Using Sous Vide On Board
My experiments with on board cooking continues - this time with Sous Vide (French for "Under Vacuum").  The term and method have been around for a long time, but principally as a restaurant tool, rather than for a home kitchen much less a boat galley.  The method involves cooking a food item immersed in water at a relatively low temperature.    This web page describes my experiments and experience cooking Sous Vide.
Joule Sous Vide Device
The restaurant version of Sous Vide involves a rather large and expensive cooking device.  In the last few years a number of appliance manufacturers have created compact and relatively inexpensive Sous Vide devices.  In May, 2017 I purchased the Chef Steps Joule Sous Vide tool from  The device is shown in the picture on the right.  It is basically a pump with a heater.  It is inserted into a pot of water and when turned on, water is pumped through the device and heated a specified temperature.  The pump keeps the water circulating so that all of the water is at the same temperature.
One unique aspect of this unit is that there are no controls on the device, just an on/off button.  The controls are in an app that runs on an Android or iPhone.  This cuts down on the cost, weight and complexity of the device.

The Joule Sous Vide Cooker
The downside is when your phone has fully discharged the battery it must be at least partially re-charged before you can start cooking.  Also the app will run down the battery if the phone is not plugged into a charger.  My phone will lose around 50% of the charge in a few hours of operation.  I use the phone to set the temperature, and when the cooking starts I either plug the phone into the charger or kill the app.  The only useful purpose of the app when cooking is the timer.  A regular kitchen time works fine for times up to 24 hours.

I bought this unit for two potential purposes in my galley.

  1. To precook meal entrées and side dishes for later reheating on passages.  In the past I've cooked these items conventionally and used a vacuum sealer to package them.
  2. As a slow cook device when dockside and on shore power that does not add too much heat to the cabin during the summer months.  This is the second kitchen device I purchased for this purpose.  The other device was a thermos cooker, which was only partially successful.
On the right is a picture of the Joule in operation, heating a pot of water in preparation for my first attempt at cooking Sous Vide.
You can see the pump is circulating the water.  As soon as it reaches the temperature I set via my Android phone I will get an alarm and the system is ready to start cooking.
For this exercise I am cooking chicken breasts at 149° F.
It does draw a fair amount of energy (1100 W).  So with 30A shore power I can't have the water heater, frig, battery charger, and AC on while cooking in this manner.  Something has to be turned off (most easily the water heater).  Once the water reaches temperature and the food has been in the pot for a few moments, the energy draw does drop to only a few amps.

Joule Pump Running and Heating the Water

Chicken Breasts in ZipLoc Cooking
Now I have added three 1/2 chicken breasts (boned and skinless) to the pot in a 1 gallon zip loc bag (open at the top).  I added salt, ground fennel seed and cardamom with some olive oil to the bag.
Now I have to wait an hour to see if this really works as advertised.  I've never slow-cooked chicken breasts before.

Heating up the cabin does not appear to be an issue.  Of course this was a relatively cool May day in Jax as a front came through this AM.  The pot is hot to the touch, but I can't feel the heat when more than a few inches away.
On the right is one of the cooked chicken breasts.  It looks to be perfectly cooked, but the picture shows one of the main draw backs of Sous Vide - the meat is very bland looking.  This is fine if the chicken is being used to prepare a chicken salad or maybe added to a pasta sauce. However if it is to be the main entre for dinner some further cooking is desirable for presentation and taste.  This might involve briefly putting the chicken breast on a grill or browning in a skillet.

One 1/2 Chicken Breast Slightly Undercooked After One Hour
Actually this chicken is slightly under cooked to allow for the additional cooking to sear or sauce the meat.  If I were using this chicken as is I might have raised the cooking temperature to about 152° F.  Only a few degrees makes a big difference given the long cooking times.
So it is definitely not a pot-saver in the galley as the Sous Vide pot is in addition whatever finishing cookware is used.  However that would not be an issue for my intended purposes of  pre-cooked entrées or a slow cooker.

Also, because the Joule maintains a constant temperature I could have left the chicken in the Sous Vide bath for longer than the 1 hour specified and the chicken would not be over cooked.  If left for an extended period (the duration of which I have not learned), the chicken would eventually become dry and unappetizing, but the important cooking time is the minimum time.

An unexpected side benefit of this type of cooking is that I now have a large pot of hot water for cleaning dishes.  So turning off the water heater to keep from tripping a breaker is not as inconvenient as it might be.
Beef Short Ribs
My second attempt at using Joule was Short Ribs.  The Joule recipes offers two approaches: (1) As a barbecue with a lot of prep and post work, but only 15 hours in the Sous Vide; and (2) a pot roast with a lot of veggies and 24 hours in the Sous Vide.  I'm not up for a 24 hour run on this device as yet, so I went with a simplified version of the 1st recipe. 
First I seared the ribs in a sauté pan as a prep step.  After 15 hours of cooking the ribs will be falling apart, so a post Sous Vide searing would not work.

Searing Short Ribs Before the Sous Vide Cooking

Seared Short Ribs Vacuum Sealed
Then I deglazed the pan with Port wine and a little Balsamic Vinegar.
I put the ribs and the glaze in a FoodSaver bag and vacuum sealed it.  The Joule recipe calls for vacuum sealing meats that are cooked for a long time.  Apparently 1 hour as for the chicken breasts, above, is not considered long cooking.
Then I filled my pot with water, inserted the Joule and brought the water to 167° F.
I inserted the bag of ribs, set the timer for 15 hours and went to bed.  I would never go to sleep with either the propane oven or cook top active, even at very low setting.  With the Sous Vide my risk of overnight cooking is not much different than running the water heater while I sleep.
Slow Cooking the Ribs for 15 hours

Cooked Short Rib After 15 hours
The next afternoon I removed the ribs from the bag.  They were perfectly done, tender and falling off the bone.
I did have to add several pints of water over the cooking time. 
15 hours is a very inconvenient cooking time as, if the cooking is started 8:00 in the morning, it wouldn't be finished until 23:00 that night.  Mitigating that inconvenience is that the ribs could have remained cooking several additional hours without being overdone.  So my starting the ribs before going to bed was fine, and I could have left them in Sous Vide until ready to serve the next evening.
Lamb Shanks
Lamb shanks are one of my favorite meats.  During the winters and, whenever decent sized shanks are available, I will roast them in the oven for 2-3 hours.  Running the oven during the summer months, even at a low temperature, is not viable here in Florida.  So this is another good test of the Sous Vide process for slow cooking when the afternoon temperatures are in the 90's.
On the right I have vacuum sealed one decent sized shank.  Before vacuum sealing the shank, I seasoned it with salt, pepper, cardamom, and ground fennel seed.

Vacuum Sealed Lamb Shank

Sous Vide in the Forward Cabin
To further mitigate heating up the main cabin, I have placed the Sous Vide pot in the forward cabin.  The water bottle on the left side of the picture contains tap water, not Seltzer.  This water is used to replenish that in the pot as it evaporates over the 24 hour cooking period.  If I do a lot more of this type of cooking I will need to come up with a cover for the pot with the Joule cooker in place, to minimize the water loss due to evaporation.
The joule guide calls for a 24 hour cooking time at 167 F.   I cut it short to about 22 hours.  I roasted some baby potatoes, carrots, sweet peppers, garlic and shallot on the stove top with port wine and balsamic vinegar.
The shank was excellent and did not need another 2 hours of cooking.  The second time I cooked a shank it was frozen, and I let it go the full 24 hours and I could not taste any difference.
Lamb Shank and Roasted Vegetables
Larger Sous Vide Container with Cover

Larger Container for the Joule
It didn't take long to make me a Sous Vide convert.  I also quickly learned that my 4 liter stock pot was not big enough for larger cuts of meat.  So I ordered a 12 qt. Rubbermade food container and a lid that conforms to the Joule device.
In addition to allowing for larger cuts of meat, this container's lid reduces evaporation, and the larger volume of water should help the Joule to maintain a constant temperature during cooking.
Other Items Cooked Sous Vide

Other meats that I have successfully (or less than so) prepared using Sous Vide:

  • Beef Brisket: 24 hours at 130 F.  Frozen when inserted into the sous vide pot.  The second time I cooked the brisket for 48 hours at 130 F. The 24 hours was plenty.
  • 1" Tri-Tip Steak: 1.5 hour at 130 F.  Frozen.  One of the issues with a grilled or roasted Tri-Tip is that one end is very thick and the other is very thin.  If the thick end is perfectly cooked to medium rare the thin end will likely be well done.  Vice versa, if the thin end is perfectly cooked to medium rare, the thick end will likely still be raw.  Sous Vide cooking insures that both the thin and thick ends will be cooked the same.
    In this case I had steaked the Tri-Tip to produce a cut of uniform thickness.
  • Pork Tenderloin, 1.5 hours at `136.4 F.
  • Hamburger: 45 minutes at 133 F.  The burgers were seared in a very hot grill pan after the Sous Vide cooking.
  • Sliced Port Belly (1 LB): 8 hours at 167 F.  I now have fully cooked slices of pork belly that can be crisped and cut into Lardons for stews and salads.   Plus about 1.5 cups of pure pork fat.  It would have been better to have cooked un-sliced pork belly, but that's not what I had in the frig.
  • Bone-in Pork Chop, 1.5" thick: 2 hours at 140 F.   That time was from a recipe for 1" boneless chops.  I should have extended the cooking for an addition 1/2-1 hour.  The potion of the chop furthest from the bone was perfect (moist and pink), the meat next to the bone was under-done.  The second chop I cooked for 2-1/2 hours at 140 F, and it was perfect.
Cooking Bags
For short cooking times and low cooking temps, I've used the freezer style ZipLoc bags and left them partially open during the cooking with the top of the bag secured to the top of the container so that no water can enter the bag.  The pressure of the water forces air out of the bag, allowing the meat to be fully in contact to the water heat, separated only by the plastic of the bag.
This works well for short cooking times and small items, but it is difficult to fully immerse large items in an open bag.  For longer cooking times I use only vacuum sealed bags.
For freezing and preserving moist meats I've used the liquid block type FoodSaver bags, as shown on the right with a frozen Pork Chop.  The white strip at the top of the bag prevents liquid from entering the vacuum sealer, and allows me to use the dry rather than moist setting on the FoodSaver to get a tighter vacuum.  Unfortunately this strip does not like getting hot (e.g., 140 F for Pork Chops).  I'm not sure if the melting of the strip is a significant issue, but I have gone back to standard FoodSaver bags for anything going into the Sous Vide cooker.  I may still use these liquid block bags for preserving some items, but I will transfer them to a standard bag for cooking Sous Vide.
Liquid Block FoodSaver Bag
After One Month
By June 6, 2017 I had been using the Joule Sous Vide device for about one month.  During that time I cooked the entre for about 1/2 of the main meals in the Sous Vide bath.  My observations below.
  • The Joule works as advertised.
  • Allows me to slow cook meat without heating up the cabin
  • Allows me to cook largely unattended
  • The pre or post searing of meat is a PITA, but I can live with it
  • A lot of divergence on temps and time from the many sources of Sous Vide recipes.  I tend to follow the temps and time specified in the recipes from the Joule website (and app), but that doesn't cover everyting I might want to cook.  I also use several books on my Kindle.
  • Need to do a fair amount of experimentation to find the best temps and time myself.  One of the purposes of this web page is to record the results of my experiments so I can reproduce them in the future.
  • I plan to continue to cook many meals Sous Vide on board Sarah.
  • There is no guidance on cooking two items at the same time that require different temps.  My assumption is I can cook both at the lower of the two temp until the item that requires the lower stemp is done, remove that item and raise the temp to the value for the second item.  Then cook that item for an additional time proportional to the increase in temp.  I haven't done this experiment as yet, but the goal is avoid serial long duration cooking of two items.
After one Year
Now in June, 2018 I've been using the Joule Sous Vide cooker for just over one year.  I'm a total convert.  I use it at least 3 times per week.  Now that the Floriday summer is back, I expect to use it even more.  The need to brown/sear meat after cooking has caused me to augment my cookware with a non-stick skillet.  I normally use stainless cookware on the stove top, but most meat needs to be left in the pan over heat for more than several minutes until it releases from the pan.  This tends to over cook some thinner cuts, so I now use a non-stick skillet to perform the finishing sear.
The only drawgack on the Joule has been the dependence on a phone app to operatte the unit.  I initially thought that was a positive feature, but now not so much.  I have an Android phone (LG) and it has trouble connecting to the Joule.  It often takes a lot of starts and stops to finally getting it running.  Then everything is OK. 
Because of those problems I was ready to recommend others to not use the Joule, consider one of the cookers with built-in controls.  Then for a totally unrelated issue, I purchased an iPad.  The iPad was a total falilure for what I wanted (a backup navigation computer), but it turned out to be an excellent Joule controller.  It appears the Joule developers built their software around the iPhone and iPad, and only as an after thought included Android phones. 
So I'm not happy that my iPad failed in my intended purpose, but it has delivered an easy to use Sous Vide cooker.
After Three Years
I have been using the Joule cooker for almost every evening meal for nearly 3 years as of April 30, 2020.  Today the small plastic impeller in the unit broke.  I submitted an inquiry to Chef Steps to see if it can be repaired.  Obviously the unit is long out of warranty.  Also I've been pretty lazy about replacing the water in the Rubber Maid container.  There were a few dirt balls on the impeller, which likely caused the failure.  So this failure does not appear to be a defect in the unit.  I depend on the Joule for almost all of my cooking of protein.  So, rather than wait on a response from Chef Steps and the time for a repair or replacement shipment, I've ordered a new unit.  Chef Steps is sending me a replacement impeller.  So I will likely end up with two Sous Videi cookers.
The use of an Android phone to control the Joule via Bluetooth continued to have intermittant problems.  I solved that problem by going to an iPhone XR and iPad.  The iPad is my normal Joule controller, and it works flawlessly.  Chef Steps has likely resolved their Andrioid problems by now, but I'm sticking with Apple - especially when my iPhone was dropped in the Ortega River and sat in 15' of water for 4 days before a diver could retrieve it.  6 months later the phone is working fine.
Being a Sous Vide convert I can be a little effusive in extolling its virtues to others.  I often get some push back from experienced cooks that they can produce excellent results without Sous Vide.  They are correct, Sous Vide is not a :"better" way to cook something, it is a different way with some advantages and some disadvantages (some of which are listed below).  I use Sous Vide because it fits my cooking and life style - living on board in the hot Florida summers and suffering from chronic back pain that makes standing by the stove or a grill for more than a minute or two very painful.  Different life situations might magnify the disadvantages of Sous Vide cooking.
Below are a few of my personal Pros and Cons for Sous Vide cooking.
Pros and Cons


  1. Low heat generation.  I can cook for long periods of time during the Florida summers without driving me out of the cabin.  If you live in an air conditioned energy-star home this is likely not one of your concerns.
  2. Unattended cooking.  I can start the cooking process and forget it until the alarm goes off.  The only active cooking at the stove is for side dishes and for searing the Sous Vide cooked meat.
  3. Always perfectly done meat.  It is very difficult to over cook meat Sous Vide.
  4. No need to time the cooking of side dishes.  I often wait until the meat is fully cooked Sous Vide, then start the side dishes.  I leave the meat in the active Sous Vide until the sides are just about ready, then remove the meat and sear it.
  1. Everything is sloooooow cooked Sous Vide.  One hour to cook a boneless chicken breast!  If you are always in a hurry to cook a meal, Sous Vide is not for you.
  2. Most of the Sous Vide cookers coast $150-250.  You can buy a 1st quality All-Clad saute pan for the low end of that price range.
  3. The post sear is a PITA.