Sous vide at home: barbecue masterclass

It might sound all cheffy and technical, but sous vide is one of the simplest ways to cook meat to perfection, something we all strive for – especially on the barbecue. See how the method can be combined with cooking over fire for incredible results.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

If there’s one gadget that has the biggest effect on the food we cook at home, it’s the sous vide. Professional chefs rely on it for consistently cooked food that’s perfect every time, and now the technology is available for domestic use, keen cooks have been experimenting and tinkering with times and temperatures every chance they get. The one thing they’ve all found is that sous vide isn’t just for showing off at dinner parties with Michelin-style cuisine; it can vastly improve all aspects of cooking – particularly barbecue.

In the video above, Sally Abé shows us how easy barbecuing can be if a sous vide is used to cook the food first. No more overdone outsides and raw middles when it comes to meat; with sous vide, they’re fully cooked and ready to be grilled for a nice charred finish. It’s particularly good if you want to serve up slow-cooked meat such as pulled pork or beef brisket, as you don’t have to tend to the barbecue for hours, constantly adding coals and maintaining the correct temperature. Instead you simply marinade, vacuum pack and leave in the bath for 36 hours – producing perfectly cooked, falling apart flakes of meat ready to be stuffed in buns with a dollop of sauce.

It’s not just US-style low and slow barbecuing that benefits from sous vide; as you can see in the above video, Sally cooks a rack of lamb for just one hour in the water bath to produce perfectly juicy and pink meat, so there’s no risk of over or undercooking this expensive (but absolutely show-stopping) cut of meat. The same goes for fish, vegetables and basically any other ingredient – cook it to perfection in the sous vide, then get the barbecue red hot and just sear the food for a few minutes each side to get that smoky, charred crust – the thing we like best about flame-grilled dishes.

Rub it in

While the best results in cooking sous vide mean you have to follow certain guidelines when it comes to times and temperatures for cooking, the real fun comes in choosing how you’re going to flavour your food. Countless combinations of oils, fats, spices and herbs can be used to drastically alter the taste of meat, fish or vegetables, and the sous vide helps speed things along. By marinating ingredients under vacuum, it takes less time for the flavours to combine, meaning a twenty-four-hour marinating time can be reduced to six or even four hours with the same results. It’s important to note that cooking sous vide makes marinade ingredients stronger, so be careful not to add too much salt, but other flavours will be much more noticeable in the finished dish. This is where the home cook can really experiment – any combination of oil or fat, herbs and spices will make all the difference to your finished dish and can even help tenderise meat, so take your favourites and create your own bespoke spice rub.

There are other ways sous vide can benefit barbecuing. Smoked food is bigger than it’s ever been, and cooking under vacuum can make it so much easier to both cold- and hot-smoke ingredients. By cold-smoking something for a short amount of time then transferring it into a vacuum bag and cooking it in a water bath, you allow the smoky flavours to develop and permeate through the meat, fish or vegetables. You could even smoke your own butter or oils and use them to marinate ingredients, so you have access to smoky food no matter what the weather’s doing.