The Sous Vide method used to be a secret reserved for professional chefs but thanks to the explosion in consumer products the cooking method has become widespread.
While Sous Vide on its own can create amazingly juicy meat, adding a grill or smoker to the process can create extraordinary results.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the basic technique of sous vide cooking, the benefits of sous vide and how to combine sous vide with barbecue for amazing results.
What exactly is sous vide cooking?
Sous vide is French for “under vacuum” which is the fundamental basis for this technique.
It is the process of cooking food which has been sealed in an air-tight, usually, vacuum sealed bag or container, then placed in temperature controlled water for hours of even days.
This is very similar to the low and slow process we know and love.
Advantages of Sous Vide:
- Set a precise temperature with no risk of overshooting
- Physically impossible to overcook food (if water is set to 130°F meat cannot exceed that)
- Can be used to cook virtually any meat but especially good for meat with a lot of connective tissue, or meat that can dry out easily (like a lean steak).
- Removes anxiety about food safety and cooking time
- Great for entertaining as you can don’t have to time everything meticulously.
To get started you’ll need a sous vide machine such as an immersion circulator to keep the water at the correct temperature so the food cooks in a slow, controlled manner.
“Smoke for flavor, sous vide for precise doneness/tenderness and texture.”anovaculinary.com
By dialing in the precise temperature of the water bath, food is cooked evenly, ensuring the inside is accurately cooked while not overcooking the outside.
This method of cooking produces results that you cannot achieve with any other technique, strictly based on the accuracy of temperature you control.
What are the benefits of sous vide?
Is it really worth investing in another kitchen appliance? Let’s take a look at some of the main advantages of sous vide cooking.
Precise temperature control
Sous vide cooking uses precision temperature control with circulating water to produce perfectly cooked results you can’t achieve with other cooking methods.
With this method, there are no variances in heat and temperature.
Evenly cooked food
When cooking traditionally, you’re essentially getting the middle of your protein to the correct temperature, causing the outside to easily overcook and dry out.
With sous vide, the whole piece of meat will be the same temperature essentially solving this problem altogether.
Consistently accurate results
The purpose of sous vide is to do away with the inconsistent temperature variable and dial in the specific temperature you desire to produce food that is perfectly cooked throughout and not just on the inside.
Let’s say you need to cook four medium-rare steaks at the same time. Using a standard grill method it’s next to impossible to cook each steak to the same temperature because grills have hot and cold zones.
The temperature is also changing so fast its difficult to time it right, even if you have a high quality meat thermometer.
Once you get the hang of sous vide cooking, it’s nearly impossible to mess up.
Tips for sous vide cooking
Though sous vide is a pretty hands-off approach once you start cooking, there are a few tips to ensure you get the best result with this technique.
1. Cover the water bath
The warm water will eventually evaporate from your water bath, but covering your container will return the condensation to the bath and prevent the loss of water via evaporation.
This also helps keep the water level above the unit’s heating coils which is necessary to prevent motor burnout.
Covering your container will also retain heat throughout long sous vide cooking times for a more efficient and accurate cook.
Most sous vide machines come with a special lid designed to cover the container, but if you only have an immersion circulator, you can cover the pot or container with a plastic stretch wrap for similar results.
2. Season your protein
As with any meal, you’ll want to season your meat. You’ll want to season whatever you put into your container or bag before you start to cook.
With sous vide, some herbs and spices can overpower the protein. Some herbs may also turn rancid when cooked over long periods of time, you’ll want to experiment with your sous vide meals to learn and understand what seasonings work best with which proteins.
Strong herbs like garlic and onion will intensify and change flavor during sous vide, so moderate the initial seasoning and also keep in mind that dried herbs will have less intensity than fresh herbs as their oils and moisture have evaporated out during the drying process.
3. Remove all air
Ensure that the seal around your food is tight, and that there are no air gaps between the meat/food being prepared and the plastic bag.
Any air gaps between the bag and the food can result in uneven cooking. Your best option is to invest in a vacuum sealer to ensure you don’t ruin any cooks. We have a guide to the best vacuum sealers which you can check out for more details.
4. Ensure your bag stays immersed
You’ll want your bag or container to stay immersed to ensure steady temperature.
If you have a light protein such as fish, or if there are air pockets in your bag, the circulation motor can cause the bag to float up and down like a fishing bobber. This too can cause uneven cooking.
You can use food safe weights to keep your bag submerged. Either put the weight on top, or put it in the bag itself with your food.
Just be sure it’s graded for food safety.
Sous vide gear essentials
If you’re new to the sous vide world, the whole process can seem daunting. Like barbecue, it’s a hobby with no end of gadgets and accessories.
To get started with sous vide, there are only a few essentials items you’ll need to buy.
1. An immersion circulator
The start of any good sous vide journey is having a good immersion circulator. These machines are the heart of sous vide style cooking.
They not only heat the water to precision temperatures but also circulate the water around your food for sustained, even cooking.
While there are cheaper choices out there, these two products have become the default choice for anyone who takes sous vide serious.
Both include WiFi capability for remote monitoring and control via your phone, as well as precise temperature control and fast heating. You can’t go wrong with either option.
2. Sous vide container
For your water bath, you’ll need a container. You could use a large stock pot or dutch oven to hold water, but it’s better to go with a dedicated container.
Both Anova and Joule and some third parties sell special containers that are compatable with certain immersion circulators or you can just get a basic container like this one.
Some sous vide machines come with this container as well as the immersion circulator, but it’s not a necessity if you don’t want to spend the extra money.
If you decide to use a pot you already have, dutch ovens retain heat better than stockpots, but with sous vide either one will work. Just be sure to cover the top as much as possibly with plastic wrap to prevent loss of water evaporate.
3. Sous vide bags
For the best results, lean toward vacuum sealable bags made for sous vide such as Avid Armor quart-sized sealer bags that come in a pack of 200 or 300 on Amazon.
These bags are specifically made to handle the high heat, long cook times and pressure of certain sous vide recipes like those with root vegetables.
If you’ve decided to go with the vacuum sealable bags above, you’ll need a vacuum sealer to use them. Again, these bags are great when you’re cooking vegetables or other foods that require higher heat.
A good vacuum sealer is not only handy for sous vide purposes, but also for storing foods in general.
Vacuum sealed bags will help food last longer in the freezer due to removing air from aroud your food, thus preventing freezer burn.
Bag clips or food safe weights
As we mentioned above, you need to keep your bags immersed in the water bath for sous vide to really work its magic. Strong bag clips can do the trick by keeping your bags attached the container’s edge preventing them from floating up.
Food safe weights are also a solution for keeping the bags submerged. Just put the weights in the bottom of the bag and they’ll stay in place.
Grill or cast iron pan for searing
Some people thing that Sous Vide means missing out on the crust and texture of food cooked over high heat.
Just because you use sous vide doesn’t mean you can’t finish your meat on a grill or hot pan.
If you don’t have a grill, there’s no better option than cast iron. Cast iron holds heat evenly throughout the surface, much better than thin walled metal pans such as copper.
Once your cast iron is well-heated, place your protein in for a quick sear on both sides to achieve a crispy texture.
Combining sous vide with barbecue and grilling
That wraps up the general guide to sous vide, by this point you might be wondering why we even mentioned barbecue in the title of this article.
We already know sous vide gives you a precision result and temperature, but what if you’re missing that smoky flavor that comes from barbecuing low and slow over wood?
By using a grill or smoker you can enjoy all the advantages of sous vide, without any of the downsides.
By combining the two methods, you can still have that sous vide result paired with the smoky flavor of BBQ. You’ll have the smoke for flavor, and the sous vide for precision doneness.
There are a couple of methods you can use when combining BBQ with sous vide cooking:
Sous vide barbecue
The most common method has you first sous vide the meat, then move to a smoker for flavor.
After the meat is removed from the bag, you can put it directly on the smoker. It will take around 30 minutes to start to impart smokey flavor into the meat, and the internal temperature of the protein will barely rise in that amount of time.
The liquid retained in the bag will have washed away any of the seasonings from the surface, so you can re-season your meat before it goes on the smoker.
By re-seasoning before smoking, you’ll give the smoke something to adhere to on the surface of your meat.
If you still have doubts about this method, check out this video showing the entire process for Sous Vide Brisket finished with smoke.
Wrapping it up
We hope you’ve learned just how beneficial the sous vide cooking method is and are ready to try combining it with barbecue.
With just a few simple kitchen tools and an immersion circulator, you’ll be well on your way to sous vide expertise.
Remember, there’s no other cooking method as accurate or consistent as sous vide. Your food will be the perfect temp, dialed in everytime.
There are a number of sous vide recipes out there. Our favorite resource is the Sous Vide Everything YouTube channel so check them out if you want to learn more. And let us know in the comments of any sous vide specialties you make along the way.