This past year one of my roommates bought a Sous Vide Supreme. And it’s pretty awesome. We spent most of the semester trying out new and slightly crazy stuff [watch this space for recipes], and most of it turned out surprisingly great. So I decided that I needed one of these for myself when I moved to Fort McMurray for eight months of freezing my sack off and wheelbarrows full of money. But I really didn’t want to spend the ~$450 to get the same unit, for a couple of reasons. One, I’m cheap (or frugal if I’m chatting up the ladies). Two, I don’t like that the Supreme doesn’t have a circulator at that price. When a unit costs that much, there is no reason it shouldn’t have all of the basic requirements for a full-featured unit, and relying on convection currents for circulation is lazy and inefficient.
So I decided to go a different route. First I looked into the new Anova unit. Which looks great, is a reasonable price ($199) has all of the features I would want, comes highly reviewed, and all that jazz. Ok, lets buy one then! Oops, being in Canuckistan means you get to pay close to 1/3 of the cost of the unit in shipping. And probably get raped at the border for duty, brokerage fees, and other such goodness. Oh, and don’t forget US/CAD exchange. So plan on adding another $100+ or so to the sticker price to get it in the door once all is said and done.
Well, there are lots of other decent sous vide units out there. So I checked all of them out [yes, every single sous vide/immersion circulator unit I could find any information on anywhere]. For one reason or another, I didn’t consider any them to be acceptable options. Usually I removed them from consideration based on too high of a price, unavailability in Canada, lack of features, possible reliability issues, or some combination thereof.
So what is a cheap (frugal!) person to do? I came up with two decent options.
One: complete 900W (though it would be trivial to upgrade to 1200W (or 1500W!) for an extra ~$15/30 or so) DIY, based around the build I found on Seattle Food Geek. I spent a lot of time figuring out what components to buy, how/where to get them in Canada, all that jazz. Total price based on today’s exchange rate: ~$190 including shipping [parts list with links to vendors at the end of this post]. This might go up a little bit for customs/duty fees, but probably not. Total time required: estimated 4-6 hours of assembly, soldering, troubleshooting, etc.
Two: 800W DIY based around a Dorkfood controller. Three components, total price: ~$205 after tax and shipping. Total time required: about 15 minutes. I consider my time to be worth way more than $3/hour, especially when up north, so I went with this route.
Neither of these options include the cost of the container that the sous vide would be installed in, because that is a fixed cost and I would need to get one anyways. Some people could have a container available that they could use, some would buy. And the vast majority of sous vide units other than the Supreme would need this. I used a polycarbonate 18qt Full Size food pan. We always just called them full deep inserts when I was in the industry but I want non-restaurant folk to be able to understand this as well. I also got a lid for it, of the softer plastic variety so I could cut holes into it. More on that later.
For option two, the parts I got were:
- Dorkfood DSV controller from amazon.ca ($109.99 [no tax on this for some reason])
- Tetra 77851 Whisper Air Pump, 10 gallon ($15.75)
- Finnex 800W Deluxe Titanium Heater Tube (TH-0800) ($58.46 on sale at ReefSupplies.ca)
I also got a length of air tubing from walmart for the pump (~$1) and a polycarbonate drip tray from a 1/3 insert (~$5) to keep the food from sitting directly on the heater. Possibly not necessary, but is it worth taking that chance? I didn’t think so.
Plug in the dorkfood, plug the heater into the dorkfood and put it in the water, attach the air line to the pump and put it in the water (I put a bunch of tiny holes into the air line to allow for more than one exit point for the air though one is probably sufficient), put the temperature sensor in the water, and set the temperature on the dorkfood. You are now ready to sous vide things.
There are other heater options out there, but many of them aren’t realistic to get in Canada, or at least not at the time I’m writing this. I felt that the Finnex unit gave the best compromise between price, reliability, and availability. It also comes in 500W and 300W units, but for the minimal price difference it is worth getting the 800W.
So that’s my build.
I’m putting the list of components I put together for the full DIY one here for anyone who really wants to roll their own. This doesn’t include the parts required for the case that would house the controller etc. I also designed in a water level sensor that would eliminate the chance of burning out the heaters by running it without any water – I can’t remember where in the circuit it was going to be installed but you can figure that one out on your own. Building this requires at least a soldering iron, wire cutters/strippers, and a minimal knowledge of electrical circuit building ability. Check the Seattle Food Geek page for build information etc. Be careful if you decide to build this, electrons are assholes and can/will kill you if you mess with them.