The Slowest Cook
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
For me, slow-cooking, either in the oven or on the grill is THE WAY. First, it allows you to attempt the rarer and more interesting cuts, the ones you don’t see on supermarket shelves as much. Second, there simply aren’t many things as good as a piece of meat slow-cooked to perfection, fibres broken down, developed flavour and that tender and succulent taste.
There are a range of cuts suitable for a low-and-slow (think brisket, short ribs, any pork joint, lamb joints etc), and we are often asked for cooking advice. There are a range of different methods and opinions, but I recommend a method that UK chef Heston Blumenthal has championed, based on knowing the temperature that meat cooks at or the temperature required to produce your desired outcome. It’s not that complicated.
Here comes the science part; Meat does not begin to cook until it reaches about 100°F. When talking in terms of poultry and pork, generally you want the core temperature to be 160°F to ensure that the harmful bacteria have been eliminated.
Side note - pork is a technically a red meat, and I’ve had certain things like Iberico a few times cooked to 130-140°F, and it was safe and delicious. Best to use your own judgment based on what you’re cooking, and who your cooking it for. In short, be safe.
With beef and lamb, however, altering the core temperature will affect the final result, ranging from 95°F for bleu to 175°F for well done.
With this low-and-slow method you simply set your oven to the temperature you want your joint to reach and let the meat do the work. The good thing is once the temperature is reached, the meat won't cook any further, so you can’t overcook it! It’s actual science. The lower temperature and therefore less pressure means that the meat won't contract/shrink as much as higher temperature conventional cooking, meaning the juices are retained inside. Also, no need to cover, but you can if you want some extra moisture retained.
Turtles: Not for roasting.
This might not be what you want however. When testing this strategy back in England I roasted a free-range chicken at 155°F for 7 hours. Two things I love about roast chicken were lacking: crispy skin and stock juices for gravy. The greedy chicken had retained them all. When I temperature probed it, it was like Mount Vesuvius in there, all those juices locked inside. It made for a unbelievably succulent bird but on balance I’d prefer to have some crispy skin and a bit of gravy.
When it comes to other joints though, the downsides are far fewer. If you want a bit of crispy around the edge of your joint, you can either crank the oven to max for the last 15 minutes or so, or alternatively, incorporate the reverse sear into your arsenal of cooking techniques. This is essentially what it sounds like: searing the meat at the end of the cooking. If the size is workable, get that thing into a pan, skillet, griddle, whatever, after it has been melting away in the oven. Throw in any final flavour you want to add, maybe some oil, seasonings, herbs etc and blast and turn it until you’re happy with the sear. Sometimes I do that, sometimes I don’t bother, it depends on what you like, who’s it for and how you’re presenting it. You can also reverse sear regular steaks like ribeye and striploin. Read more about in 5 Ways to Steak (next week).
But this method isn’t all plain sailing. Some ovens aren't accurate at lower temperatures, and some don’t even allow you to set a stupid low temperature like 140°F. We can’t fix that problem unfortunately (apart from buying an oven that does, and if you ever needed an excuse to upgrade, here it is), but we can gauge the heat loss of our ovens. All we need is a temperature probe, specifically and importantly, the steel line ones you can leave inside the meat while it cooks, as these are oven safe. I had a guy in England who put his small plastic probe into the oven on a tea towel to check the temperature and was pondering why it had melted and formed a tea towel/plastic omelette.
The oven I have here in Vegas is pretty good, but my oven in England when I checked at 165°F, the probe actually read 154°F, so do always check your meat and adjust your oven accordingly. Last thing, if you can maintain your grill temperature well, be it gas or charcoal, you can do the same outside. Trust, the results of anything you cook this way will be tip-top.