Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Barbecue Day

Since I started writing about my barbecue adventures with sous vide cooking, Barbecue 401, in December,  I've been doing most of my experiments with the smoker rather than finishing in a hot pan.  In addition to brisket, I've made beef short ribs a couple of times and today was the second chuck roast I've done.

For my first chuck roast I followed a recipe that called for 133 for 24 hours, this time I cooked it at 155 for 48 hours.  How temperature and time work in sous vide cooking is that temperature sets the appearance "doneness", while time affects the tenderness.  In other words, the rules of thumb we've grown up with about rare vs. well done kind of go out the window.  Cooked at 133 for 24 hours, it was supposed to have the texture of a medium rare steak, but the long cooking should make it more tender.  It looked like a medium rare pink (bordering on just medium), but it was more tender than any medium sirloin I've had.  You can see the texture looks very steak-like.

Today's roast, cooked at 155 for 48 hours, is another thing entirely.  By temperature, 155 is well done which we think of as tough, but by time, the long hours at the temperature act to break down the tissues that make a well done cut of beef tough.  It figures to come out much more like a pulled beef consistency and it did.  For scale the thickness of the roast is around an inch and a half.  That's a salad fork (in both pictures).  What you can't see is that it's juicy, (the surface literally dried out in the 30 seconds it took for me to go get my camera), as well as tender and delicious.

I should take videos of this to show just how easy it is to separate the groups of muscle fibers (the technical term is fascicles). The lightest twist of the fork pulls them apart, like good pulled pork only made of beef.

The other meal I've done a couple of times with different settings is beef short ribs.  Again, the first time was using an online recipe and that called for 172 F for 14 hours.  These were successful and good, but one of the gurus on a forum suggested 133 for 72 hours, based on an article at Chef Steps. To clarify a little, my cooker is made by Anova and the website they publish recipes on is Serious Eats (plus their own), while the other major brand, Joule, publishes on Chef Steps.  When I asked him to describe what cooking at 133 for 72 hours got me; what they're like, he said, "Like nothing else. Medium rare, steaks, but braise tender. There’s no way but Sous Vide to get them there."  I was off to do the test.

The scale here isn't easy to figure out.  That's a full sized dinner plate and the chunk that's on the left is bigger than my hand.  Rough guess about 2" thick by 6" long.  This guy was right.  The texture is like nothing else. 

I've been doing the smoking at higher chamber temperatures after reading that should help the bark formation.  It seems to have done that. 

I know there are people who say, "it's not real barbecue", but I'm not doing competitions and I don't care.  It has pushed me to considering making some improvements to my smoking and barbecuing setup.  I've needed a grill since my last one rusted out, and I'd like to hit higher temperatures in the smoker.  Doing some reading and research, thinking about the options available: something like a pellet grill or Weber Kettle?   Get an Adrenaline kit for a Weber?  Or just an Amazen for my electric smoker, to get more smoke? 

Like all good hobbies, you can learn this quickly and spend the rest of your life studying how to get better at it.  I do have to eat all the rejects, but so far that hasn't been a bad thing.


  1. This sounds more and more interesting.

    I'll tell my stepson about it as he's the family "Pit Master".

  2. That looks really delicious - and we'll have pork if the donkeys are elected, but likely beef will be extinct. But pork works.

    I'm not the chef. As with DRJIM, I rely on a son-in-law for serious smoking. However, I do like to eat the same delicious cuts, properly prepared as you seem to excel at preparing. Maybe it's time for me to learn to do it right.

  3. "I do have to eat all the rejects, but so far that hasn't been a bad thing."

    Not something I can do with my woodworking failures!

    1. I still have that ruined cylinder from my flame eater engine. Never gotten the aluminum tenderized enough to eat.

  4. we got a masterbuilt signature at 800W. there was a 1200W version available, but even here in the NE, i've been using it over the winter and never wanting for more heat. YMMV - it can do 300+, but not sure if that's as hot as you want. i can offer my unreserved satisfaction with it as a recommendation.

  5. must add that this part of your pubs has been an inspiration for some of my experiments. thanks a lot - very helpful. pix of your results always makes my mouth water.

    1. Thanks - it's hard for me to know if I'm just talking to myself or if other people find these things useful or even just a little more entertaining than closing the page.

      My current smoker is a Masterbuilt "Digital", with the control panel center top back. I think it's called "Mark 1", to distinguish it from the one with the control panel center front. I use at least two digital thermometers, at least one in the barbecue, and one just at the front of the bottom rack. That spot is consistently 25 degrees cooler than whatever I set the thermostat to. The controller only goes to 275. Possibly 274 - one time I set it to 275 and it wouldn't change temp, but when I dropped that to 274, the heater turned on.

      I've been able to get a smoke ring out of it, but it's not consistent, and I have to work at getting a good bark. That's more the chamber temperature and less smoke than other ways of smoking, but it's honestly good enough.

    2. just did a cheap top round roast the other night, and the inside temp got to ~123 deg after about 17 hours. this cut had a thick cap of fat, and the meat was red verging on pink when first cut - got pinker when on the platter. honestly i expected it to end more tender than it was, but the flavor was great, especially the crispy barked ends - the kids fought over those. (my kids will fight about anything)

      so the sequence was the 17 hours at 140 cooking temp, last hour up to max (it is 275, not 300+ as mentioned above). i put another handful of apple / mesquite chips (not soaked) in for that last hour.

      not sure if I want to change it up and do the hot segment first, thinking the fat might serve better if rendered early rather than at the end.

      as it was, there was very little drippage loss, and it did stay very moist. i do the low temp segment with the vent closed and a full pan of water - its almost like steaming.

      i dry age on the porch (35 deg) for a couple of days first - more would be better. my rub is salt or meat tenderizer (mostly salt as it is), pepper, garlic powder, and a bit of cumin. that sits for another day dry on the porch.

      i'm sure this can improve, but not sure where. thoughts?

    3. I can't say I see anything wrong with what you did, but we can always experiment, right?

      Let me get this straight - you had it in your Masterbuilt at 140 chamber temp for 17 hours and then ran the chamber up to max until it reached 123 internal (about an hour)? I read that as you having generous smoke for an hour. Is that what you're looking for? Was that enough smoke flavor for you?

      I think I found that if the chamber was set lower than about 180 or 190 I got virtually no smoke.

      For doing the high heat first, the Amazing Ribs guys talk about that in this article. It is for larger, thick cuts of meat, like I think you're describing. The section they call "Reverse Sear, a.k.a. Redneck Sous Vide" is worth reading.

      I usually only use salt, pepper, granulated garlic (coarser than powder) and onion powder. I haven't used tenderizer. If the main thing you want to improve is making it more tender, more time at 123 is needed, and I don't know how to get there without sous vide.

    4. Redneck sous vide - that is a keeper. Forgot to mention that I put the roast in cold, and had a load of chips at the beginning as well. That and the chips at the end gave me just a little more smoke flavor than I think it needed, but the leftovers have been better than usual, so I think I'll keep that part.

      I've found the little bit of cumin is nice, too much sticks out like a sore thumb. When done with restraint, it disappears and adds up to more savory.

      I'm really kind of whining about how tender it was. Your picture above made 'cuts by fork' the goal, but only got to 'cuts with butter knife'.

      Maybe next time I'll run the 16 or so hours at 140 till I see ~120, then give another 8 hours at 130, then the hot finish. That will tell the tale with tender, I think.

      Got a feeling if I jump any further into your other topics we'd be here all day. Suffice to say my boy (almost 13) and I just fixed up an old Arvin AM from 1957, and he just won't leave it alone, until I mention a range day ;)

      Be well.

  6. Never fear, SiG, but my vicarious enjoyment of your exploits makes me hope you continue. I haven't yet decided whether or not to get started in sous vide cooking, but I am becoming more and more tempted. I might have to put off buying that Remington V3 Tac-13 I've been drooling over.