Brisket oh Brisket how shall I make you? Last year I smoked a Brisket low and slow on my Weber Smokey Mountain using Charcoal and wood and it took 15 + hours. Granted I have a custom Weber so I never had to reload the darn thing but it still took a very long time to make BBQ Brisket. I also used a BBQ GURU so I was able to keep a constant temp of 225˚ ƒ. Here is the problem or at least I see it as a problem and a waste of time. How much smoke do you really need? Most of the smoke penetration occurs during the first 2-3 hours of smoking. And that's because the surface is still wet. Smoke sticks to wet things and that's why most people spray their meats with apple juice. If you keep the brisket wet it will keep taking on smoke. But do you really need that much smoke......maybe you do, I don't. So essentially after several hours you're mostly using your smoker as an oven which equates to my previous statement.....a waste of time.
Enter the world of Sous-Vide cooking. Brisket is not a tender piece of meat because as we all know it has a lot of connective tissue and that stuff needs to break down before it can be chewed or digested. Ahhh.... this is where Sous-Vide cooking shines; taking tough meat and making it tender using a thermal bath. How do you cook a Brisket using the SV method? Well that's the $64,000 question. There is no right answer just opinions. There is such a variety between briskets it's hard to come up with a X-Temp and a Y-Time. Some briskets are very tough and others are much more tender. They all have connective tissue but some have less than others.
Ok here is the short answer. Do you like moist meat and tender meat? You need to find the right combination of Time and Temp that satisfies your criteria. Easier said than done. I found these numbers on the net and as you can see there all over the place. Like I said earlier just opinions and preferences.
Nathan Mvhrvold Method - 140˚ F for 72 hours.
Douglas Baldwin Method 176˚ F for 24-36 hours.
Baldwin Alt Method 135˚ F for 36-48 hours
Thomas Keller Method 147˚ F for 48 hours.
How do you tenderize a piece of meat? Well again it's finding out the right combo of time and temp. "The time needed to tenderize a piece of meat will go up exponentially as the temperature gets lower" (Serious Eats). As you increase the temp a greater loss of moisture will occur but the meat will be flakier. So if you want a flakier piece of meat cook it at a higher temp but do it for a shorter time. If you like dense moist meat like steak try a lower temperature for a longer time.
So what did I decide. I have been thinking about this for quite a while. Sous-Vide has become my middle name and I have been experimenting a lot. More specifically I have done a lot of Pastrami Briskets (Link) and have found 149˚ ƒ (@ 48 hrs) to be adequate.....but not perfect. In one of many experiment with proteins I cooked a Chuck Roast at 133˚ƒ for 48 hours...Poor Mans Prime Rib (link) and it turned out pretty good. I have brooded over (yes brooding) lowering the temp or reducing the time spent in the thermal jacuzzi for a while. Anyhow I decided to try 135 for 48 hours which happens to coincide with Baldwins technique. Great!!! Why reinvent the wheel. If this works for BBQ Brisket it should work for my Pastrami too.
This big boy is sitting in my Polycarbonate container ( 18 X26 ) with a custom lid. Did you notice the blanket around the SV circulator? Yea, I keep the house so called in the summer (60˚ F) that I need to insulted the container. Insulating the container helps regulate the constant temp. Circulator doesn't need to work so hard to keep a consistent temp.
After the 48 hour water bath I submerged it into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process and to bring down temp. After about 3 hours or so in the ice water bath I refrigerated the brisket. The brisket will be refrigerated overnight. The whole idea of refrigerating the brisket overnight is this. The brisket will be able to smoke that much longer without raising the internal temp because the brisket went in cold. This is what it look like out of the refrigerator. Very Very wet. I padded it down with paper towels to remove excess moisture making sure not to remove the rub.
Applied more rub to both sides.
I used my propane smoker for this cook. Propane is really convenient.
It's 90˚ ƒ outside and I was concerned with temps so I mitigated the issue by filling the water reservoir with ice and wrapping my blue Ice-blocks in foil. I was able to run the smoker at exactly 215-225 for 4 hours. I have two burners that run independent of each other. I used cherry wood and a couple of charcoal briquettes on each side. At two hours in I turned one off and lit the other side. The total smoke was 4 hours. The Brisket internal temp never rose above 136˚ƒ. Putting the brisket in Ice-Cold mitigated the possibility of the temp going to high. I did not want to exceed the Sous-Vide temp.
REVIEW- Amazing!!!! Extremely tender, juicy and flavorful. I won't change a thing!!!!! I am going to revisit my Pastrami recipes that call for 149 for 48 hours and try 135!!!!!