Two words that one doesn’t expect to see together, assuming one knows what they mean.
Brisket, of course, is a cut of meat from the chest area of the beef animal. Brisket is a cheap cut ($3.99/pound from my butcher) because it’s a working muscle, and therefore has a lot of connective tissue. Which makes it tough if you cook it like you would cook any other cut of meat. But if you cook it for a long time and it gets to a nice high temperature (195 degrees F, or so), the connective tissue breaks down and you end up with a very tasty piece of meat.
The best way to cook brisket is on a smoker – you can add a wonderful wood smoke flavor to the already flavorful meat. But there are a few downsides.
First, smoking takes a long time. A *long* time. Cooking times of 12 hours are not uncommon, and that means that if you want to eat brisket at 7PM, you need to get it on the smoker at 7AM, and spend the day tending the smoker. Or you could use an electric smoker like I do, though you still need to tend it every hour or so to add wood.
The second downside is that the time it takes to cook is quite variable. It takes energy to break down the connective tissue and the amount of connective tissues varies from brisket to brisket, so the amount of time it takes to get to the final temperature varies. It might be 12 hours, or it might be 16 hours.
Purists would say that that is the price of good brisket, but I’ve been looking for a shortcut, and I think I’ve found one.
You start the way you normally would, by trimming the fat off the brisket and using a nice dry rub one it. You can trim off more fat than you normally would because you don’t need to protect the brisket from the heat for as long. In this case, I cut the brisket into 7 pieces so that I wouldn’t need to cook them all at once (more on that later). The brisket went in the fridge for the night.
In the morning I set up the smoker (a cheap electric bullet one), put some mesquite in, and put the brisket pieces on the grate. After an hour, I replenished the wood, and went on a 4 hour bike ride. It probably would have worked better to keep putting wood in every hour but I was time-pressed that day. After I got home, I took all the pieces off, and put all but one in the freezer. I need to do that because the foodsaver I use to vacuum-pack won’t seal the hot chunks of meat – it will must pull the juices out of them and pull that into the foodsaver.
So, now we have a chunk of meat that is nicely smoked but only at about 150 degrees or so.
The second step is the Sous-Vide one. I get out my rice cooker and hook up my temperature controller, setting it at 195 degrees. Generally when you do sous-vide, you use a totally sealed package. If you do that with high-temperature sous-vide (say, about 180 degrees or so), the moisture in the meat that you are cooking will go into gas, which will blow up the package until it bursts, at which point you are now poaching it. What I do is make a tiny hole in the corner of the sealed package, thread a bit of butcher’s twice through it, and use that to hold that part of the pouch above the water. That does compromise the heat transfer rate but it doesn’t matter much.
So, make sure the twine holds up the pouch, close the top of the cooker, and then leave it. For the one that came straight of the smoker, it was nice when it had spent 5 hours. I did a couple that were frozen and then thawed in the fridge, and they did pretty excellent in 9 hours (I put them in before heading to work and took them out when I came home).
After it’s cooked, pull it out, cut it up, and then put it in a bowl with the juice that was in the pouch.
Downsides? Well, you don’t get the same crusty ends that you would get in the cooker, but other than that it’s great.
Sous-vide would seem to be a great solution – it’s designed to get a food to an exact temperature