Sous Vide: A Tale of Two Briskets: Sous Vide+Hot Smoke= The Sous-B-Q™ Solution

A high collagen/fat content makes brisket challenging. This article demonstrates multiple sous vide/smoking synergies that succeed easily.


St. Helens Beef Brisket, 1 each–usually around 16 lb/7 Kg.
Painted Hills Beef Brisket, 1 each–usually around 16 lb/7 Kg

Herein lies the Rub, by volume:

Star Anise Powder, 2 parts.
Fennel Seeds, 1 part.
Ginger, dried, 1 part.
Cinnamon, 1 part.
Nutmeg, 1 part.
Cardamon, 1 part.
Allspice, 1 part.
Ground black pepper, 1 part.

Kosher salt (applied separately) in the amount of 2 Tablespoon/lb. of meat.

Equipment requirements
Immersion circulator, portable or stationary.
Heat rated container, minimum of 5 gallons/20 liters.
Heat rated sous vide bags.
Metal tongs
wooden spoon.
Infrared or probe thermometer.


Traditional low and slow smoking methods use weight to calculate cooking duration–usually in the neighborhood of 25 minutes/lb, at smoker/oven temperatures between
180 F-225 F/82 C-107 C. 

The typical target internal temperature of the meat is between 191 F-205 F/88 C-96 C

Sous vide cooking duration is the sum of two components:
1) The time it takes the heat of the bath to reach the geometric center of the object. This is the penetration interval. It is rarely more than 2 hours for most cuts size. Precise guidelines exist for this purpose. This is combined with
2) The time it takes for the process to convert collagen to gelatin to tenderize the protein. Basic guidelines exist for this, which are then confirmed using the pinch/poke method..
Temperatures between 129 F-150 F/54 C-66 C are utilized to pasteurize and tenderize the brisket.


Sous vide processing can achieve the desired tenderness without the internal temperature ever exceeding 150 F. This prevents the occurrence of excessive moisture loss, cellular damage and shrinkage.

If smoked/roasted first, the brisket is removed when it achieves an internal temperature of
129 F-150 F/54 C-95 C.
The brisket is then bagged and processed in the sous vide bath.

If the brisket is processed sous vide first, the bath temperature is set at
129 F-150 F/54 C-95 C.

The duration is usually 24-72 hours, depending on the temperature used. Tenderness is confirmed by utilizing the pinch/poke method. The brisket is then shocked to 70 F/21 C and then refrigerated at 40 F/4 C before continuing to the roasting/smoking step. This brings us to Sous-B-Q™.

The definition, the purpose, the entire raison d’etre of Sous-B-Q™ is to achieve the same results as low and slow barbecue without the internal temperature of the meat ever exceeding 150 F–even 129 F in some cases.

Let the festivities begin

We will demonstrate three different approaches of Sous-B-Q™:

Process Sous Vide first, THEN smoke.
Smoke first, THEN process Sous Vide, and
Smoke, Sous Vide, and Smoke AGAIN!

We used Lipavi Racks and Vessels.

We used beef from two different producers:

“St Helens Beef,” and “Painted Hills Beef.”

The St. Helens brisket was sous vide processed @
150 F/65 C X 24 hours,

shocked in ice water to 70 F/21 C, and refrigerated over night @ 40 F/4 C. It is depicted below. Raw, processed, and racked. In the bottom right slide, it lies to the right of the Painted Hills brisket, which at this time is raw.

Both briskets were then seasoned with kosher salt in the amount of 1/2 Tablespoon/lb., and a generous application of the rub described in the ingredients section above. They were then both smoked (one sous vide processed already, one raw) @
180 F/82 C X 3 hours

or until the internal temperature is @130 F/55 C, whichever comes last.

I use a cold start to conserve fuel and also to avoid exposure to the toxic gases.
The Painted Hills brisket was not shocked, but was immediately vacuum sealed and loaded into the sous vide vessel set to
129 F/54 C X 24 hours.

In the picture below, you can see that the bag holding the pre-smoked Painted Hills brisket is not sealed. The brisket was too large to fit into most chamber vacuums (including mine), so I sealed one end, put the smoked brisket in, and then just draped the open end over the edge of the vessel. The lid will hold it secure. As long as the brisket itself is fully submerged, the water in the tank will force the air out of the vented bag.

We call this sans vide. It produces identical results to sous vide, without the tidy romance of the vacuum sealed bag. The brisket will become pasteurized during the process, but will not RETAIN its pasteurized state after being completed unless you seal the bag within the last few hours of processing..

Smoke’em if you got’em

Below is the St. Helens brisket which we first processed sous vide @
150 F/65 C for 24 hours,

shocked, and then smoked @
180 F/82 C for 3-6 hours

(as previously described). Trying to keep it all straight!

after removal from the Lipavi rack, the St. Helens brisket looks like this:

The Crocodile Smile!

Processing sous vide first created about 5 cups of purge. This is primarily a combination of water, albumins and myoglobin. Because of the characteristics of the processing, the sum of the weight of the brisket and the weight of the purge is exactly the same as the original weight of the brisket–there is nowhere else for anything to go.

The purge is brought to a boil, the albumins and myoglobin particulate, and are strained out, as shown.

This creates what we called clarified stock in the old days. I guess we still do! Because we processed at 150 F, there is a lot of gelatin in this Sous Jus. There is no salt, but if seasoned, it becomes a flavor rich beef consommé. A lot of chefs don’t bother with this, and just discard it. SMH.

Meat me in St. Helens

The smoke ring is visible. This formerly highly prized effect is really just the result of exposure of meat to Carbon Monoxide, CO, and Nitric Oxide, NO. Exposure to these extremely toxic gasses fixes the color of myoglobin (near the surface), leaving behind the smoke ring. When people are fatally exposed to these gases during building fires and by other means, coroners call this effect “lividity;” a rosy pinkness in tissues around the eyes and lips, etc.

The completed St. Helens brisket was sampled. It was good. I have some neighbors who are kind enough to help me with landscaping and general maintenance, so I cut off a few slices, grilled them in a cast iron pan, and packed a lunch/dinner for my friends…sous vide processed Yukon golds, simply pan seared with S+P. Dark Side sauce is getting popular around here.

When I worked as a chef, I found to go orders very annoying. Now, I buy to-go containers and kind of get a kick out of sending them next door.

The remainder of the St. Helens brisket was then cut into large chunks, vacuum sealed, shocked to 70 F/21 C and then refrigerated @40 F/4 C .

This is the difference between “leftovers” and “preserved food.” Since we immediately cooled and packaged the St. Helens brisket, it avoided temperature and exposure abuse, thereby retaining all of the quality that it started with. On the next day (after pulling the Painted Hills brisket) I re-pasteurized all of it
@140 F/60 C for 5 hours.

I steamed some bread dough, made a little coleslaw with lots of onion and sous vide corn, and made BBQ brisket sandwiches for lunch with a friend from church. Later that evening, I made a chili like substance with some sous vide pintos (it works), the usual suspects, and a little tamarind paste. Raw onions, and a pink piece of brisket from the Painted Hills brisket that had just come out of the tank. Sigh, that was pretty good.

I cold shocked the St. Helens brisket again. Now it can be kept frozen indefinitely, or refrigerated for at least two weeks without sacrificing quality. All well and good.

Meanwhile, back at Painted Hills Ranch…

While all those other things were happening, the Painted Hills brisket that we smoked first slowly percolated @
129 F/54 C X 24 hours

Upon completion, it can be served. I removed the Painted Hills Brisket from the bag, and it looked like this.

24 hours sealed softens the bark, of course. Actually, we will recreate it in a subsequent process. In the meantime…we are going to see something extraordinary, something that I have never seen occur except as a result of sous vide processing. And I have seen a lot of crazy stuff.

I chose the low, 129 F/54 C temperature for a reason. See the slide below:

Wait. Woot?

That is one rare brisket, figuratively and literally. Honestly, I do not even expect my readers to believe what this picture shows. Although this brisket is safe, pasteurized, and gloriously tender (would that I could prove it), it is still medium rare. Its internal temperature never exceeded 129 F/54 C, even though it “cooked” for a total of thirty hours.

The presence of blood is not why rare beef appears red. There cannot be blood in raw meat for a number of reasons, one of which is it would not be fit to eat if there was. It would also be illegal. Rare meat appears red because of the presence of myoglobin. Myoglobin is an oxygen transporting protein in muscle tissue and is temperature sensitive. It starts to darken and drain out once it hits 140 F/60 C or thereabouts. As we saw, there was still some myoglobin in the purge.

By the way, there is no shame in preferring your beef well done. That is the way 90% of the world eats their bovine cattle if they are fortunate enough and wealthy enough to acquire it.

Unbelievably, here are a couple more shots of it:

Yikes, and Gadzooks.


I could have stopped there. I mean, how do you top that? Medium rare brisket is amazing, but it does not really have a niche yet. People are fully content to get their steaks rare and their brisket well. Therefore, I smoked the Painted Hills Brisket AGAIN. This time, I fired up my outdoor smoker and set it on
225 F/107 C X 4 hours,

again, from a cold start. Great bark, hard to believe it was really a “reheat.”

I cut off the tip of the flat, nice smoke ring, I was thinking we had finished the job, so to speak.

Looking good. Pretty much what we would expect, right?

Things appear to have returned to normal

And then along came Jones:

Even after smoking AGAIN @ 225 F/107 C X 6 hours, the presence of the myoglobin is still plainly visible. Sure, it is somewhat less so, and, as soon as you heat up the brisket, it disappears completely. However, what does this mean? This means that sous vide lends its precision to the methodologies that it works in concert with. I would not believe it, if I had not seen it repeatedly. This was an unexpected result.

Even though the BBQ (or oven, or deep fryer, or sauté pan) does not have the temperature accuracy of sous vide, the results of food being prepared “in partnership” between sous vide and other technologies benefits from the sv processing. I tell people that even if your non-sous vide finishing temperatures exceed your original sous vide target temperatures, your food will still be better than it would have if you had never used sous vide. It is counterintuitive, and I was skeptical at first too. I do not claim to understand it fully. It’s true, nonetheless!

Moving on.

Here are the first three models:

  • Sous Vide first, 150 F X 24, shock cold to 40 F. Salt/Rub. Smoke @225F X 6 hours, OR.
  • Salt/Rub, smoke first @180 F X 6 hours, no shock, sous vide @129 F X 24 hours for MEDIUM RARE, OR
  • Salt/Rub, smoke first @225 F X 6 hours, no shock, sous vide @140 F X 24 hours,

Is smoke a thing?

Smoke is not a thing. Smoke is more than a thousand things. Some of the components of smoke are so small as to be barely larger than atoms themselves–as small as .04 microns. The plastic used to make sous vide bags is air tight, and water tight, but air and water are actually large molecules. Some components of smoke can, and will penetrate heat rated sous vide bags during sous vide processing depending on how hot you have your IC set. The water starts to resemble tea, and you may smell smoke. Not delicious smoke, more like burning leaves or paper, or a blown head gasket.

Guaiacol and syringol  are the components of smoke that we find appealing, savory, delicious, whatever you want to call it. Guaiacol is flavor. Syringol is aroma. They are also quite large, and are less likely to penetrate the bag. Therefore, here is what I do:

When I sous vide process something that has already been smoked, I go as low as I possibly can. At 129 F/54 C, I have not been able to detect any smoke smell or color in the water. Somewhere between 129 F/54 C and 140 F/60 C it starts percolating out.


I do not always use sous vide to retherm sous vide or Sous-B-Q processed foods. Large chunks of brisket, for example, respond well to oven roasting and re-smoking in the BBQ, not to mention the fact that bark can be re-established this way.

If you DO use sous vide to retherm cooked foods, always use a temperature that is the same or HIGHER than was used during the original processing sequence. If the temperature was not considered safe for the original processing, it is not safe now either. This prevents autolysis. Even though it is unlikely that bacteria are present, pasteurization does not neutralize spoilage mechanisms.

If you think we’re done.

We are not. There is more. I bought another brisket to explore the variations further. Nevertheless, I think you have waited long enough, so I am publishing this treatise. For those of you who have been encouraging me to write a book, this is almost as long as one. Bless you all!

Norm King



mythology, science and practice.

taste and smell



fresh garlic

time and temp

safety and shocking


Painted Hills

St. Helens




Heat converts collagen to gelatin. This is why tough meat gets tender if you cook it properly--and long enough. Nevertheless, heat destroys nutrients and removes water. The more collagen present, the more heat and time is required.
As delicious as the bark is, we do not want the whole brisket to be bark. We want a nice dark crust without removing all the moisture and nutrition.


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