Yes, I admit it, it’s a clickbait headline. I’m guilty and I voluntarily throw myself at the mercy of the internet. But in my defense I couldn’t resist; after all, it sounds so crazy and out of the ordinary.
Even I was thinking “Am I crazy smart or just crazy” (wait, don’t answer that.) Before you pass judgement you should read on and at least see what I am dangling as bait. 🙂
To make things easier I split this up into three sections:
- Why do you cook brisket so slow?
- The cooking process.
- The delicious results.
Why do you cook brisket so slow?
You often hear BBQ places brag about smoking brisket for 14 to 18 hours.
Good brisket is a commitment and to some it is an art.
To answer this let’s look at what a brisket is and where this cut comes from:
Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of beef or veal.
The brisket muscles include the pectorals. As cattle do not have collar bones, these muscles support about 60% of the body weight of standing or moving cattle. This requires a significant amount of connective tissue, so the resulting meat must be cooked correctly to tenderize it.
If you cook a brisket in your oven at 350° it will taste good but chances are it will be dry and you will be chewing for quite some time. Chewing burns calories so maybe this can be a new diet fad? Umm no.
Conversely, if you cook a brisket at 250° for 14 hours the connective tissue will break down and the meat will be tender and still juicy.
Simply put, slow cooking at a lower temperature breaks down the connective tissues without drying out the meat.
So far we’ve learned that slow cooking a brisket is definitely the way to go and 14 to 18 hours is the gold standard. Now let’s get some insight into what this crazy BBQ enthusiast did.
BBQ pitmasters and amateur smokers pay pretty close attention to the temperatures and conditions of their smokers.
They check the temperature every 45 minutes to an hour and will add wood or charcoal when needed. This is time consuming.
I’ve done it. There is a lot of coffee, charcoal, wood and later in the day beer involved in this process. There is also the factor of weather: neither snow, rain, or blistering heat will stop the delivery of a tender brisket, but they will produce some wear and tear on the chef.
It takes dedication to make a good brisket this way; If you start at 4:00am you will be working with the smoker until after 6:00pm.
So why then did I cook this one for more than 50 hours?
The answer is: Ease and convenience and the tool is: Sous vide.
Once limited to the pros, sous vide (pronounced sue-veed) is a cooking technique that utilizes precise temperature control to deliver consistent, restaurant-quality results.
High-end restaurants have been using sous vide cooking for years to cook food to the exact level of doneness desired, every time.
Remember the old commercials where you could buy a cooking appliance and “set it and forget it?” Well sous vide is as close as you can get to that promise.
The tldr (too long didn’t read) version is that I threw a bag of brisket in hot water and left it for 2 days then finished it on the smoker. There you go, recipe finished. 😉
Well…. Maybe there was more involved but that is the extremely condensed and over simplified version.
Ready to begin? Here’s what you need:
Pick out a flat cut brisket around 5lbs. Almost every grocery store will sell brisket.
Brisket is a relatively inexpensive cut of meat. Watch for sales and you can get it at a great price.
I find that the simpler the better.
Salt and pepper are the starting point to great tasting meat.
Ground pepper is common but few people grind their salt.
Fine salt will dissolve and be lost, the course salt will stay and impart more flavor. Use a salt grinder or buy kosher course salt.
If you don’t yet have a salt and pepper grinder set click on this set, they are the #1 seller for salt and pepper grinders on Amazon.
I always recommend Kingsford brand charcoal for it’s reliability and consistent, predictable heat.
If you don’t already have a charcoal chimney starter you are missing out. No lighter fluid needed and it’s a much faster way to get your coals glowing hot.
Click on the picture to check out one of the best charcoal chimney starters on the market. The Weber Rapidfire.
Wood chips or chunks
Wood is a must for smoking meat.
Since brisket is a sturdy cut of beef you can use a variety of wood. Fruit woods impart a lighter smoke flavor, hickory and mesquite woods will give you a stronger smoke flavor.
Tip: soak your wood chips for 15 to 20 minutes to produce more smoke when grilling.
Sous Vide cooker
We mentioned this earlier but wanted to list it here as well.
Sous vide is a game changer in the quality of your cooking. It produces consistent and perfect results with minimal effort.
When you cook with sous vide you will need a container. We recommend a lidded plastic container.
I have one similar to the picture with a lid and a metal rack. The lid helps with temperature and water retention and the rack helps to keep multiple cuts of meat separated and submerged to allow for circulation of heat.
Click on the picture to see it on Amazon.
We use the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. This is a staple at BBQ competitions and in backyards.
Its water pan and adjustable vents make temperature control a breeze.
You can use your regular charcoal grill for this recipe. Use an offset cooking method by putting the hot coals on one side and the brisket on the other.
Prepare your brisket
Depending on the size of your vacuum or zip lock bags, cut the brisket in portions to fit the bags.
I cut my brisket into 5 portions to fit into my vacuum seal bags, if you are using gallon zip lock bags you can reduce that to 2 or 3 portions.
Apply a liberal amount of salt and fresh cracked pepper. Rub it into the meat.
Seal the meat into the bags and allow it to rest while you prepare the sous vide.
Since I cooked my brisket at 137° and planned to finish it on the smoker I opted for 48 hours of sous vide time.
Set the sous vide temperature to 135° for a tender, steak like texture, or up to 155° for a brisket that will shred and fall apart when you pull at it.
At 137° our brisket turned out amazingly tender and juicy
If you choose to cook at a higher temperature you can reduce the time. We recommend: 24 to 40 hours at 155°F or 48 to 72 hours at 135°F
Is sous vide cooking safe?
According to the USDA, any food held in the so-called temperature “danger zone” (between 40°F and 140°F) for more than two hours presents a risk of food-borne illness from the growth of pathogenic bacteria — whether it’s cooked sous vide or by conventional means. In truth, these numbers have a built-in buffer zone, so 130ºF is a much more accurate cutoff point. Harmful bacteria can’t grow above that temperature, and at around 135ºF, most bacteria will actually be destroyed after a few hours, making pasteurization possible. (source USDA)
The precision temperature control of sous-vide cooking means it actually has the potential to be safer than traditional cooking methods. (This is exactly why one of its first major applications was making hospital food.)
Now for the “magic”. This is the reason I love the sous vide method for brisket.
Once our Anova Nano immersion cooker heated the water to 137° I put the brisket in and made sure it was submerged and put the lid on. That’s pretty much it.
It was hard to wrap my head around this one:
I did not set a timer!
Instead I put an appointment for 48 hours on my cell phone calendar!
I did check the cooker a few times and added water once due to evaporation. But this was random and hey, you do need to be in the kitchen for other meals.
If you need more reassurance that everything is going according to plan Anova has a handy app that alerts you to any temperature changes. There weren’t any, after all it is a precision cooking method for a reason, the temperature held rock steady the entire 48 hours.
The Anova app also has a ton of recipes, a timer, and more.
This part of the process was so easy and nearly effortless.
Finishing the brisket
When you hit the 48 hour mark pull out your still sealed bags, let them rest for 10 minutes then put them in an ice water bath.
Resting allows for redistribution of moisture into the meat and the ice water bath stops the cooking process. It cools down the meat so that during the next step you can get a nice bark on the outside without overcooking it.
Weird science: Getting a crust or sear on your brisket is called the Maillard reaction and it really is an essential step for producing amazing flavor.
This guy, Professor Louis Camille Maillard is one of my heroes. In 1912 he identified and explained the process which is now named for him.
The Maillard reaction (/maɪˈjɑːr/ my-YAR; French: [majaʁ]) is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. Seared steaks, fried dumplings, cookies and other kinds of biscuits, breads, toasted marshmallows, and many other foods undergo this reaction. Source: wikipedia
So, the same reaction that gives your brisket an amazing flavor is the same one that makes toasted marshmallows so good! Who knew that science could taste so good. 🙂
Thanks Professor Maillard!
SMoking the brisket
Soak wood chips for about 20 minutes. We used apple wood but if you prefer a stronger smoke flavor you can use hickory or mesquite instead.
Prepare your smoker or grill (indirect heating) to cook the brisket at around 250°.
Add your wood chips.
Tip: dry your brisket with paper towels before you put it on the smoker. You don’t want to rub off the salt and pepper so don’t wipe, pat. This will help to give you a better crust on the outside.
Smoke the brisket until the internal temperature reaches 125° F.
This will take about an hour perhaps more depending on the size of your brisket. Don’t worry about the low temperature, after all your brisket was safely cooked to perfection with the sous vide; the goal here is to get a bark and some great smoke flavor.
I swear by my Weber Smokey Mountain smoker but you can do this on a regular grill. Just make sure the brisket is not directly over the coals and that the heat is between 225° and 250°.
Tip: With the smoker internal temperature is the key, not time.
We recommend that you order a good wireless thermometer. Here is Amazon’s recommendation and the one I own. 4 different probes allow you to keep track of smoker/grill temperature and the temperature of 3 different meats. It also has alarms for the oven or grill/smoker and for different types of meat. It performs flawlessly.
Once you reach the 125° internal temperature pull your brisket off.
Slice it against the grain. Thin cuts against the grain will enhance the tenderness of this meat and make for some delicious moist brisket.
There is no need to rest it again, after all you have already cooked and rested this meat. After you slice it you can serve immediately.
Feel free to use your favorite BBQ sauce or just eat it naked (no, not sans clothing, just sans sauce.)
Sous vide brisket finished on a smoker
- Sous vide precision cooker
- Large container or pot for sous vide immersion cooking, 12 qt or larger
- Vacuum food sealer
- Plastic bags for vacuum sealer or Ziploc bags gl size
- Weber Smokey Mountain or other Smoker or Grill
- Charcoal Chimney
- Kingsford Charcoal
- Wood chips
- Wireless digital thermometer
- (1) 5+ pound flat cut brisket
- Salt (ground or course kosher)
- Pepper (freshly ground)
- Season and rub the brisket with course salt and pepper. Add other spices as desired.
- Cut the brisket in portions to fit into vacuum seal or Ziploc bags. This may be 2 to 4 pieces depending on the size of your brisket and bags.
- Seal the bags using a vacuum food sealer or Ziploc bags can be partially submerged in water to force out air, then sealed.
- Set the sous vide precision cooker to 137°. Once the water reaches temperature place the bags of brisket in the cooker and cook for 48 hours.
- Remove brisket and place in ice water bath to cool.
- Prepare your smoker to cook at 250°
- Remove brisket from vacuum bag(s) and pat dry.
- Place the brisket fat cap up in the smoker or grill and add wood chips. Cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 125°.
- Slice the brisket against the grain in thin slices. Serve with your favorite sauce and enjoy!
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