How to build a better brisket, sous vide style
Rosh HashanahSmokey Nat's offers a new way to cook brisket

How to build a better brisket, sous vide style

Don't be intimidated by the fancy French name, the sous vide machine could be just the ticket to the perfect High Holiday meal.

(Photo by bhofack2/
(Photo by bhofack2/

It may look like an aquarium heater, but a sous vide machine could be just the ticket to the perfect High Holiday meal.

If you have not yet jumped on the sous vide (pronounced soo veed) train, don’t be intimidated by its fancy French name, which translates to “under vacuum.” It is essentially the process of placing food in a vacuum sealed bag and cooking it in water that is temperature-controlled. A sous vide is used most commonly for meat, chicken and fish, marinated with sauce or spices, and then placed in a container of water.

The heated metal coil of the sous vide machine warms the water to a temperature which remains constant throughout the cooking process. The process is slow and gradual, so the protein takes longer to cook than it would using traditional methods, but it can never become overcooked. And because the sous vide is constantly circulating the water, the protein is cooked perfectly throughout, with no portions of the meat more or less cooked than others.

The only caveat is that the outside of the meat will not be charred or crisp after being cooked in a sous vide, thus necessitating a quick sear on a grill or a cast iron skillet after it has been removed from the sous vide pot.

Using a sous vide is a great method for cooking brisket, but to do it, you need to plan ahead, said Avram Avishai, the proprietor of Smokey Nat’s, a kosher pop-up caterer located at Shaare Torah Congregation in Squirrel Hill.

“Brisket is a big knot of tough muscle and sinew and needs to be thoroughly worked over to be delicious,” Avishai said. “You can do it low and slow in an oven, but I typically do it in a smoker. You can also do it in a sous vide, but the only thing is, because brisket is so tough, you need at least 24 hours.”

Avishai, who founded Smokey Nat’s about a year ago to honor the memory of his father, said that his catering enterprise is an “all-volunteer organization, where 100 percent of the proceeds support the synagogue.”

Although the brisket Avishai is selling for the High Holidays will be cooked in a traditional smoker, an excellent alternative is to sous vide your own at home, he said.

Smokey Nat’s Sous Vide Brisket

3 lbs. brisket (usually the max that can fit in a vacuum bag)
2 Tbl. kosher salt
2 Tbl. black pepper
2 Tbl. paprika
2 tsp. white sugar
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder

Mix spices together to create a rub. Thoroughly apply rub to brisket and vacuum in a sous vide bag (store excess rub for final step).

To cook, set the machine for 54 hours at 135 degrees Fahrenheit, or (if you are in a hurry) 24 hours at 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the sous vide is complete, cool in an ice water bath for 30 minutes to stop the cooking process. (Skipping this may cause the meat to dry out during the next step.)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut open bag and place brisket on a rack in the oven after applying any remaining rub. The purpose of this step is to dry out and caramelize the outside to create a “bark,” which typically occurs in one to two hours. Once done, cut against the grain to roughly pencil thickness and enjoy!

To make this “Smoked” Brisket Sous Vide, you need to add two more ingredients:

The smoky flavor can be replicated by adding a 1/2 teaspoon of Liquid Smoke to the sous vide bag in the beginning.

The smoke ring in barbecue meat is a chemical reaction caused by the nitric oxide released from the burning wood. This can be replicated by adding one teaspoon of pink curing salt to the rub mix but be forewarned: 1) The smoke ring is purely cosmetic; and 2) directly ingesting a tablespoon of pink curing salt is enough to kill a grown person by suffocating them on the cellular level, so please use caution and good judgment. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at
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