Should you let your meat rest after cooking?

If you cook meat you are probably aware that you should let it rest, or sit, for a few minutes after cooking to let the juices (please do not call it blood, it is a protein water called myoglobin) reabsorb into the meat. Let’s dig into this topic more to see if there is any validity behind resting meat.

In theory, as meat is cooked the juice in the meat moves away from the surface (as the muscle fibers are shortening during cooking) to the center of the cut, when you flip the meat over, the juices move again, away from the heat during cooking. When you take your meat off the grill, all of those juices are still in the center of the meat. If you immediately cut into the meat all of the juices have no where to go, but out. However, if you let the meat set for three (minimum) to ten minutes, those juices have redistributed themselves throughout the meat, thus making your meat eating experience a more flavorful and juicy one.

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Yummm… steak

The rest time depends on the size of the meat. A roast should rest for 10-20 minutes before being carved, while steaks and chops only need three to five minutes. I found several rule of thumb guidelines for rest times: about one minute of rest time should be given for every 100 grams (about 1/4 pound) of meat, five minutes per inch of thickness, 10 minutes per pound, or half of the total cooking time. The Serious Eats Food Lab suggests the best way to measure length of rest time is by temperature. At an internal temperature of 120*F (49*C) the muscle fibers have relaxed and juices have been redistributed. Additionally, most cookbooks provide some guidance on rest times, those can be followed too.

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Six steaks of identical thickness, each cooked to 125*F. Each steak was sliced in half every 2.5 minutes and placed on a plate to show how much of the juices leaked out (Source: The Food Lab – J. Kenji Lopez-Alt)

It is suggested that while the meat is resting it should be kept in a warm place. Options may be loosely covering it with foil, placing it in a small space, like your microwave or oven. Do not cover it too tightly with foil as you will cause the meat to sweat and loose more liquid. Keep in mind, the more you cook your meat the dryer it will become as juices and fats are lost to cooking and evaporation. This may result in a less desirable eating experience too. If you are a serious meat smoker check out some great tips and suggestions at The Virtual Weber Bullet.

There can be some drawbacks of resting meat. One is that it can cool off and not be as hot as it would have been when it was fresh off the grill or out of the pan or oven. Another is the possibility of losing any rub crust, or that the crust becomes soft during this time instead of providing a more crunchy texture and robust taste. More importantly, when covered in foil, your meat can continue to cook, in turn taking your degree of doneness up a notch or two. Additionally, the fats change. When fresh off the grill or out of the pan or oven, the fat and collagen in the meat is hot and soft, when cool, the fats start to solidify again and may stick to the roof of your mouth. Finally, the skin on poultry may also get soft and rubbery instead of crispy.

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Lamb chops on the grill

Several sources I have read said that you shouldn’t purposely wait the three to five minutes. By time everyone sits down, you build your plate, start eating, and have conversations, the three to five minutes has come and gone and your food is still hot. It was also suggested that meat juices on the serving tray/plate be poured over the meat and that you soak up the juices with each bite you cut off.

While there are some reasons or concerns with letting meat rest, there are also some benefits. The most important things to consider are, will resting the meat impact a key component of the flavor or texture? Or will it make the degree of doneness undesirable? Use your best judgement when it comes to letting your meat rest. Personally, I loosely cover it with foil while I put the finishing touches on the meal.

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Barbecued tri-tip and fixings

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The Perfect (or darn close) Leg-of-Lamb

Since Lamb Lovers Month is nearly over I thought I would do a post on how to prepare the “Perfect Leg-of-Lamb” (or darn close to perfect). If you haven’t yet tried lamb, I encourage you to do so. If you are hesitant on preparing it, prepare it like you would beef! It can be expensive, but with the guidelines I provide below and those recommended by the American Lamb Board you will be on your way to becoming a great lamb chef!

CheersI have 5 rules to eating/cooking lamb (and really these can be applied other species too) – these are very important!!

1. The lamb you eat must be young (under one year old – ideally 7-12 months old)! Lamb gets a bad rep because they used to serve mutton to persons in the military years ago. Mutton is old sheep and the meat is tough, has a strong flavor, and most people generally do not find it desirable. When the troops returned home, mutton (aka lamb) was off limits in the house. This has been a hard habit for the sheep industry to break…

2. It must be eaten HOT – not warm or warmish, and certainly not cold! If eaten cold, the fat in the meat kinda sticks to the roof of your mouth… So eat it HOT and by-pass that situation.

3. Lamb and garlic go together so nicely. Think of this dynamic partnership as powerful as macaroni and cheese, milk and Hershey’s chocolate syrup, or peanut butter and jelly (you get my drift).

4. Do not overcook lamb! Lamb is best at medium to medium well (should still be slightly pink). Overcooking it will dry it out, and make your eating experience not so desirable! Again, cooking lamb will be very similar to cooking beef.

5. Lamb and red wine are also very complementary. Cooking with wine adds such great flavors. If you are nervous about cooking with wine (kids, pregnancy, etc.) the USDA provides figures on the percentage of alcohol remaining of the original addition. In the case of slow cooking a leg of lamb, you can see that less than 5% of the alcohol would be left after the cooking process. If you are uncomfortable with wine, water will work just fine.

Alcohol Burn-off Chart
 Preparation Method  Percent Retained
alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat 85%
alcohol flamed 75%
no heat, stored overnight 70%
baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture 45%
Baked/simmered dishes with alcohol stirred into mixture:
15 minutes cooking time 40%
30 minutes cooking time 35%
1 hour cooking time 25%
1.5 hours cooking time 20%
2 hours cooking time 10%
2.5 hours cooking time 5%

Chart source.

Cooking lamb was passed down to me by my mom, and now I am passing the leg of lamb recipe onto you. You will not be disappointed.

Lindsay’s Perfect Leg-of-Lamb

Ingredients

Leg-of-lamb (our butcher cuts the leg in half, which is awesome for two people or a small family. But for a whole leg you would follow the same guidelines – except adjust your cooking time/temperature)

Garlic cloves (lots of it!)

Red wine/Water

Onion soup mix packet

Vegetables as desired

Directions

Completely defrost your leg-of-lamb.

Peel your garlic cloves.

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Leg-of-lamb with garlic cloves

Heat a frying pan to hot (medium high to high).

Meanwhile, in the leg make “+” cuts about 1 to 1 1/2 inches into the meat with a knife, you will shove the garlic into these cuts. Add as much garlic as you find desirable (note: the garlic flavor is not as strong in the cooked garlic as it is in the raw garlic).

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Make a “+” and insert garlic into the lamb.
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You can see I added a lot of garlic!

You are going to sear your leg-of-lamb in the hot frying pan. Searing will quickly cook the exterior surface of the meat, this helps keep the juices inside the meat. Depending on how lean your leg-of-lamb is, you may want to add a little oil. I generally do not, and instead put the fattiest side down first. Do not put your meat in the hot skillet and walk away, you will need to be there watching it and turning it. You will only need to sear each side for about 30 seconds, make sure you get all sides and flip it up so the ends get seared too. Sometimes the shape of the leg-of-lamb will be awkward, just do the best you can.

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Searing the leg-of-lamb.

Once the exterior is seared, you will transfer the leg to your crockpot.

Turn your crockpot onto to low.

Next mix together approximately 3/4 cup wine (water works too) and the packet of onion soup mix. I use whatever wine I have on hand (i.e. shiraz, cab, a blend, malbec – although never a sweet wine).

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Onion soup mix and wine.

Poor this over the top of the lamb in your crockpot. Put the lid on and let it cook. I let this cook for about 6.5 hours. Again, the American Lamb Board has some good guidelines on how long to cook lamb cuts. Also, using your meat thermometer will help gauge how it is cooking.

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Looks yummy!

Since I cooked this over the weekend, I added vegetables a few hours into the cooking process rather than throwing it all in there at once; as I would do on a work day. When adding vegetables I put the “hard stuff” (i.e. potatoes, carrots) on the bottom and then add the rest. This is a great time to clean out the veggie drawer in the fridge too!

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This time I used carrots, celery, green onions, and bell peppers. You can use whatever you have on hand.

Once your lamb is done, let it sit or “rest” before you cut into it. When meat is cooked the muscle fibers will shrink and the moisture moves to the outer part of a cut of meat. If you let that meat rest for 10-20 minutes before you cut into it, that moisture will seep back into the meat – resulting in a juicy meat experience! Be sure to cover it with foil so it stays hot. Once you cut the lamb, you will notice the garlic. Serve it up with the lamb, it is delicious. I usually don’t make a gravy, but if you do, the juices from the crockpot would be excellent.

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Look at all of that garlic!
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Leg-of-lamb, vegetables, and fresh made bread!

Enjoy!!