Three years ago, about three months before Christmas, I saw an article on one of my favorite barbecue websites that was talking about this “new to me” cooking method called “sous vide” and how it could work well with barbecue.
I have to admit I had not heard much about it before and I was really into cooking barbecue on my ceramic grills and other cookers. One of the things that jumped out at me about this cooking method, is that it was really very similar to barbecue as it was still “low and slow” cooking, BUT with a big difference! You could actually cook meat to an EXACT internal temperature and make something like a Beef Brisket very tender BUT with a medium-rare doneness! Something you just cannot do using a grill or smoker alone! So that was enough to get me to “Ask Santa” for a Sous Vide Circulator and to try and learn more about sous vide. The rest is history.
I immediately fell in love with Sous Vide BBQ (including grilling AND smoking) and started experimenting and testing all kinds of meats and processes.
Soon after, I started my own Facebook group dedicated to combining the two cooking methods! Since then I have grown the Fire & Water Cooking group to include a Facebook page, YouTube channel, Instagram, and we just launched the “Fire & Water Cooking Podcast” (available anywhere you get your podcasts).
Below are some of the “basics” of Sous Vide BBQ I have learned over the last three years:
- Yes, most meats will work great using sous vide and barbecue together! Don’t let anyone tell you that sous vide is only good for steak! I have done many different kinds of meat, even some exotic stuff, using these methods combined. You can still get a great smoke profile and bark on a brisket! You can get awesome crispy skin on chicken! You can get amazing fat rendering and flavor on pulled pork! You will always find some barbecue purists out there saying the only real barbecue is smoked only, that is just not true.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment! Trying to make some things like pork butt or brisket at different times and temperatures using sous vide can totally change the way you think about barbecue! Try different ones to find what you like best! Things like beef short ribs or brisket cooked medium rare, pork loin cooked to 145 degrees, etc. Sous vide allows you to pasteurize your chicken and pork at lower temperatures, so you do not have to cook it “well done” any more.
- Make sure you use a good guide or recipe. You should always look to some of the guides that are out there, like the Anova website, the Anova App, or Serious eats website for good tried and tested time and temperatures for what you are cooking. Although I encourage you to experiment, sous vide is not very good when you just try and “Wing it” so you should still use some basic rules.
- Some things will come down to “Personal Preference”. Although I try and use science, logic, and common sense with most of my cooking practices, sometimes people will do what they feel produces a better product “to them”. Questions like” Should I smoke before or after I sous vide?” or “Should I season the meat before or after I sous vide” can boil down to personal preference even though there are arguments for both sides. Sometimes there is no “right or wrong” answer, it is just preference and a matter of opinion. I always suggest trying things multiple ways until you find what works best for YOU.
- It does not matter what kind of grill or smoker you have! I have made amazing sous vide bbq on many different types and styles of grills. If you have fire and smoke, you will be able to make some really good food. Pellets, charcoal, real wood, gas (with a smoker tube), will all work. And remember, it does not always have to be “smoked” to be good bbq!
- You can do Sous Vide BBQ without a grill or smoker! Believe it or not, there are many recipes out there that can help you get very close to real bbq taste by using the sous vide and your oven! Using things such as liquid smoke (small amounts! It is powerful!), smoked salt or other seasonings, or even just a good barbecue sauce (most have liquid smoke as an ingredient) can help you produce some amazing food!
- Here are some things to look for when doing Sous Vide BBQ! For larger meats like brisket or pork butt, you can use the “expandable” vacuum sealer bags that are pleated so they fit larger items. 2-gallon Ziploc bags also work well. You can also use a drink cooler like the Coleman Stacker as a container for larger items as well. When smoking after sous vide, make sure you put the meat on “Wet” unlike when you want to sear, this way it will attract more smoke and create a better bark. Also make sure you add a little more seasoning as some will have washed off in the bag. Chill your meat before smoking, this will allow you to also attract more smoke and let you heat it back up just to the temperature you sous vide cooked it to. You can save the juices from the bag, for things like pulled pork or brisket, you can remove the fat using a gravy separator and add the remaining juices back into the meat.