I am obsessed with Kenji Alt’s Beer Cooler Sous Vide Hack, using a cooler full of hot water to cook meat to a perfect medium-rare. In the last two months I’ve used it on strip loin steaks, tri-tip, thick-cut pork chops and top sirloin roasts.
*The only disappointing result has been pork chops. They were good, but they weren’t noticeably better than regular pork chops.
My favorite reaction was from my mom, who is passionate about medium-rare beef. On her birthday, as I lugged a cooler full of hot water and top sirloin roasts into her house, I explained sous vide cooking. She didn’t get it. I tried again; it still wasn’t making sense to her. I pulled the roasts out of their baggies, and gave them a quick sear on the grill. Mom was grabbing pieces off the cutting board as fast as I could slice them. “Michael,” she said, “I still don’t understand it works, but this is perfectly cooked.” I felt like The Good Son.
For Easter, I tried my new favorite technique with rack of lamb. I rubbed the lamb with herbes de provence and mustard, cooked it for an hour in 135*F water, then seared it quickly on the grill. And I do mean quickly – dripping lamb fat gave me some impressive flare-ups. If I left the rack still for a few seconds, it was engulfed in flames. One downside of the technique is you don’t get to melt off the fat over indirect heat.
As usual, the lamb was cooked to perfection, medium-rare from side to side. That is what I really love about this technique. No more poking the pad at the base of my thumb, then the meat. No more trying to find center mass with my probe thermometer. No more being a nervous wreck, wondering if the steak is going to be perfectly pink, or depressingly grey. It is dead simple, and it just works.
*The downside? It feels like I’m cheating, and all the zip top baggies I go through. I haven’t reconciled my carnivorous desire for perfectly cooked meat with my tree-hugging desire to use less stuff.
Cook time: 1 hour water bath, 5 minutes on the grill
- Grill (I used my Weber Summit. Here is the current version of my grill.)
- Large cooler (At least 2 gallons capacity; more is better)
- Gallon sized zip-top bags
- 1 rack of lamb
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons herbes de provence
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1. Cook the lamb in the beer cooler water bath: Fill a large cooler with 135*F water. (I fill the cooler most of the way with hot tap water, then add boiling water until I get to 135*F). Sprinkle the rack of lamb evenly with the salt and herbes de provence, then rub with the dijon mustard. Put the lamb in the zip-top bag. Slowly lower the bag into the water, letting the water push the air out of the bag and seal itself around the lamb. When the bag is submerged to the level of the zip, seal the bag, then let it sink into the water. Close up the cooler and cook the lamb in the hot water bath for at least an hour.
*If you are cooking for more than two hours, check the water temperature and add boiling water occasionally to keep the temperature between 125*F and 130*F.
2. Prepare the grill: Set the grill up for cooking at high heat; as high as you can get it. For my Weber Summit, I turn all the burners to high, let the grill preheat for 15 minutes, then brush the grate clean with my grill brush.
3. Sear the lamb: Remove the lamb from the zip-top bags. Put the lamb over the highest heat part of the grill, bone side up, and cook for two minutes, rotating 90 degrees after a minute to make a cross-hatched pattern. Flip the lamb and cook for another two minutes, rotating 90 degrees after one minute. Grab the lamb by the bones, and hold it vertically on the grill for one minute to sear the bottom of the rack. Remove the lamb to a platter, and rest for ten minutes before serving.
*As I said in the opening, the fat on the rack of lamb gave me impressive flare-ups while I was grilling. Keep the rack moving around the grill as the flames get out of control. With the mustard coating, it shouldn’t take long to brown, and it is already cooked through from the water bath. As soon as the rack is browned to your liking, get it off the heat.
*If you don’t want the flare-ups, buy a well trimmed rack of lamb. I like having some fat on the bones when I’m gnawing at them, so I am willing to live with the flare-ups.
*I prefer to serve as “lamb popsicles”, by slicing along each rib to cut the rack into individual chops.
*A rack of lamb serves two regular people, or one hungry carnivore. To cook more than one rack, use the ingredients list as a “per rack” amount, and seal each rack into its own zip-top bag for the water bath.
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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