We have been in love with barbecue — the real version that smokes low and slow over hardwood coals — for much of our adult lives, and we’ve had many successes on our Big Green Egg and our offset-firebox smoker. But a problem often presents itself: Does one really have to get up at 3 a.m. to finish a brisket or pork butt in time for dinner? Because that’s kind of a deal-breaker. But those cuts often take something like 14+ hours, so unless you want to feed your friends at 10 p.m., there’s not much choice.
We have been toying with the combination of sous vide cooking and barbecue for a few reasons:
- It produces moist, evenly cooked meat without fail.
- It is really easy; you don’t have to be a barbecue pitmaster to make great barbecue.
- You get smoky flavor and good bark, which to us are hallmarks of good barbecue.
- The timing issue vanishes.
For those unfamiliar with sous vide, it’s a method of cooking in a water bath set to the temperature you want the food to reach, with your food sealed in a plastic bag. (Here’s more if you’re interested.) With larger cuts like a brisket or pork butt, you cook the meat in the sous vide bath for hours. In this case, we put a rub on the brisket, set the sous vide unit to 155 degrees, then cooked the brisket for 18 hours. We then put the meat, still in the bag, in the refrigerator the night before we wanted to smoke it. You can even do the sous vide part several days in advance of smoking, storing it in the sealed bag until you’re ready.
We then heated up our Big Green Egg, with the indirect-heat insert in place, to 220 degrees with some chunks of pecan wood to produce a good smoke flavor. We cooked the brisket in the Egg for about three hours, mopping with a vinegar/pepper/paprika sauce every half hour or so. This was the result:
Notice the nice bark from our spice rub and mop combo, with only three hours on the smoker.
The brisket was very moist and tender, with plenty of smoky flavor goodness.
Look, we mean no disrespect to the thousands of pitmasters who have created meat magic with a long, slow smoke. Their products are some of our favorite meals on the planet. But when that isn’t doable at home, sous vide plus smoke is a pretty darn good Plan B.Print
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic power
1 teaspoon onion power
1⁄2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1⁄2 teaspoon coriander, ground
2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon paprika
Juice from the sous vide bag
One brisket, about 6 pounds, with fat cap still intact
2 tablespoons oil
Wood chunks, for smoking
Combine all spices in a bowl. Rub brisket with olive oil. Sprinkle spice rub evenly on both sides.
Place the meat in a vacuum bag. Seal twice to ensure a good seal, then put the meat in a sous vide bath set to 155 degrees for 18 hours. After 18 hours, remove from the sous vide bath and refrigerate overnight.
Make the mop sauce: Add all mop ingredients to a sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until all ingredients are dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat your smoker up to 220 degrees. Add wood chunks of your choice (we used pecan, but you can use hickory, apple, cherry or other flavors) to the coals when hot, then set the smoker up for indirect-heat cooking. Place the brisket in the smoker with the fat cap up, then smoke for three hours, mopping with the mop sauce every half hour or so. Remove the meat from the smoker after three hours and let rest for 20 minutes covered in foil. Slice the meat thinly and serve while hot with your favorite barbecue sauce.
Some notes about the cut of brisket to use: This recipe was done with the cut that is commonly found in a supermarket (we bought this at Costco). If you use a full brisket, which will be around 8 to 12 pounds, you will have to cut it into several pieces to seal them in plastic bags or find a bag big enough.
It is pretty imperative to select a piece of meat that has not had the fat cap removed. Smoking the meat with the fat cap on top allows the fat to melt and baste the meat. If you don’t have that, your meat may well turn out dry.
This is adapted from a recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats.
Keywords: sous vide smoked brisket