Cloud Cooking

Web Controlled Sous Vide Eggs

I’ve been using the sous vide cooking technique for a couple years now. Sous vide entails vacuum sealing food and cooking it in a precisely controlled, circulating hot water bath. It’s the ultimate “low and slow” cooking; sous vide turns cheap, tough cuts of meat into something special.

In the last few weeks, I’ve had several conversations with friends about this technique, and I realized I was missing out on sous vide eggs. I eat eggs for breakfast almost every day, so I was intrigued. One friend makes his eggs the night before and often eats them cold. I require a hot breakfast. The other gets up extra early to start the eggs. I don’t get up earlier than I have to for anything. Not even for bacon. There must be a better way.

I own an ANOVA One that I purchased through Kickstarter several years ago. It’s been a workhorse, but it lacks a timed start feature and has no connectivity (they’ve add this a newer model). Also, it won’t start unless you tap multiple buttons on its force-sensitive touch screen, so an outlet timer won’t work. Immersion cookers are expensive, and I didn’t feel like buying another one, so I started thinking about ways to make it work with what I have.

Fortunately, I’d recently purchased a cloudBit Starter Kit by littleBits. It’s an Internet of Things prototyping kit, containing input modules like sensors and buttons, output modules like lights and motors, and a WiFi module to connect everything to the web.

After considering further, some requirements became clear:

  • must not require getting up extra early
  • eggs must be hot when I’m ready to eat them
  • must use my ANOVA One
  • must minimize additional purchases

I also learned more about my littleBits modules. The kit contains a servo motor, which can be set to move to and stay at a particular position, but it cannot continuously rotate. The servo would enable some interesting options. With requirements, capabilities, and limitations in mind, I began to brainstorm ideas.

Egg Drop

Release the eggs into the sous vide bath from a track.

Eggs sit on rails, with an ice pack below. When the servo arm moves out of the way, eggs roll into the water bath.

Pros:

  • circumvents need for timed start of water bath
  • servo can be used to unblock the track
  • cool-packs can refrigerate eggs until launch

Cons:

  • wasteful, the empty sous vide would run all night
  • egg breakage risk
  • overly complex; too much to build

No. Too risky and complicated.

Egg Dip

Use the servo to release a counterweight to gently lower a basket of eggs into the sous vide bath.

Pros:

  • circumvents need for timed start of water bath
  • servo could be used to release a counterweight

Cons:

  • wasteful, the empty sous vide would run all night
  • overly complex; too many potential points of failure
  • egg refrigeration issues

No. Also too risky and complicated, but in different ways.

I considered a variation on this using a DC motor, but it wasn’t any better. It seemed that adding the eggs to the water was fraught with issues, even though it reminded me of the breakfast machine scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I decided to come at it from another direction.

Timed Start

Put eggs and ice cubes into the sous vide bath before bed. Use the servo to tap the start button on the ANOVA at a designated time.

Pros:

  • no egg breakage concerns
  • no refrigeration concerns, ice keeps eggs colds until ANOVA turns on
  • no wasted electricity
  • servo can be used to tap the start button
  • fewest moving pieces

Cons:

  • none compared to the other ideas, but plenty of remaining questions about how to control the servo

Yes. I proceeded to mock up this idea.

Setting up the WiFi cloudBit was super simple; the site has step by step directions, and then allows you to control it directly from its website. I snapped together the demo circuit as instructed (no soldering!!!), and after some wrestling with our finicky WiFi (thanks for nothing, Comcast), I was able to send control voltage to the LED, and also receive input from a button in the circuit. I switched out the LED for the servo, and played with different voltages to get the angle I wanted (30 on a scale of 0 to 100). I was surprised and delighted to find that “it just works.” I was expecting to have to dive into Arduino programming, but instead, I was almost done.

The basic cloudBit circuit: power, cloudBit, LED on a flexible wire.

After I had the circuit together, I disconnected the servo and mounted it on the ANOVA, using a thick rubber band (like the ones on broccoli). Unfortunately, the placement of the servo body caused unintentional taps, so I put some cardboard underneath to elevate the servo. I then attached the circuit to the pot containing the ANOVA and hooked everything up.

the rough setup for testing.
Overhead view of the ANOVA and water bath.

Next, I went to the IFTTT website and enabled their littleBits channel. In case you’re not familiar, If This Then That (IFTTT) is an internet switchboard for setting any measurable input to trigger any measurable output. The possibilities are infinite, and the implications for daily life are astounding. I then created a “recipe” by using the time and date channel for input, and the littleBits channel for output. I configured the input — setting the time to 70 minutes before I want to eat, based on the one hour cooking duration of my recipe, plus 10 minutes to ensure the ice has melted and water is up to temperature when the cooking time begins. I then configured the position and duration of the servo movement as I did during initial setup. I saved and checked it, and was ready to test.

While poking around IFTTT I remembered that I had recently set up their “Do Button” iPhone app to control my Philips Hue lights. The app gives you a big button input on your phone. So, to test and fine-tune the servo arm movement, I quickly created a trigger on my iPhone. After messing with this a bit, I decided to set the voltage to 40 because it gave a more reliable tap. I was done.

Trigger setup, and the resulting trigger button.

Before bed, I loaded 3 pastured eggs (don’t buy factory farmed eggs, ever, especially if you’re going to cook them like this) and a bunch of ice into the water of the sous vide bath, and covered the pot with aluminum foil. I set up the ANOVA time and temperature, so that a single tap from the servo would get things cooking.

The night before breakfast.

The next morning, I checked the pot, and the ANOVA never turned on. I checked the IFTTT log; the command had been issued, but nothing happened. I played around with the rig and observed that after a while, the ANOVA screen turns off. When this happens, a longer tap is required to revive the screen and hit the start button. I revised the recipe to increase the tap duration from one second to two. The following morning, I had beautiful sous vide eggs!

Second try; a good start.

Next Steps

This is a good start, but I have ideas to make it even better. First, to make the circuit more reliable and robust, I’d like to add heat and sound sensors, which can trigger another tap if the first did not start the ANOVA.

I’d also like to be notified when the ANOVA timer is done, preferably by triggering a text message, rather than setting an alarm time on my phone based on start time + cooking time.

Even though the ANOVA heats up very quickly, I think the eggs might turn out better if they were added to the water after the cooking temperature is reached. I have more dip and drop methods I’d like to try.

All in all this project was a joy to conceive and build, and it serves as a clever example of the myriad ways in which the Internet of Things can change our lives by changing our relationships with the objects around us.

Want to make your own cloud cooker?

Here’s what you need.