Sorry, But That Sous Vide Meat Ain’t Barbecue

Does liquid smoke add flavor – or is it just faking it?

By Emily DonahueSeptember 16, 2015 1:52 pm| ,

Where there’s smoke, there’s Daniel VaughnTexas Monthly’s barbecue editor. And today, there’s liquid smoke – as we dive into the rise of sous vide cooking.

Liquid smoke recipes were popular in the 1940s and 50s for oven cooking but have resurfaced with new commercial cooking styles.

“Oddly enough it’s been cropping up here recently as a flavor additive to sous vide cooking,” he says. “Sort of an indoor barbecue.”

Sous vide, French for “under vacuum,” involves submerging meat, vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag, in a hot water bath – a technique that has become common in restaurant kitchens. Some sous vide recipes incorporate liquid smoke to replicate that smoky flavor, both as brine before cooking and glaze afterward.

“One thing it doesn’t do is give you barbecue,” Vaughn says. “Liquid smoke itself definitely comes from real smoke… I call it ‘fake’ in the sense that it’s trying to fake a smoked meat.”

Vaughn says he doesn’t argue about whether it tastes good, because we eat it in processed meats and, especially, barbecue sauce. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to flavor barbecue.

“If you talk to a pit master about the proper way to cook barbecue, liquid smoke is probably the last thing he would provide as an answer,” Vaughn says.

Though Vaughn says he’s never tried sous vide meat with liquid smoke, he says it feels like the difference between instant coffee and a freshly brewed cup of joe.

“Sure, it has all the components, he says. “But everyone knows that a scoop of instant coffee and hot water doesn’t quite replicate actually making coffee from ground beans.

“I don’t see the need to try the fake stuff when I got the real stuff here in Texas.”