Sous Vide and Thermocouples

A while back, I built a DIY sous vide cooker. It’s gone through a major revision since the original. My current one uses power outlets to connect the teacup heaters, rather than hard wiring them in. I’m in the midst of making another big change to it, which is to use an ESP8266 with custom programming, rather than an off the shelf PID controller, and also to use a different temperature probe.

Which brings me to this post. The original instructions used a k-type thermocouple, probably because it’s cheap and easily available. After some research, I think the accuracy range of the k-type thermocouple is unacceptable for sous vide.

The accuracy of a k-type thermocouple, for the temperature range we care about for sous vide, is ±2.2C. Now, the FDA recommends that food never be stored between 5C and 54.5C for more than four hours. That means if you’re cooking beef at a medium-rare temperature of 56.5C, a k-type thermocouple could be below the safe temperature.

It’s also worth mentioning that the k-type thermocouple’s temperature range is far beyond what we need for sous vide. We want something that will be accurate inside 50C and 100C. The tighter range of the t-type thermocouple is still more than we need, and its accuracy (for what we care about) would be ±1.0C.

We may be able to do better still. Resistance Temperature Detectors (RTD) probes are more accurate still. A probe with Class-A accuracy would be ±0.35 or less. It may also be cheaper, as you avoid the need for an amplifier chip, which you need with a thermocouple to convert its microvolts into something readable on normal electronics. RTDs just need something that can read resistance.

Which would be no problem on an Arduino with two ADC channels. You need the second one to read a resistor with a known value and then do some math to compare. Unfortunately, the ESP8266 (needed for some of the wireless features I want) only has one ADC channel. There’s some ways to fix that, but they involve some extra hardware. Might end up being a wash in terms of price and complexity. Still, I think it’s worth it for the extra accuracy.

Edit: doing it with a single ADC is possible with a voltage divider, which just needs a resistor with a known value. Cheap and easy.