I will do science to it! Smoke + Sous Vide

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by christhompson, Apr 7, 2010.

  1. christhompson

    christhompson Fire Starter

    For the record I currently have no smoker of any kind. I mean to rectify that this year.

    Last year I passed on a 7 foot tall "proofing cabinet" that had formerly done time at a KFC. Could have had it for $100, and passed because I suddenly found myself mid divorce and unclear on where I was going to be living. Regret that.

    I've read all the PID threads and that's definitely where I'm headed. Cold smoke generator and a cabinet heated on PID control with convection/fan circulation. Several probes for monitoring various pieces of meat, etc.

    What got me thinking about this again wasn't smoke, it was water.


    For those not familiar, Sous Vide is the technique of sealing something in a vacuum bag and cooking it in a water bath that maintains your target temperature. Want 150F on your steak? put it in 150F water and leave it, you end up with a cut of meat that can't overcook, and is done to the same level completely through the entire cut, not well done on the outside and rare on the inside.

    It's common to finish Sous Vide meats by searing the outsides of them in a pan, or under a broiler, or even with a blowtorch. They can't brown and caramelize and form a crust in the bag.

    That's what got me thinking. The method is supposedly a godsend for "difficult" cuts like brisket. What would happen if we combined the two methods, smoking and sous vide. It would be Überbrisket!

    Anyone thought of this? Separating the cooking and the smoking would provide better control, theoretically, over the process, no?

    I'm just not sure how to handle it. Smoke raw with cold smoke then sous vide? Cold Smoke a fully cooked brisket straight out of sous vide? Sear first? Sear last? Sear in the middle?

    I've got a ton of gear to acquire to accomplish this, but it's likely to be a hell of a lot of fun testing :)

    I know at least one of you has a sous vide setup, though I can't find it now. I'd love if someone could test this and tell me if I'm crazy.
  2. I have seen the device for doing this used on the food network, but I have never seen one in person. I would think you would want to get some smoke on it first, then bag it and let it come to temp in the water bath. I would be curious to see how the texture would come out, and there would be a complete lack of bark. I might be tempted to sear it after it was done. It would be an interesting experiment.
  3. Very interesting, I'll have to keep this in mind. I agree about the searing after, I think it would be good.
  4. I looked at the linked article- immersion heaters and a water pump- looks like he's trying to copy the commercial units. I'm not sure about the plastic tub though- how about a styrofoam cooler? Maybe that came up later- I didn't take the time to read all the comments.

    Others have just used a rice cooker, though I guess that limits the size of what you're cooking. Do a search on "sous vide rice cooker" and you'll get a few useful links.

    Me, before I put my PID controller on my smoker, I used it with a rice cooker to do some sous vide- an egg and some chicken. The problem with the egg was that the white was under cooked when the yolk was perfect (65C, I think). Next time I'd pop the egg in boiling water for a minute or so after the sous vide. I was being too safe with the chicken (after all, I was feeding my family) and held it at 160- a nice safe temp to kill all the nasties, but still made the chicken a bit tough. Next time I'd dwell at 150 or even longer at 140 to kill everything but leave the chicken more tender. I might even forgo the bag and make enough sauce to immerse the chicken pieces in the rice cooker.

    Okay, have I proven that I know a thing or two about sous vide? Probably just enough to be dangerous.

    Anyway, back to your idea. Because of the usual stall, you don't have to worry about over cooking the meat when you smoke it. I agree with the others- smoke it to say, 160 or whatever temp people usualy wrap in foil at. Then bag it and dump it in the sous vide water bath, bring it up to temp, pull it and sear it.

    You'll get a little bit of crust on the meat with the initial smoke, though that'll soften up a lot in the sous vide, so the final sear to caramalize it helps. It'll also help get rid of the grease that gets rendered out.

    That said, it seems a bit overboard (though, who's arguing with that? :)

    Usually sous vide is to get something to the exact right temp without overshooting it and making it tough. Brisket isn't like that. You can take it to 180, 190, 200, even 205 and not have any problems with it. That's the thing about low and slow- brisket is initially tough, but the long slow cook makes it more tender. I don't think you need sous vide for that. Just like you don't need precise temp control for your crock pot cooking. I guess you could call SV another form of low and slow cooking since you're certainly going with a low cooking temp, but why use two low and slow cooking methods?

    Another problem is figuring how long to let the meat dwell in the water bath- in traditional SV cooking, they just let the meat dwell long enough (and then some) for the heat to completely penetrate through. Given the stall of the fatty stuff we normally smoke, you're going to have to leave the meat in for a lot longer.

    It would help to be able to put a thermometer in the meat, but that's a bit hard to do through a vacum bag. So, our usual smoking procedures here (cooking to a given internal temp) seems good enough. The optional foiling of the meat makes it pretty similar to the results of SV.

    Finally, if you've been following the foiling thread (okay, I haven't really been), some people complain about foiling making the meat to mushy- you're going to have the same problem, possibly worse, with sous vide.

    So, I don't want to completely discourage you from trying this, but don't invest too much in it until you figure if it's worth the extra effort. A PID controller is a useful enough purchase for regular SV, but maybe start with a small enough piece of meat to do in a rice cooker (or crock pot, roaster, etc.) instead of building your own immersion heater and water circulator. Well, I guess that goes for a lot of experiments- start small and scale up later. That way if there's a fatal flaw, you don't waste a big expensive piece of meat.

    Aonther thing to try would be to do it in parts- first do a sous vide brisket without smoke. Sear part of it and compare. Next try a marinade with liquid smoke (not too much). Then try smoking (either cold or hot).

    Good luck.
  5. bbally

    bbally Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    The boil in the bag method has once again come into vogue. It does some nice things, but IMO its best use is hospital and large institutions where large variety and quick single entree food service is the norm.

    The sanitary concerns with the average person doing this with a vaccum sealer are enormous.
  6. chefrob

    chefrob Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    i couldn't agree more............

    not only that but brisket yearns for smoke and heat for a long period of time. just my .02 .
  7. christhompson

    christhompson Fire Starter

    There's a few bits to this thread.

    @Fencesitter: You're right in that it may not gain you anything. What I neglected to mention is that I want a SV setup and a smoking setup for themselves. The combination of the two is merely geekery and something I'll eventually give a shot.

    As to the container, if you look at, say, this photo:


    That's from the http://www.cookingissues.com/ the food geek hackery blog of the French Culinary Institute and is a lamb roast cooking in their immersion bath filled with oil. Sort of a geek confit, I guess.

    The point is, their immersion bath sits on a standard polycarbonate commercial kitchen container. Since the heater on that unit is probably enough to boil the thing dry (with water) heat loss through the container simply means you're going to have a higher duty cycle and use more electricity.

    That said, when I build I was considering rigging it up on one of those giant stainless lined camping coolers with the lid being able to be closed to retain heat.

    @bbally and @chefrob: the safety aspect of this is really something to be aware of. Botulism grows in oxygen free environments so cooking without oxygen in a bag is a risk that has to be mitigated. Then putting the meat in a smoke environment, low O2, can also make the matter worse. There's no doubt it could be a perfect storm.

    But to call this "boil in bag" is a bit off. The point here is not speedy cooking at 212F to quickly heat something through with low mess. Sous Vide is about holding an item in much lower temps, down to 120-130F and letting it come to heat slowly. Here's the best example of why it's relevant:


    So not only is it about the "don't overshoot your temp" aspect, it's about the evenness of the internal temp.

    Granted, all this is probably ridiculous overkill, but isn't overkill just one of the skills we bring to the table? [​IMG]
  8. oillogger

    oillogger Meat Mopper OTBS Member

    I bet a variable temperature hot plate and a large pot could produce similar results. At least well enough for the first time to know if you wante dto invest more money and time into the concept.
  9. chefrob

    chefrob Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    while i won't speak for bob i'm sure he is familiar with it. as for me i have worked with it at one property that i was in charge of and the equipment was expensive and i don't think the health department (at least here locally) would give their stamp of approval on that "desktop" contraption pictured to feed the mases commercially. i do understand the will to push the envelope to find and explore new flavors, textures, and looks in the culinary world but it is my opinion (and mine only) that chefs today are too busy trying to come up with new ideas and techniques and forget the rewards of getting the basics right. try to go to a restaurant and get a perfect roasted chicken, or a great loaf of bread, or a simple but well done plate of pasta.............
    vortreker likes this.
  10. kaiser

    kaiser Smoke Blower

    I've never heard of sous vide - that's really cool
  11. mballi3011

    mballi3011 Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Now I have also seen these contraptions on the food network also but I'm with a couple of the guys here and I'm going with the smoker and the time with my briskets.
  12. I can certainly understand wanting both a sous vide cooker and a smoker. I still need to make another PID setup just for sous vide.

    Regarding botulism- it looks like the usual food safety precautions advocated here on this board also apply to SV preparation- get the food up past 140F in four hours. But, if you smoke it to over 140 then SV it, I don't see where the risk is. Though, please, anyone else feel free to correct me.

    Now that I think of it more, it seems that the sous vide part is much like the foil-towel-cooler part of smoking- dwelling at (or near) the target temperature for a while to keep part of the cooking process going to make the meat more tender. People have even put a lightbulb in the cooler to help keep the temps high for longer.

    So, an alternative hybrid method would be to smoke until the outside of the meat is your target temperature (minus a little if you want), then pop it into the SV water bath, let it dwell a few (6?) hours (how long do people let the foil-towel-cooler meat sit?), then bring it out and sear it just before serving. Well, probably don't measure the surface temp of the meat, maybe 1/4 to 1/2" deep.
  13. scubadoo97

    scubadoo97 Smoking Fanatic

    With sous vide you need more tight control of temperature. It has to be accurate and consistent for extended periods of time.

    ChrisThompson-excellent post. [​IMG]That is the closest to a commercial immersion circulator that I've seen at about a 10th of the price. If you are real serious about sous vide also check out a very long thread at egullet http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?...ues-equipment/ on the subject. Nathan Myhrvold has contributed a lot of technical information to the thread. An informative article on Nathan

  14. bbally

    bbally Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    This was a fad trend in the Restaurant business about 6 years back when Thomas Keller was really messing with it at the French Laundry.

    If memory serves me correct it followed the De-constructed menu craze.

    At the hospital I do the ServeSafe classes for, they have smoked brisket in the sous-vide line up. The brisket is done traditionally at a large commercial kitchen, it is mechanically processed, slices, au jus added, then low oxygen packaged.

    Then they put it in the sous-vide immersion heater and bring it to temp. No big deal, boil in the bag.

    While the cooking of raw food in it offers some unique textures and food changes, (most notably the boiled egg) it is just not really all important on a true kitchen line.
  15. I have been doing sous vide for about a year, occasional smoking with an ECB for the last 20, but I just got a Weber Smokey Mountain for Christmas and have been developing a big to-do list.  I had the same idea, googled "Sous Vide Smoking Meat", and here I am.  

    I have never smoked a brisket so I will not try to comment on that.  However, I have done sous vide tri-tip and can testify that it is pink, tender, juicy, and delicious.  The explanation is that collagen and myosin, the proteins that make meat tough, begin to break down at around 130 degrees; the protein actin, which accounts for beef being brown and dried out, doesn't begin to break down until around twenty degrees higher (see http://coldgarden.com/Cold_Garden_Warm_Kitchen/Sous_Vide_Beef.html)  So if you just do your sous vide tri-tip at a temperature a little above 130, it will stay pink and juicy, but become as tender as a prime rib once the collagen and myosin break down.  

    So my thought for a smoked sous vide tri-tip is this.  The tri-tip recipe on this site (http://www.smoking-meat.com/tri-tip-recipe.html) suggests smoking 2 to 3 hours at 225-250.  My guess -- remember I am just starting with the Weber -- is that this is going to produce a medium to medium-well done tri-tip with an internal temperature high enough to break down the actin.  I will try it and see.  If the results are too well-done, I will try smoking at a lower temperature, long enough to get a good smoke flavor, but I will monitor very carefully with my Oregon Scientific probe/remote thermometer.  When the internal temperature of the meat gets to the high 120s, I will pull the meat out, pop it into a Foodsaver bag (excellent for sous vide) and seal it, and drop it into my ready-and-waiting sous vide cooker.  24 hours later, the theory goes, I should have a tri-tip which is both perfectly cooked and perfectly smoked.  

    Well, theory and practice sometimes diverge, so we shall see.  I will report back in a month or so.  For those with health worries, see http://www.douglasbaldwin.com/sous-vide.html  (an excellent discussion of the whole subject.)  This fellow is a scientist who is also a published and acknowledged expert on sous vide, and he's got an extensive explanation of just how long you have to cook something sous vide in order to make sure that the dangerous bacteria are killed.
  16. Oillogger,

    You are correct.  You don't even need variable temperature, you just need a PID controller which will shut the hot plate on and off to maintain the desired temperature.  I use a large heavy-duty pot with a $20 Rival hotplate and have had excellent results.  The temperature will fluctuate 4 or 5 degrees when you first put a cold piece of meat in, but it gradually narrows down to a range of just 1 or two degrees.  
  17. zackly

    zackly Newbie


    Did you do any smoked & sous vide experiments?

    I've done pulled pork this way. I put 2-3 hours of hot smoke on the butt then vacuum sealed it & sous vide cooked it for 24 hours. Turned out great!

    I am planning to do a brisket soon.
  18. Hi Zackly,

    This is a method I plan to experiment further with, however my one project so far was mostly successful.  Smoked a tri-tip for appx about 2 hours, until the internal temperature was 131, the temperature I am used to using for sous-viding rare roast beef.  Then, I sealed it in a Foodsaver bag and put it in the sous vide bath for the next 24 hours.  The result was a nice pink, as tender as a prime rib.  The smoke flavor was just right for eating straight slices of meat, but a little on the mild side (IMHO) for use in sandwiches, etc. where there are other flavors to balance with

    Three adjustments I will make next time:

    1) Use a completely dry rub.  I had followed Jeff's suggestion of using mustard to make the rub stick to the meat, but the surface of the meat was still somewhat wet when the meat temperature got to 131, so that liquid got sucked into the Foodsaver as I sealed the sous vide bag, resulting in a poor seal.  I had to put the Foodsaver bag into a regular plastic bag after a few hours when I noticed some seepage (fortunately not much.)

    I suppose an injected marinade might be a feasible alternative to a flavor on the surface, but I have not experimented as much with this technique.

    2) I think I will put the meat in the freezer for an hour or two before smoking, so that it will take longer to come up to temperature and hopefully give me a little stronger smoke flavor.

    3) I am also going to make my target temperature a little higher, say 137.  My understanding is that collagen, the protein that makes meat tough, starts breaking down around 129, but actin, the protein that makes the meat turn brown and stringy, really doesn't kick in for (I think) about another 20 degrees.  


    PS.  It has been about 2 months since I visited this forum and I may not have read all the previous posts thoroughly, but to those who think it is "overkill", my reply would be that sous vide is really only a small extra amount of trouble.  You do not have to sit there and tend the pot for 24 hours, as if you were smoking.  And the upside is gorgeous, pink, completely tender, smoked meat.  My suggestion would be that if you are smoking something else, pick up a tri-tip too, put it on with your other meat for two or three hours, then take it out of the smoker and start the sous vide while the rest of the meat continues to smoke.  Then you'll have the sous vide tri-tip for the next day, or if you want to chill or freeze it while still in the bag, for later on.  Two birds with one stone!
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
  19. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


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