sensor, then that can be mounted in the side of the Gastronorm pan and sit directly in the water.

    I'll keep you informed of how it's all going, though I am not to sure how well the PID will perform, it's a right cheapo one. But if it keeps it somewhere near then it ill do I reckon.
  12. molove

    molove Smoke Blower


    Here's a couple of ideas for you. You could use a 6 litre slow cooker (for about £20) eg this is what I used until I bought the circulator.

    I also used a cheap fish tank pump, but be aware they are fine for low temperature cooks but are likely to deform under anything higher than 55-60ºC, I had this happen to me. You might do better with something like this which is rated to 100ºC

    For a cheap heating element you can use the element out of a £5 Asda or Argos kettle (the Tesco ones do work but are more complcated to use), see this article

    Yes I've built one of those too and I did use it for sous vide once too. You could use any food grade polypropylene bucket as they are rated to way over 100ºC. You need a 40mm hole cutter to mount the kettle elements and just use the gasket it came with. A standard IEC kettle lead fits on the connector at the back.

    Or if you can't be bothered with any of the faff of making your own you could always get one of these for £60 including postage (never used one so can't vouch for it)

    Hope that's been of some use to you
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2016
  13. Thanks for that, I'll get out and have a look at kettles tomorrow. The Eheim pump seems to be able to handle at least 60 degree's, having looked round various DIY builds, it seems to be the one which most people have ended up with. Allegedly they still work up to 90 degrees, not that I will be going anywhere near that high.
    That pump you have found will be the one that I will replace it with if this one gives up the ghost.

    I am looking for a 8" deep Gastronorm pan, which if I can't get hold of one by asking around, then I can get one from Nisbets for £22. I was thinking about getting hold of some polystyrene to insulate the sides and base, that should reduce heat loss and might help keep the temp stable.
  14. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Have you looked at NextDayCatering. They have polycarbonate ones there from ~£15
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2016
  15. Thanks Wade. The reason I am planning on using stainless is that I want it strong where I place the element. So if I have to use a bit of grunt to make sure it doesn't leak, then I won't wreck it. I am going to see if I can get hold of one for next to nothing, but if not then I will have to see what element I can use as well. I'll have to see how things pan out, so I might end up with one of the polycarb ones.
  16. molove

    molove Smoke Blower

    Baz be aware that stainless steel is a complete bastard to cut, if you intend to cut a perfectly round hole you will need a Qmax. You will need to drill a 10mm hole first which you must do at very low speed using cutting paste else the steel gets harder and harder as it heats up.

    Also you might want to consider getting a PT100 thermocouple most PID temperature controllers can work with them. They measure in 0.1ºC increments compared to the 1ºC increments of a K Type thermocouple. They are readily available on ebay eg

    Notice the PID is now working to a precision of a tenth of a degree, it automatically changes when you use a PT100 sensor
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2016
  17. smokin monkey

    smokin monkey Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Some good looking DIY Sous Vide rigs👍
  18. Cheers Molove, I am up on the old stainless problem, I work with it and have the gear to seriously bother it. Some of the guys in the trade still don't get the work hardening aspect of the material and are known as driller killers. Like you say, at least one quarter the speed you would work steel.
    I woke up early (again) and had a thought. I have an electric hot plate somewhere, why not just put that under the pan (or saucepan) and control the heat on that, it should have good contact with the weight of water in the pan and give good heat transfer without the element being in the water. All you would need then is the circulation pump and the temp sensor in there. It would make more room and eliminate the danger of the bags making contact with the element. Any decent sized saucepan could then be used without having to drill it.
  19. molove

    molove Smoke Blower


    The main problem with an electric hob is that they have a built in thermostat that breaks the direct relationship between the power applied by the PID temperature controller and the amount of heat applied to the water. For instance, there will be times when the electric hob thermostat has turned itself off and the PID thinks it is applying power but the temperature isn't increasing as it should so the PID will start increasing the power etc etc.

    You could try removing the thermostat but you would probably need to upgrade all the wiring too. I did this and melted part of the elecric hob.

    I didn't use this set up for sous vide but as a heat exchanger to maintain mash temperatures in my brewing setup, see below.

    Also the transfer of heat between 2 dry metals is never going to be as efficient as an element heating water directly.

    I ditched this method soon after and went for a 5 litre foodsafe plastic bucket with an Asda kettle element installed because of the direct relationship between the power applied and the amount of heat the water received. See below for the mark 2 which uses the kettle element and works much better (for my needs) than the above set up.

    Last edited: Jan 24, 2016
  20. Ha Ha, funny you should mention that.
    I have despoiled an Asda £5 kettle and removed the element. I see what you mean about the hole having to be precise to accept the seal, so it looks like a bit of filing to get it right. The only problem is that it's a cordless one, so the element contacts slide into the base to provide power. But fortunately it still has the Euro plug connector on the element, so I can use an old power cable to sort that.
    I have fitted a single plug socket for the outlet of the controller, that way I can connect more things in the future, but for the time being it will provide a safe connection for the element.
    I am just waiting for some other bits to turn up now.


Share This Page