The “stall” is widely known among serious barbecuers. Well into cooking, the temperature of uncovered meat stops rising and may even fall slightly before it climbs again. Most barbecue experts say this stall occurs when connective tissue in the meat softens and fat starts to render, which does occur, but it doesn’t cause the stall.
The stall is quite real, but it is not due to softening collagen as the graph below shows. We cooked two briskets side-by-side in a convection oven, which mimicked the air temperature in a smoker, but was much more consistent and thus better suited for the experiment. We left one brisket uncovered (blue curve) and vacuum sealed the other (green curve). Sensors measured the core temperature of each brisket as well as the dry-bulb (black curve) and wet-bulb (red curve) air temperatures in the oven.
The stall clearly occurred in the uncovered brisket 2-4 hours into cooking as the wet-bulb temperature in the oven fell. The stall ended after about four hours because the surface of the brisket had dried out enough that it was above the wet-bulb temperature. The temperature of the vacuum-sealed brisket, in contrast, rose steadily to the oven’s set point in about three hours. Any effect due to collagen or fat rendering would occur in both briskets, but we see the stall only in the uncovered one.
Early in the cooking, the wet-bulb temperature rose as the uncovered brisket evaporated, increasing the relative oven humidity to about 72%. But the humidity then began to drop as evaporation could no longer keep pace with the air venting out of the oven. By the eight-hour mark, the humidity was below 50%, and the wet-bulb temperature was down almost 10 °C / 18 °F from its peak.
The core of the uncovered brisket stalled. In this test, we left the brisket dry, but if we had slathered it with sauce periodically as many barbecue chefs do, we could prolong the stall by keeping the surface wet.
Sous vide cooking is, in our opinion, by far the best way to achieve the perfect cooking rate necessary for great barbecue. We barbecued in two distinct steps: smoking to impart the smoke flavor, followed by sous vide cooking to achieve the optimum texture and done-ness.
Smoking before a long sous vide cooking step has the advantage of proteins remaining intact and able to react readily with smoke. Smoked food continues to change while being cooked sous vide: its pellicle darkens, the rind becomes firmer, and the smoky flavor mellows.
The alternative, of course, is to smoke the food after cooking it sous vide. This also works well, but a longer smoking time is required to develop a robust smoked flavor and appearance. This is because precooking denatures a large fraction of the proteins in a cut of meat or a piece of seafood, which leaves the flesh less reactive to the smoke.
Whichever approach you choose to take and you should try both ways to judge the differences yourself the remarkable texture that is the hallmark of sous vide cooking, and the consistency it brings to smoking, makes it the best way to smoke meats and seafood. Alternatively, you could substitute for the sous vide step a combi oven, CVap oven, or low-temperature steamer.
You can find our recipe for Smoked Dry-Rub Pork Ribs here.
It has been a long and amazingly fruitful 4 1/2 years here at The Cooking Lab. You’ll soon be seeing the release of our most recent project with Nathan, Modernist Cuisine at Home. I’m thrilled to share this new transmission of modern cooking with the passionate food world. I believe it will provide yet another shift in the perception of culinary education and the power of delicious food.
How incredibly fast time passes by. 3122 pages, 1927 recipes and over 230,000 photos later, Our projects have been gifted with more recognition and respect than we could ever have imagined. We’ve won the praise of some of our greatest culinary heroes: Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Heston Blumenthal, Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria, Charlie Trotter, Wylie Dufresne, David Kinch, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Marcus Samuelsson, and Alain Ducasse, among a very humbling list of culture changing icons. We’ve won Gourmand, IACP and James Beard Awards. We’ve built a community around the heart of the project; to embrace the many roles of food through a more precise and rigorous understanding of culinary art and science. I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished.
With the completion of Modernist Cuisine at Home, this seems an appropriate time for me to move forward. As a team, we have accomplished everything, and beyond, what we set out to do with these comprehensive projects. Change is exhilarating and challenging, but this journey is all about the search for refining a meaningful vision of life. That can’t happen without accepting how important change is to that search. We are all responsible for our personal choices and I intend on taking this opportunity to explore the realm of possibilities that this fragile and precious life has to offer.
I have been the recipient of some profound lessons from some very patient teachers in this lifetime. I did just turn 30 after all and the most perceptible thing I have going for me is a pretty wild tangle of silvered hair standing atop my overstimulated brain. Wisdom indeed! …The road ahead is intrinsically connected to those lessons. Land IS food and needs to be protected. Food is our life-force and should be revered with far more consideration. Change begins in the mind and the heart but the mind cannot function without sustenance and the heart cannot grow without sharing the beauty of experience. I look forward to facing these challenges through my work with the culinary world. Every piece has its value, whether it’s high-end gastronomy, modern farming or ingenious solutions for basic nutrition.
I will always be part of this Modernist Cuisine family; a colorful mixture of open minded individuals, artists, scientists, knife wielding culinary crazies (chefs),engineers and people of the pen. I will miss the daily rituals with my team, “the routine of the unpredictable” as I like to think of it. I will remember the many discoveries that I’ve shared: the profound (centrifuged pea “butter”) and the absurd (tossing hot oil in a cut-in-half wok towards my face hurts!) and everything in between. I greatly look forward to witnessing their future successes.
Sam “The Man”, keep on cracking the whip and making the best gelato on earth. I am so proud of the leadership role you have grown into and embraced these past three years. Anj, don’t let those boys off the hook, you are the powerful “Lady of the House”, you have a beautiful palate and we’ll be sharing coffee honey in Kerala before long. Zhulander, continue to be resourceful and inventive. I can’t wait to see your full line of smoky pork product interpretations on supermarket shelves. Just promise me you won’t let anyone make you wear a costume. A-Ron, you have been a true example of what a young chef should aspire to. Keep your head down and stay true to the work ethic and passion you’ve demonstrated and you’ll be running your own show soon enough. Kimberly, you have an incredible vision for the future of food. I know you’ll find that perfect bridge between nutrition, taste and splendor. Mme. Krystanne, you keep that mighty engine running. You’re the coach from now on, but I hope you can let your smile shine sometimes too. Bruce, Carrie and Hatchess, thank you for being the remarkable guides of THE mission. Scott, Larissa and Ms. Lukach, good luck with the future of Modernist Cuisine and The Cooking Lab, I think they are in very good hands.
To the rest of The Cooking Lab team and for those who have already moved on, Smithy, Grant, Susan, Tracy, Christina, Biderman, Ben, Andy, Jameson and Melissa, your hard work has been so incredibly important to making this happen in the right way. Thank you. These projects could not have been possible without a tremendous amount of support and effort from many individuals.
Thank you to all of our friends at the lab who have worked alongside us since the beginning. Mike V., Ted, Nels, Laura, David N., David B., Chris L., Barcin, Zihong, Pablos, 3ric, Geoff, Ozgur, Sheing, Leo, Keith R. and all of the others, thank you for bearing with us during our learning phase. Thank you for meeting our obstacles with open minds and transforming our ideas into very real manifestations of art and education. Only at the lab could there be a day when a paleontologist fixes one of our ovens while a machinist with expertise in nuclear submarines cuts our microwave in half on a water jet.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without my external team of supporters and teachers, Kathryn and Gary, Lee, my parents, Mamie, John, Alina, Noelle, Katy, Stephanie, Albane and Marcus. Thank you for you guidance and love throughout this process.
Thank you to our readers. The people who have made Modernist Cuisine this successful are spread far and wide, across the vastest spectrum of backgrounds and geography. Without an audience of loyal people willing to invest in our books and look beyond the perceived value of food and culinary education, none of this would have been worth the effort that was put into it. You’ve been an essential key to shifting that paradigm.
Finally and above all else, I am forever grateful to Nathan. You are the very reason I’m able to share all of these memories, individual connections and future hopes. You’ve given me such an incredible combination of creative insights, resources and freedom. Thank you for giving all of us this unique possibility and trusting my ability to lead this team. Thank you for the opportunity to collaborate on this tremendous body of creative work and for all that I have been part of during my tenure under the wing of your greater vision. Thank you for your camaraderie. I will continue to grow and share from everything I have learned from you.
For the next month I will continue with my role at The Cooking Lab and try to contribute a few last worthy pieces to this eternal puzzle. We will be cooking at Charlie Trotter’s anniversary dinner on August 17th and my last official day will be September 1st, the day we perform at Bumbershoot. I hope to see you there.
À très bientôt,
About five years ago, after work had begun in earnest on my first cookbook, I reached a critical decision. It was clear that if I didn’t hire some more people to help me with it, I would never get it done. So I decided to start hiring a team that could help me expand the outline I had written into a complete book: Modernist Cuisine. Without that team, the project simply would not have been possible.
Of the many people who joined the Modernist Cuisine team, none made more of an impact than Maxime Bilet. Max became head chef for the project, and he threw himself into the work. He not only served as head chef but also touched almost every other part of the project. Modernist Cuisine and our forthcoming book Modernist Cuisine at Home were both group efforts, and without the skill Max showed in guiding recipe development and helping establish our distinctive visual style, the books would not have been nearly as successful.
Max was our go-to guy for culinary experiments. Hundreds of times over the past five years, an idea would come to me, like vacuum-distilling milk, or rendering fat in a pressure cooker with baking soda and my next move was always the same: contact Max. He took these crazy ideas in stride and worked with the team to try them out. Some turned out to be as silly as they sounded, but others worked or at least inspired new ideas that worked.
Once Modernist Cuisine was off to the printer, we started hosting dinners at our research kitchen for chefs and food writers. Over the course of the next year or so, many of our culinary heroes including Thomas Keller, David Chang, David Kinch, Wolfgang Puck, Pierre Hermé, Andoni Anduriz, Charlie Trotter, among many others came our lab to enjoy 25- to 30-course tasting menus alongside food critics, such as Jeffrey Steingarten and Corby Kummer, and legendary gourmands like Tim and Nina Zagat. It was of course a huge honor to serve such dignitaries, but it also gave us a taste of what it must feel like when the Michelin inspectors arrive on the night your restaurant opens.
I’ll never forget the first such dinner. As the guests were seated and the waiters brought our first dish, Max and I looked at each other, and I said, “Oh my God, what have we done?” It suddenly struck me that we were facing, together, a moment of judgment. Either we would show them that we can actually cook food that tastes as good as it looks in the photographs we have published, or we were about to make complete fools of ourselves. Max looked at me and swallowed hard. “It’ll be OK,” he said, but I could tell that he was just as daunted by the situation as I was.
In the end, Max was right; the food was even better than OK. Since then, I’ve been proud to cook many times alongside Max and the rest of our talented culinary team at The Cooking Lab. And I am proud, too, of our latest accomplishment together, a new book that makes it easy for home cooks to experience first-hand the amazing results that a Modernist approach to cooking unlocks.
You can’t work with other people without facing the fact that eventually they need to pursue their own dreams. Indeed, I myself was able to create the Modernist Cuisine enterprise only because, a number of years ago, I decided to retire from Microsoft. So, as much as I hate to see Max go, I know that it is the right move for him, and I along with everybody else at The Cooking Lab wish him the best of luck.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.