Combine smoking and sous vide cooking to make perfect (and punctual) beef brisket

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Photo by Kayla Szymanski

Have you exhausted every beef recipe in your files? After months of social isolation, that’s understandable. In conjunction with our celebration of all things beefy, we now present three recipes that go beyond our standbys. That starts with our editor’s take on smoked and sous vide brisket and continues with a taquito recipe that’s been a staple of the local Mexican food scene for fifty years and bulgogi from one of the first Korean restaurants in the area.

The KC Crutch Brisket

In the Lone Star State, they use crutches made of aluminum. Or so they say, since wrapping beef brisket in foil while you smoke it to speed up the cooking process while keeping the meat moist is known as the Texas Crutch.

And around these parts? Well, I have a technique for moist, smokey, punctual brisket. The secret is to both smoke and sous vide. The KC Crutch, I call it.

Yes, it’s possible to have a brisket that’s not only smokey and tender but also actually done when it’s supposed to be.

If you’ve ever smoked brisket in your backyard, you likely understand that it can be a complex, expensive and time-consuming process that often frustrates. Unlike a big ol’ pork shoulder, which is basically indestructible, a brisket needs careful attention and won’t always turn out the same, even if you duplicate the process exactly. Too many back-yard barbecuers have carefully planned a meal around a brisket that just won’t hit finishing temperature. Lots of others have un-ceremoniously pulled the meat out of a cooler a few hours after it finished, only to have a guest ask if they were being served leftovers.

So I solved the problem using both a traditional smoker (Big Green Egg) and a sous vide cooker (Anova).

I adapted my brisket technique from Aaron Franklin’s Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto—not so much because I think the famed Austin pitmaster makes the best brisket (I wouldn’t put him in my Texas top five) but because he’s the guy who bothered to write down a bunch of ancient Hill Country wisdom.

Instead of smoking my brisket for eight or more hours and fussing about the “stall,” I created a recipe for sous vide cooking—you put the meat in an airtight bag and slow-cook it at low temperature for a long time to gently break down the muscle. Is it cheating? Well, if you’re otherwise going to wrap the brisket in foil and stab it with syringes to inject marinade, does it really matter? Let the purists and the competition cooks fret all that.

Grill

Photo by Kayla Szymanski

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 hours

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1. Buy a brisket and ribs and/or sausages. The brisket will take about thirty hours, but the ribs and sausages will be ready to eat the first day of the smoke. If you’re going through all this trouble, you want something to show for it the first day. I really like baby back ribs and Scimeca’s Italian sausages, which will finish in the four hours you’ve got the brisket on the smoker.

2. I’ve made this recipe with both a whole packer brisket and brisket flats, and both turned out well. The packer brisket will include a fatty point, which is what you want if you’re looking to make burnt ends. The brisket flat will be ready to neatly slice up. If you’re doing a whole packer, cut it into two pieces before you start smoking it.

3. Before you start the fire, take your brisket and other meats out of the fridge and set them on the counter to bring the meat close to room temperature.

4. Don’t worry too much about setting up your smoker for a long cook, as the meat will only be on for four hours to start. Get lots of wood in there—you want plenty of smoke. I use a blend with tons of cherry and a little mesquite. Use about one log’s worth, cut into chunks. That’s about double what I use if I’m only slow-smoking the brisket.

5. You don’t want the smoker to get too hot during this cook, as it will dry out the meat. Instead, you’re looking to keep the smoker at about 250 degrees to develop a nice crust and imbue the meat with lots of smoke. Don’t worry about doneness or the internal temperature of the meat—a full day in the sous vide bath will see to that.

6. Rub the brisket down. For my rub on the brisket, I use equal parts salt, pepper and Arthur Bryant’s Meat & Rib Seasoning Rub. (For the ribs, I use mostly salt and pepper with a dash of Arthur Bryant’s rub for color.)

7. Put the brisket and other meats on the smoker with plenty of wood at about 250 degrees. If you can’t hit an exact temperature, aim low. The real cooking will happen in the sous vide.

8. Spritz the brisket with apple cider vinegar every hour or so. That moisture helps the smoke stick to the meat and develop a nice, flavorful bark. Keep a close eye on the other meats, as they’ll be done sometime between three and four hours. (I consider ribs done when they’ll break off the bone without due care and sausages are done when they’re threatening to break out of their casings.)

9. After four hours at 250 degrees, your brisket should be ready to remove from the smoker and your baby back ribs/and or sausages should be done. Wrap those ribs in foil—they’ll be ready to eat as soon as you finish the rest of the brisket prep.

10. Now it’s time to slow-cook that big hunk of beef. Take the brisket out of the smoker and allow it to cool enough that it’s comfortable to touch. Fill your sink with cold water. Place the brisket into the bag you’ll be cooking in (I use a two-gallon freezer bag) and submerge the protected brisket into the cold water while forcing the air out to vacuum-seal the meat.

11. Once the brisket is safely into its plastic sheath, it’s time to submerge it for a full day of slow-cooking. Set the sous vide cooker to 150 degrees and let it go for twenty-four hours.

12. After a full day in the sous vide bath at 150 degrees, the brisket is ready to finish. Fire the smoker back up to 250 degrees. It’s fully cooked at this point, so there’s no need to put wood in with the charcoal, though smoke rolling off the grill does provide a better effect for your guests.

13. The brisket is done when the bark has hardened into a delicious crust. This should be about an hour. At that point, you can take it off the smoker and wrap in foil for a bit before slicing and serving. I like to take it off the grill when my guests arrive and slice it after they’ve had their hors d’oeuvres.

Taquitos with Beef Machaca from La Fonda El Taquito

In 1972, retired couple Agustin and Teresa Medina opened La Fonda El Taquito—a little hole in the wall at 17th and Summit with a counter and five tables. It was the first time soft shell tacos filled with carnitas (slow-braised spiced pork) had been served in Kansas City. The tiny shop had a tortilla machine, and tortillas would come hot off the press before they were packed with carnitas and splashed with home-made salsa.

Fifty years later, the Medinas’ daughters, Sandra Medina and Maria Chaurand, are running the restaurant, now boasting a larger location at 800 Southwest Boulevard. The carnitas are as popular as ever, but the Medina family has another claim to fame: Their taquitos—a deep-fried rolled taco—are a signature dish.

“We have family in Monterrey, and what happens with these recipes is they come down from our grandmothers or tias,” Chaurand says. “Machaca is made in many regions of Mexico, and everyone has their own version, but it’s mostly seen in Sonora and Monterrey.”

When Chaurand’s grandmothers and aunts emigrated to Kansas City, they had to make substitutions for some of the taquito toppings they normally would have found in Mexico. Instead of cabbage, they used shredded lettuce; with no queso fresco available, they used parmesan cheese. For the home cook, Chaurand says, substitutions like this work just fine.

La Fonda El Taquito 001

Photo by Scott D. Weaver

Prep time: 10-15 min

Cook time: 55 min

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients

2 lbs. beef chuck roast

8 cloves garlic

1 yellow onion, roughly chopped

6-8 tbsp. vegetable oil

2-3 fresh tomatoes, diced (or about 1 can diced tomatoes)

3 chiles de arbol (or 2 tbsp. crushed red pepper)

3-4 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 package corn tortillas

Toothpicks

Toppings (optional): Shredded lettuce, parmesan cheese or queso fresco

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1. Place the beef, garlic cloves and half of the chopped onion in a pot with enough water to cover the meat and heat to boil. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the beef is cooked through, about 45 minutes. Take the meat out of the pot and let cool, then shred.

2. In a large sauté pan, cook the rest of the onion over medium heat until translucent, then add 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil, tomatoes, chiles de arbol (or crushed red pepper) and beef. Stir together until thoroughly mixed.

3. Add eggs to the beef mixture and stir quickly so that the eggs are thoroughly integrated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Heat tortillas on a griddle or in a pan to make them easier to roll, then put a couple tablespoons of the mixture on the edge of a corn tortilla. Roll it tightly, but avoid squeezing the mixture out of the roll. Place one or two toothpicks through the center to hold the roll in place.

5. While you’re rolling the taquitos, heat 4-5 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan on high heat. (You may need to use more vegetable oil as you continue frying.)

6. Fry the taquitos in the heated oil, turning once, until golden and crisp. Remove the taquitos and place on a plate layered with paper towels to dry.

7. Before serving, remove the toothpicks and add toppings of your choice.

Bulgogi from Sobahn

Bulgogi is a classic Korean dish where thin slices of beef are marinated in a combination of Korean pear juice, sesame oil and spices and usually served with white rice or lettuce wraps. For Sharon Kwon, co-owner of Sobahn in Overland Park, the aromatic scent of bulgogi is more than a little nostalgic.

“It’s one of the most kid-favorite dishes,” she says. “Growing up, every kid had it at their birthday party, and it was served at any major event with family and friends. It’s a comfort food and something you can count on everyone to like.” Part of the appeal of the dish, says Kwon, is that it doesn’t push flavors to the extreme: It’s not overpowering or spicy, the way fermented kimchi can be, but it has a pleasant sweet-savory profile thanks to the play of garlic, ginger, honey and soy sauce.

“To me, it’s the flavors of my childhood and every element of what Korean food embodies,” Kwon says. “My mom grew up in Korea after the Korean War without a lot of resources, but sugar and soy sauce were accessible, so it brings back a lot of memories. For my mom, bulgogi is something we get here in the States that brings her back to her childhood.”

Sharon’s mother, Susana Kwon, is the chef at Sobahn, and has dedicated the last eleven years to sharing her childhood favorites and the beloved traditional dishes of her home country. Sadly, at the end of June, the Kwons closed Sobahn permanently.

“It’s a really weird time right now, not just with COVID, and it was a hard decision for us, because my mom and I have shared this business for over a decade,” Sharon says. “It’s one of those things where inside, you don’t want to give up, but sometimes you just have to stop and rest—and maybe regroup. It’s not to say that we won’t ever do anything in food again, and who knows what this next year will bring. What’s important to me now is that I honor my mom and we take this time together to figure out what might be next.”

Susana has offered a simplified bulgogi recipe for home chefs. Most of the ingredients are common pantry items. The Kwon family has always used thinly sliced ribeye for bulgogi, which is found in most oriental markets, but short rib, hangar steak or your favorite beef cut will also work with this recipe.

Sobahn 002

Photo by Scott D. Weaver

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 6 hours for marinating

Cook time: 10 minutes

Servings: 2

Ingredients

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. freshly grated ginger

2 tbsp. chopped white onion

1 ½ cup water

6 tbsp. soy sauce

4 tbsp. sugar

2 tbsp. honey

½ tsp. ground black pepper

1 tbsp. sesame oil

1 tsp. plum sauce

1 ½ lbs. thinly sliced ribeye

Toppings (optional): Thinly sliced green onion, toasted sesame seeds

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1. Using a food processor, blend garlic, ginger, onion and water into a puree, then empty mixture into a medium-sized mixing bowl.

2. Add soy sauce, sugar, honey, black pepper, sesame oil and plum sauce. Mix well.

3. Add beef to sauce and mix well.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate for six hours.

5. Empty beef and sauce mixture into a skillet and cook over medium-high heat until cooked through. Serve over white rice or with romaine lettuce wraps and top with sliced green onion and sesame seeds.

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