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



Low and slow barbecue also takes care not to use excessive heat to achieve its iconic results. When it comes to beef brisket, low temperatures and a lot of time are standard practice. But there is so much collagen in the hard working flat and point muscles that internal temperatures of 191F-205F are still considered necessary to achieve tenderness. In contrast, sous vide processing of proteins rarely exceeds 150F, just because that’s all the heat that the technology requires to convert that collagen to gelatin.

Speaking of 150F, that’s the temperature where briskets and other large roasts have a tendency to “stall” in the BBQ. Pitmasters know what I’m talking about. Tracking with your thermometer, you’re brisket’s internal temperature will gradually climb; you calculate time of arrival and start setting up the rest of your meal. Then, right there at 150F, no matter the temperature in your equipment, the temperature of the brisket will just STOP climbing.

Sous-B-Q eliminates the requirement to bring the brisket up higher than 150F in the BBQ, or anywhere else. If I smoke first, I pull at, or even below 150F and shift gears into sous vide. If I sous vide first, I make sure the brisket is already processed enough so as not to require temperatures higher than 150F in the smoker. Problem solved.

Sous vide is engineered to utilize the MINIMUM time/temperature formulae required to make food safe (and palatable), while preserving the food’s freshness. In most cases, sous vide and low and slow pasteurization are synonymous. Less heat, less damage, within the parameters of safety. And 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 150F–even as low as 129F in some cases.




Even though we started with two briskets, we endeavored to demonstrate three working applications 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, as always, and


a REC TEC 680 pellet grill which we acquired earlier this barbecue season.

We used beef from two different producers:

“St Helens Beef.” Processed Sous Vide, then Smoked.

“Painted Hills Beef.” Smoked, THEN Processed Sous Vide.

The St. Helens brisket was sous vide processed @

150F/65Cx24 hours,

shocked in ice water to 70F/21C, and refrigerated over night @


It is depicted below. Raw, processed, and racked. In the fourth 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 Tablespoon/lb., and a generous application of the rub described in the ingredients section above. They were then both smoked in a REC TEC 680 pellet grill from a cold start @

180F/82Cx6 hours

After removing from the smoker, both briskets were temp tested @130F/55 C.

Remember–I use a cold start, so that I can avoid personal 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

129F/54Cx24 hours.

If you look carefully at 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. 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. More on this later.


Below is the St. Helens brisket which we first processed sous vide @150Fx24, shocked, and then smoked @180Fx6 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 because of the sealed bag.

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

This creates what, in the old days, we called clarified stock. Because we processed at 150F, 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.


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 gasses during building fires and by other means, coroners call thiseffect “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, and shocked to

70F/21C and then refrigerated @

40F/4C .

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 @140F/60C. 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.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

@129F/54CX24 hours.

Upon completion, it was shocked in the Lipavi rack and vessel. I siphoned out the hot water and used a faucet extender to rehydrate the container (which I later utilized to re-pasteurize the St. Helens brisket). You can see the open end of the bag extending above the rim. Once the water stayed at 70F/21C without re-elevating when I turned off the water, 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’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff.

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


That’s right. That is one rare brisket, figuratively and literally. Honestly, I don’t 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. It’s internal temperature never exceeded 129F/54C, 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 140F/60C 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, and that’s the way 90% of the world eats their bovine cattle if they are fortunate enough and wealthy enough to get it.

Believe it or not, 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 pretty amazing, but it doesn’t really have a niche yet. People are fully content to get their steaks rare, and their brisket well. So, I smoked the Painted Hills Brisket AGAIN. This time, I fired up the REC TEC and set it on

225F/107CX6 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 @225F/107CX6 hours the presence of the myoglobin is still plainly visible. Sure, it’s somewhat less so, and, as soon as you heat up the brisket, it disappears completely. But what does this mean? This means that sous vide lends its precision to the methodologies that it works in concert with. I wouldn’t believe it, if I hadn’t seen it over and over. This is not a result I expected.

Even though the BBQ (or oven, or deep fryer, or saute 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’s counterintuitive, and I was skeptical at first too. I do not claim to fully understand it. But it’s true, nonetheless!

Moving on.

So, here’s the first three models:

  • Sous Vide first, 150Fx24, shock cold to 40F. Salt/Rub. Smoke @225Fx6 hours, OR.
  • Salt/Rub, smoke first @180Fx6 hours, no shock, sous vide @129Fx24 hours for MEDIUM RARE
  • Salt/Rub, smoke first @225Fx6 hours, no shock, sous vide @140Fx24 hours, OR

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 fairly 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. They are actually pretty large, and are less likely to penetrate the bag. So, here’s what I do:

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


I don’t 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 wasn’t considered safe for the original processing, it’s not safe now either. This prevents autolysis. Even though it is unlikely that bacteria are present, spoilage mechanisms are not neutralized by pasteurization.

If you think we’re done.

We’re not. There’s more. I bought another brisket to explore the variations further. But, I think you’ve 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!





mythology, science and practice.

taste and smell



fresh garlic

time and temp

safety and shocking


Painted Hills

St. Helens



Smoked Beef Brisket is the domain of expert pitmasters. A high collagen/fat content makes successful results challenging. The mysterious "Stall" stymies amateurs and pros alike. This article will demonstrate multiple sous vide/smoking synergies that guarantee tenderness, bark, and food safety. Even the appearance of medium rare is now within reach! THE HIGHER THE HEAT, THE GREATER THE DAMAGE!

Heat converts collagen to gelatin, which is a protein that lacks structure (when wet). This is why tough meat gets tender if you cook it properly. But the application of heat causes a certain amount of inherent "damage" to the food being cooked, too. The higher the heat, the more moisture is lost. The more collagen to be converted to gelatin, the more heat and time is required. As a result, some nutritionally valuable cells are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process.

As delicious as the bark is, we don't want the whole brisket to be bark. Vitamins and other nutrients dissipate by the same principle, as we are frequently reminded by the vegan and salad eating population. We all know what happens when food gets too hot for too long. I worked for a chef once that, when asked how long something took to cook, he would boom "When it's brown, it's DONE. When it's black, YOU'RE done."


We used

St. Helens Beef Brisket (corn finish), one ea. weighing approx 15 lbs./7Kg. This one we sous vide processed first, then smoked.

Painted Hills Beef Brisket (grass and grass), one ea, weighing approx 15 lbs./7Kg. This one we smoked first, and then processed sous vide.

Traditional low and slow smoking methods typically use weight to calculate cooking time.

Sous vide cooking depends less on weight, and more on the largest distance measured across the narrowest surface. It is rarely more than 2 hours for cuts of this size.

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 is applied separately, at the amount of 1 Tablespoon per lb. of meat.



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