There's an awesome Kickstarter going on now for a cheap, nice looking sous vide machine, the Sansaire http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/seattlefoodgeek/sansaire-sous-vide-circulator-for-199
You can also avoid all wiring using a very cheap home-brewing thermostat like this: http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/JET-200-Digital-Probe-Thermostat-0-38C-LCD-screen-Home-Brew-Temperature-control-/181007182811
It's also pretty easy to knock something together with a Raspberry Pi and a radio controlled mains socket.
......except it doesn't have the upper temp range required. Dammit.
I have done similar thing.
I purchased a slow cooker - crock pot. I was not satisfied with the temperature control for the pot. So I have used an industrial temperature sensor connected to an unit that can measure temperature and switch the cooker on and off.
The components were quite expensive - because I have used components for industrial automation, yet, it was not as expensive as Codlo.
When I finished the crock pot modification, I have realized that I can use it for SousWide as well
The cooler method sounds great if you want to try it out, or cook this way very rarely.
Those cheap styrofoam coolers supermarkets sell are way better insulators than most (maybe all?) hard plastic coolers. Nest a couple of them, put the lid on tight, and poke a thermometer through somewhere.
Heck, you could probably do it without a thermometer by mixing the correct ratio of iced and boiling water (being sure not to add any ice to the mixture.
Anyhow mixing room temperature and boiling water in the proper ratio is a quick way to achieve the correct initial temperature. Do it carefully using iced water and it's more accurate than a thermometer. Do it carefully anyway because: boiling water.
Isn't sous-vide essentially canning, except for the fact that you're using hard-to-recycle, guaranteed-to-persist-in-the-environment plastic bags, instead of cans?
"Here, have some 'sous-vide' smoked meat. It's soooo much better that sitting down at Schwartz's for a medium fat with speck. Really!"
Sous vide isn't about preservation, it's about long slow cooking at extremely precise temperature.
You could, for example, cook a perfect medium-rare steak sous-vide. As long as your water never goes above 135, the steak will never go past medium rare, no matter how long you leave it in. Then you take it out, when you're ready, and sear the outside in a super hot cast-iron pan. Perfect steak every time. If your water gets to 138, though, you've gone to medium. And if it never reaches 130, you're rare or less. Temperature is critical, time not so much.
Why would you want to eat food cooked in plastic? It just seems awful.
I was lucky enough to get a Sous Vide for a wedding present and I've been using it for a couple years now. The problem with using this method is that it is NOT incredibly precise - a temperature regulation system is not a PID, and Sous Vide machines use PIDs. The controller mentioned allows for way too much of a swing (which happens without a PID). This system would be fine for things like "medium" steaks (140F) as the swing would be between 134 and 145-150 most likely, or pork butt (I like mine at 167). However, this type of controller wouldn't be precise enough to cook eggs, as you need to be spot on (my Sous Vide has a temp swing of one degree).
I would check out the Sansaire, for $200 I think it is a steal. I already own a Sous Vide Supreme Demi and I backed the Sansaire just so I can do veggies at the same time as I cook meat.
This isn't exactly true though. While it might not go past medium rare, the proteins will most certainly continue to break down.
yeah, you'll eventually break down some of the fibers / fats / collagen, etc., but as far as "doneness" goes, it will always be medium rare; you'll never get to medium, if your temp is constant at 130. and it can sit at the desired temp for a long time (hours) before it starts to go really wrong. basically, the proteins that determine "doneness" are temperature sensitive and won't denature down until they reach a certain temp... and if you never hit that temp? they don't change.
for example, this person did a test with steaks, going from 45 min to 4 hours. and the conclusion: no difference in texture. http://testkitchen101.wordpress.com/tag/sous-vide/
it's very forgiving, as long as you can maintain the temp
Aside from the temperature control issue, the method for vacuum sealing is a bit spotty, but one that works like a charm (used it a million times I parents butcher shop/deli) is very simple: use a straw to suck out the air. Insert the straw, seal the bag almost entirely except for space for the straw, suck oput the air and squeeze the seal shut while simultaneously withdrawing the straw.
Huh, I just realized that I probably have all the ingredients I need.
Vacuum Seal (low commercial grade, but it turns comic book pamphlets into hard blocks)
Inbuilt pressure kitchen, from 120°C (250°F) to 50°C (120°F).
Should work as a substitute, right?
Just not sure if I really have to use water but if I can just let it simmer in the steam. Hmm.. but at 50°C there won't be much steam, I guess.
Depending on the cut, you really should be careful about how long you cook things sous vide. First of all, never ever over 72 hours (hello botulism) and secondly, lots of cuts become essentially mush if cooked low for a long time (source: mushy mushy experience).
Edit: Four hours is fine, but don't cook a steak for 24+ hours.
Weird. I just wired up an STC-1000 to an outlet over the weekend to hook up to a crock pot.
As Debaser42 says, it's a temperature controller, not a PID controller, so it's not going to hold at a constant temperature. Depending on the variance you set on the STC-1000, it will go lower than you want it to be, and then once the crockpot reaches temperature, the outside of the crock is already warmer than you want the liquid to be, which means it's going to vary quite a bit. Leave the variance low and your crockpot on low (provided you don't need it to be warmer than 93C), and it won't be too bad. You probably won't cook the perfect medium-rare-all-the-way-through steak, but it'll be pretty close.
I did my inaugural run on country-style pork ribs by starting them in a Weber kettle grill with some applewood, and let them cook enough to get nice and brown on the outside and for some of the fat to render. While that was going on I had a crock of water heating up to 60C. I brought the ribs in, let them cool a bit, and put enough water in the sink so I could submerge some ziplock bags in the water and put the cuts of meat in bags and sealed them. They cooked all afternoon like that, and they were delicious, smoky, and tender. Today the temperature controller is watching a pot of milk that'll be turned into yogurt overnight.
As far as the food-in-plastic thing goes, all I can say is this: if the idea of food cooked in bags grosses you out, avoid chain restaurants.
And in case anyone's wondering WTF country-style ribs are, oddly enough it's a Chicago-area cut of meat...my apologies to vegans reading the thread.
As long as you're over 130F, botulism isn't a problem. As a basic rule of thumb, if you're cooking below 130F, treat it as raw. The cooking time depends on the cut of steak. Most tender steaks, I'd cook for 1-4 hours, but a few - flank and skirt steaks particularly - require (and do exceptionally well with) 24-36 hours.