Cook Your Meat in a Beer Cooler: The World’s Best (and Cheapest) Sous-Vide Hack

Craft & Design
Cook Your Meat in a Beer Cooler: The World’s Best (and Cheapest) Sous-Vide Hack

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Cook Your Meat in a Beer Cooler: The World’s Best (and Cheapest) Sous-Vide Hack @ Serious Eats via Kottke.

By this point, there is absolutely no question that the method of cooking foods at precise low-temperatures in vacuum-sealed pouches (commonly referred to as “sous-vide”) has revolutionized fine-dining kitchens around the world. There is not a Michelin-starred chef who would part easily with their Polyscience circulators. But the question of when this technique will trickle down to home users—and it certainly is a question of when, and not if—remains to be answered.

The Sous-Vide Supreme, introduced last winter, and of which I am a big fan, is certainly a big step in the right direction. But at $450, for most people, it still remains prohibitively costly. In an effort to help those who’d like to experiment with sous-vide cookery without having to put in the capital, a couple weeks ago I devised a novel solution to the problem: Cook your food in a beer cooler.

8 thoughts on “Cook Your Meat in a Beer Cooler: The World’s Best (and Cheapest) Sous-Vide Hack

  1. says:

    Good Idea. Still waiting on a true DIY circulator though. Maybe a crock pot hacked with a PID controller?

  2. CircuitGizmo says:

    I use a crock pot on “keep warm”, and a thermometer. Checked every 15 – 30 minutes it stays pretty even. Sometimes I’ll float an ice cube in it.

    Have not tried an aquarium bubbler, but I imagine it would move water around well enough.

  3. Alan says:

    This is an excellent and simple hack, but it comes with a huge caution: sous vide cooking flirts with the very edge of food safety. The reason commercial sous vide units are so expensive is that they have lots of circuitry for fail-safe, precise temperature control, which turns out to be a tougher problem than you might imagine. Those devices are also priced according to the potential liability if something goes wrong.

    What could go wrong? Well, in the worst case, botulism. If you take a nonsterile glob of protein, put it in an anaerobic environment, and incubate it at just the right temperature, you get very rapid growth of a bunch of bacterial species, including everyone’s favorite food safety nightmare, C. botulinum. You can wipe out the bacteria just by elevating the temperature again, but they’ll still leave behind one of the most toxic compounds known. There are some other nasty critters you could get in this system, too.

    The risk of this scenario is relatively low. But it’s not zero. If you try this technique, please monitor the temperature very, very carefully. If it accidentally drops too low, and you don’t know precisely what you’re doing, throw away the food.

    1. Ace Chaulmers says:

      Botulism is pretty rare dude. Plus, you the toxin is heat-labile, so turning up the temp actually does get rid of the toxin too. No need to freak everyone out. So sous-vide away.

      In case you are worried about food poisoning however, here are some facts. C. botulinum is actually contracted through self-canned vegetables in adults and honey in children (never give your kids raw honey). From raw meat you are much more likely to get E. coli, C. difficile, Shigella, Staph aureus, and Salmonella, all of which give you a diarrhea and perhaps a little vomiting too.

      All in all, you are much worse off eating fast food than doing your own sous-vide. The unsanitary conditions and inadequate cooking at those joints has led to some nasty outbreaks including some progressions to hemolytic uremic syndrome…layman’s terms: kidney failure. So if you really want to avoid food poisoning, don’t eat at Jack in the Box or Taco Bell.

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