Why It Works
- Cooking sous vide takes all of the guesswork out of traditionally attention-intensive barbecue.
- Combining sous vide cooking with actual smoke from the grill makes for beef that's moist and tender yet still smoky, with a great bark.
Beef chuck is an excellent alternative to brisket for barbecue. It's easier to find, cheaper, incredibly flavorful, and more forgiving. However, this cut requires some additional treatment prior to smoking to allow it to fully tenderize. Without special treatment, the exterior of meat dries out before the collagen has had a chance to break down.
You can wrap the chuck in heavy aluminum foil for the last half of smoking, or for an even juicier (and more foolproof) end result, use sous vide.
My sous vide smoked brisket was such a success, making the holy grail of barbecue a more convenient, more infallible process. Why not apply the same technique here? I let it cook at 155°F (68°C) for 36 hours. Then I finished it in the smoker for three hours, to create that memorable, crunchy bark.
Alternatively, you can finish the meat in the oven. If you wish to have that pink “smoke ring” when carving, you can add pink salt to the seasoning. And a bit of high-quality liquid smoke added to the vacuum bag will add smoky flavor, even if the entire cooking process takes place indoors.
This recipe was cross-tested in 2022 and lightly updated to guarantee best results. We adjusted the measurements for salt and pepper and cooking temperatures.
1 ounce coarsely ground black peppercorns (about 1/4 cup; 28g), see note
1/2 ounce Diamond Crystal kosher salt (about 2 tablespoons; 18g)
1/4 ounce (10g) pink salt, such as Prague Powder #1 (optional), see notes
1 (4- to 5-pound) piece beef chuck roll
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke, such as Wright's Liquid Smoke (optional), see notes
Dill pickles, sliced yellow onion, and white bread, for serving
Combine pepper, salt, and pink salt (if using) in a small bowl. Rub 2/3 of mixture evenly over surface of chuck. Reserve remaining 1/3 of mixture. Secure chuck roll with 2 to 3 pieces of twine tied around its circumference at 1- to 1 1/2-inch intervals.
Place chuck roll in a vacuum bag. (Fold over top of bag while you add beef so that no rub or juices get on edge of bag, which can weaken the seal.) Add 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke to bag, if using. Seal bag using a vacuum sealer and let rest for 2 to 3 hours in the refrigerator.
Set your precision cooker to 155°F (68°C). Add chuck to water bath and cover it with a lid, aluminum foil, or table tennis balls. Cook for 36 hours. Allow cooked chuck to cool at least to room temperature, about 1 1/2 hour, before proceeding (an ice bath can speed up this process; cooling the meat will help the juices redistribute back into the meat so it is not as dry). Chuck can be stored in the refrigerator at this stage for up to 1 week before finishing.
To Finish on the Grill: Light 1/2 chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to medium-high heat, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate. Add 4 to 5 hardwood chunks to hotter side of grill. (If using a gas grill, wrap wood chunks loosely in aluminum foil before placing over hotter side of grill.)
Remove chuck from bag and carefully blot dry with paper towels. (Liquid from bag can be added to your favorite barbecue sauce and simmered down to provide extra flavor.) Rub reserved salt and pepper mixture into surface of chuck.
Place chuck on unlit cooler side of grill. Cover and allow chuck to smoke, adjusting vents to maintain a temperature between 250 and 275°F (121 and 135°C) and adding 2 to 3 wood chunks twice during cooking. Smoke until a deep, dark bark has formed, about 2 hours, rotating the chuck halfway through. Continue with step 8.
To Finish in the Oven: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 275°F (135°C). If your oven has a convection setting, turn it on and adjust heat to 250°F (121°C) instead. Remove chuck from sous vide bag and carefully blot dry with paper towels. (Liquid from bag can be added to your favorite barbecue sauce and simmered down to provide extra flavor.) Rub reserved salt and pepper mixture into surface of chuck. Place chuck on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and place in oven. Roast until a deep, dark bark has formed, about 2 hours. Continue with step 8.
Remove from heat, transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
To serve, slice meat in half with its grain, running knife in between the two largest muscle groups to separate them. Discard twine and place the two halves cut side down on cutting board.
Slice meat thinly against the grain, using a sharp chef's knife or slicing knife. Serve beef with sliced onion, pickles, and white bread. For best results, slice only what you are serving. Remaining chuck can be wrapped in foil and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Reheat leftover chuck in a 275°F (135°C) oven directly in the foil until hot, about 1 hour.
Butcher's twine, sous vide cooker or immersion circulator, spice grinder (optional), vacuum sealer (optional), grill, chimney starter, and hardwood chunks (if finishing on the grill), wire rack and rimmed baking sheet (if finishing in the oven), instant-read thermometer
You can grind pepper in a pepper mill, a food processor, or a blade grinder, but the easiest way to get a consistent coarse grind in bulk is to use a grinder.
If you'd like a pink smoke ring for a more traditional look, use pink curing salt. Liquid smoke can be used to add smoke flavor to the beef if you're not planning on smoking it outdoors.
Table tennis balls help to insulate the sous vide.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 8 to 10|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 28g||36%|
|Saturated Fat 12g||58%|
|Total Carbohydrate 4g||1%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||5%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 2mg||9%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|