Sous Vide at home (and how I cooked a 15 pound rib roast in a cooler)

In mid-December, this was my first experiment with sous vide at home, a rack of lamb.

Based on the utterly delicious success of the lamb, I awoke Christmas Eve morning and decided to do a fifteen pound rib roast in a cooler full of water!


The process of sous vide cooking has been all the rage for a number of years.  The top chefs in the land do it on a regular basis for several reasons, the two most important being temperature control and ultimate consistency.

To cook sous vide in a restaurant you need to do some major investing in equipment.  But luckily for us home home cooks, you probably already have all that you need.

First, Sous Vide 101: The whole idea is that the meat is cooked in a sealed plastic bag surrounded by water that is held at the final cooking temperature.  No juices are lost, and because of the sealed environment, any added spices or herbs are intensified in flavor.  From the edge of the meat all the way through the middle, the temperature will be constant.  In the case of beef, I like it just a hair above 120 degrees.

To cook a fifteen pound rib roast for Christmas Eve, I needed a large container (in this case a big cooler), a large bag with a watertight seal (in this case a turkey brining bag from the store), and time.  Lots of time.  Not knowing how long it would take, but also knowing that once it reached temperature I could hold it there, I planned on ten hours.

The larger the piece of meat, the larger the cooler has to be.  Simple physics — if you are going to keep the meat at a constant temperature, you need a significant amount of water around it.  For this Flintstones like roast, I used my biggest cooler (which you’ll see in the photos was still not THAT big).  Fill it with warm water (about 20 degrees warmer than you want to sous vide at) and let it warm up.

Throughout this process, temperature control is the most important factor.  To sous vide at home, you’ll need a digital thermometer that is accurate and has a long cord so you can immerse it into the water. A thermometer that allows you to program alarms (both minimum and maximum temps) is ideal.  My iGrill worked perfectly for this.

For the rib roast, I got a big turkey brining bag, covered the roast in sea salt, black pepper, garlic, and dried herbs (along with a bit of olive oil) and put it in. (I had dry aged the roast in my meat fridge for three days prior.)

Take the bag with the meat in it, unsealed, and slowly lower it into the water bath.  As you slowly drop it in, the bag will vacuum itself to the meat as the air is pushed out.  Get it down to the last two inches and seal up all but the last bit of the bag.  Drop it in further to get the last bit of air out, seal it up, and let it go.  It should sink.

When I did the rack of lamb in the cooler, I didn’t have to worry about temperature control.  After bringing the water to 123 degrees, the temp held steady for the hour of cooking (actually it held for about three hours!).  But with this big roast, I needed to keep a pot of water warm on the stove at all times.  I set my iGrill to alert when it got down to 120 degrees, at which time I scooped out about 6-7 cups of water and dumped in more from the stove (then picked up the roast bag to move the water around for even temperature distribution).  As you can imagine, I didn’t have the precise control of the pros but I was careful to rarely go over 130 degrees and never under 120.

For the first two hours, I had to do this water dance about every 20-30 minutes.  But after that only about every hour did I have to fuss – the roast was starting to “cook”.

My iGrill did a good job of tracking the temperature, and I made sure to move the probe around quite a bit to make sure I had even temps.


The first time you cook something sous vide you’ll be hesitant when you first take the meat out and touch it and look at it … we’re used to browned meat with well done little bits and the smell of smoke.  This roast was soft, limpy, lifeless, and ugly.  I stuck a probe into the middle and it read 125 degrees … it was done — perfectly.  Now came the really fun part.

If you’ve wanted to play with fire, here is your chance.  Get the grill as hot as you can with natural hardwood coals, coat the meat in some olive oil, and watch it go.  I had this roast on the grill for only about six minutes, just to char the outside a bit.

THERE IS NO REASON TO LET THIS MEAT REST because you are not letting juices settle back in and final temp to be hit.  It’s done, and it’s ready to go.  Slice it up and serve it.

The advantages of sous vide are many, but one of the best is allowing you to time a roast like this to any other side dishes that are coming out.  Because it can be held at temp for a long time, you can prep everything else until you’re ready to fire it up.

Another amazing sidenote: the most forgettable and bland meat in the world, boneless skinless chicken breasts, are absolutely PHENOMENAL when done sous vide.  Add a pat of butter, some thyme and rosemary, and drop them in a pot of 145 degree water for 30-45 minutes.


PS: Think of the implications this has for cooking while camping!  You can get your cooler all set, drop in some packets of meat, go for a hike for a couple hours and come back to a gourmet dinner with very little (or no) mess or fuss.

Grilled meatloaf

Tonight it’s a modified meatloaf recipe, done on the charcoal grill of course.


The results were fantastic. Pitch perfect spice, sweet, and savory. Here is the recipe:


Ingredients for the ‘meat mixture’

  • 3 pounds of ‘meatloaf blend’ from the store (beef, pork, and veal). Try to get a little more beef in the mixture than the others.
  • 3 small onions, nice and sweet varieties, chopped medium
  • 5 cloves of garlic, diced small
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1.5 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce (I used this instead of Worcestershire sauce)
  • 4 teaspoons good coarse grained Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I like the Greek stuff because it’s unsweetened)
  • 1 sleeve of Saltine crackers (about 40 of them)
  • 1 cup chopped parsley leaves

Chop onions and garlic, and saute in a bit of olive oil until translucent. (Start the onions first, then after a couple minutes sprinkle the garlic on it. Try to not let the garlic go to the bottom of the pan and burn.) Once done (5-10 minutes) place in a bowl and cool in the fridge.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and add thyme, pepper, soy sauce, mustard, and yogurt. Whisk together and smell it — doesn’t it smell good?!

In a separate larger bowl, pull the three meats into little bits and mix together followed by hand blending all meats together. Pour egg mixture over the meat (use a rubber spatula to get it all out). Add sautéed onions and garlic. Mix and blend all together by hand (get your hands wet first and make sure you don’t try to answer your cell phone during this stage). Crush the saltine crackers, and add crackers and parsley. Mix further by hand. Place mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Fire up the grill, offset heat. Take a sheet of heavy duty tinfoil and put in on an upside down baking sheet (you’ll learn why soon). Take the cool meat mixture out of the fridge and with wet hands free-form the loaves (or better yet use little tinfoil loaf pans and press the meat into shape, dumping it onto the tinfoil. That’s what I do). Find some good barbeque sauce and brush over the loaves, then cover in bacon.

On the grill, slide the tinfoil off the baking sheet (see, that’s why it’s upside down) and place opposite of the coals (off set grilling … really roasting). Curve up the edges of the tinfoil to catch most of the grease. Cover and let it be for 45-60 minutes.

You want the internal temp to end up around 150-155. Keep an eye on it while you enjoy a glass of wine or three.

If the grease is building up and you want to drain it, three things to keep in mind: 1) Easy to do by poking holes in the tinfoil. 2) You have a good chance of a grease file flaring up so don’t stand with your head right above the grill. 3) You’re going to have grease to clean up later but that’s relatively easy.

When internal temp reaches 155 slide it onto a baking sheet and bring inside. Tent loosely for 15-20 minutes while finishing side dish prep and drinking more wine.

Idea wine pairings with this dish include Cotes du Rhone (the Grenach/Syrah blends in general are incredible with meatloaf) because you want something medium bodied but with a little spice. Another good choice, on the more geeky side, is Zweigelt from Austria.

Goat cheese and cured meat Jucy Lucy’s

The Jucy Lucy (yes, the spelling is correct) is my home state of Minnesota’s gift to the hamburger community.  Two beef patties pressed together with the ingredients in-between.  The simple version is cheddar or American cheese.  But you can get creative with this set up, and many now add garlic, blue cheese, even fois gras.

We had some extra soprasatta sitting around, so we did goat cheese and cured meat stuffed jucy lucy’s.  I also ran out of hamburger buns so I used English muffins instead.  Worked great!  Highly recommended!


Skirt steak on a hot grill

It’s actually a difficult day for me.  I went to my local old reliable meat shop and asked for skirt steak and was rejected.

“You don’t want that stuff.  Only good for tacos!” is what the butcher said.  I didn’t want to tell him I’ve purchased about $150 of skirt steak from Whole Foods down the street over the last few weeks.  C’mon, buddy!  If I ask for skirt steak, just sell it to me.

Turns out they don’t even have any at my local butcher, so I returned to Whole Foods and stocked up.  No wonder he down-talked this glorious and overlooked cut of meat.

I love skirt steak on a hot grill.  Only a couple minutes per side at the most, plus a few minutes to rest.  High in fat content and oh so tender and yummy.  And better for more than just tacos, trust me.

Another win for The Grilling Man!

My brother and I did 18 racks of baby backs on a tiny little hibachi style grill.  How?  Rubbed the ribs, ten minutes a side on hot coals to char, double wrapped tight in heavy duty foil, then piled in an oven at 225 degrees for six hours.  Unwrapped, brushed with sauce, then another ten minutes on the grill.  Perfection, on a perfect Los Angeles evening high up in the mountains.

A beautiful aged rib eye

Dry aging your own meat is easy and should be done with all beef cuts in my opinion.  Place on an elevated rack over a cookie sheet, and place in the fridge, uncovered, for 3-5 days.  If you have a dedicated meat refrigerator (and if you don’t you should) snake a little fan in there to keep the air circulating. The cut will lose 10-20% of its mass and up to 15% of its weight … all in the form of water content that leaves the meat tasting even better.