Perfect tri-tip steak is a pure carnivorous joy. Tri-tip is such a lovely piece of meat. Uninterrupted by fat seams or gristly bits, it’s just one wide, thick swath of beefy goodness, made all the better with a good sear on a hot grill. But the geometry of tri-tip can get in the way of that enjoyment: the parts of the tri-tip where it narrows towards the edges and points tend to get overcooked on the grill.
In this post, we’ll discuss one way of getting a perfect, edge-to-edge-pink tri-tip by employing some thermal thinking and a sous vide bath, following the advice found on JustOneCookbook.com. Get your ChefAlarm® out and your grill warmed up, this is going to be good.
Sous vide tri-tip: advantages
Cooking a tri-tip by sous vide is a fantastic way to get a just-right result. Sous vide circulators are great at maintaining a given temperature, allowing your food to cook right up to your preferred doneness without the chance of overcooking. Their true advantage over other methods is twofold: they cook almost without gradients and they cook via conduction, not convection.
First, the tight accuracy of the sous vide bath means that if you leave, say, a piece of vacuum-sealed steak in the bath that is running at 127°F (53°C) for a long enough time, then the whole steak will come to thermal equilibrium with the surrounding water—it will be 127°F (53°C) all the way through. There will be no grey band at the surface, there will be no colder-in-the-center surprises. That kind of gradient-free cooking is just not achievable on a hot grill by itself.
Second, the water bath is a faster, more efficient way of cooking than air. Water can hold far more heat than air can (it has a higher heat capacity) and the direct contact afforded by submersion means that the water can transfer that thermal energy far more efficiently than air can. Even though we’re only cooking the meat at 135°F (57°C), we get to a doneness temperature as fast or faster than we would in, say, a hot oven.
Sous vide warnings and disadvantages
One thing to be aware of when cooking sous vide is that we can properly cook something at temperatures that are actually in the temperature danger zone. Some people think that you can toss a steak in the sous vide and leave it there for seven hours, but if you’re cooking it to rare or medium-rare, you’re cooking in the TDZ, and you’re staying there for way, way too long. This is one reason why we need thermometers in sous vide cooking. Once our meat reaches our desired temperature, we should take it out and finish it/serve it.
But even beyond safety concerns, it is important to use a thermometer for quality purposes. There are enzymes in meat that can stay active at sous-vide temperatures, and those can break down the meat in ways that are not delicious. How so? Let’s just say that there is a difference between tender and pasty. Using a ChefAlarm with the Pro-series® Waterproof Needle Probe to track the internal temp of your meat during sous vide cooking will give you great results every time. (You’ll also want to pick up some sous vide tape to keep things from leaking around that probe.)
Of course, the one disadvantage of sous vide cooking is that there is no Maillard browning—and hence, no roasted, seared meat flavors. That is why the grilling portion of this method is so important. But won’t grilling undo all the no-gradient work we’ve just done? Let’s take a look.
Chill out for perfect doneness
If we want the delicious flavor of the seared crust but we want to keep our tri-tip pink from edge to edge, we need to chill out. Or rather, we need our roast to chill out.
Once the meat is taken from the water bath, we don’t go straight to the grill. Instead, we take a pause at an ice bath. By dunking our (still-in-a-bag) meat in a large bowl full of ice and cold water for a minute or two, we chill the outside of the meat down very quickly, creating a thermal barrier that the grill-heat will have a hard time penetrating. If our grill is nice and hot, we’ll get browning on the very surface, where the grill grates and flames make contact. But, because the meat is sufficiently cold near the surface, there will be almost no greying inside the meat—not even in the thinner, more pointed parts that usually overcook.
For tri-tip roast, I look for medium-rare doneness, 130–135°F (54–57°C), so I set my circulator to 135°F (57°C). I set my thermometer to 133°F (56°C)—there is no carryover when we cook sous vide. When my ChefAlarm sounded, I pulled the meat from the hot water and dunked it in an ice bath for two minutes, slit the bag open, removed the meat, and tossed it right on a hot grill. I gave it about 1–2 minutes per side, including along its thicker edge, then took it to the cutting board.
No rest period was necessary because there were no gradients through the meat, and thus no equilibrium needed to be reached. We sliced in, and the meat was beautiful! It was juicy, it was tender, and the seasoning had good penetration. An absolute win.
How long does cooking a sous vide tri-tip take?
As I said above, it doesn’t take long to cook a tri-tip sous vide, but how long should one plan for the cook? According to Immersed: the Definitive Guide to Sous Vide Cooking by Phillip Preston (one of the true authorities on the subject), two-inch-thick tri-tip that needs to go from 40°F (4°C) to 133°F (56°C) will take about 86 minutes. That’s not bad, especially considering how evenly it will be cooked!
This method for grilled sous vide tri-tip produces amazing results every time. You can season it however you want, with a rub or just with salt and pepper—it’s the thermal concepts that are important here. Set your sous vide circulator to 2°F (1°C) above your target temp, put a ChefAlarm probe in your meat, and pull it when it gets where you want it to be. Chill it, grill it, and dig right in. If you like tri-tip, you’re going to love this preparation! It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s perfect. I hope you give it a go.
(Oh, and once it’s perfectly cooked, you will need to slice it the right way to ensure tenderness. Check out this piece about slicing tri-tip for a quick tutorial.)Print
A procedure for sous-vide tri-tip that is then grilled for maximization of both flavor and perfect doneness. Following the advice of JustOneCookbook.
- Set up your immersion circulator and begin heating the water to a temperature that is 2°F (1°C) higher than your preferred doneness temperature. 135°F (57°C) is a great water temp for medium-rare meat.
- Season your tri-tip generously.
- Place the tri-tip in a vacuum-sealing bag and seal it up. (If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, see the note, below.)
- Apply a piece of sous vide foam tape over the thickest part of the roast and insert a Waterproof Needle Probe through it and into the deepest part of the meat. Place the sealed meat in your sous vide bath.
- Attach the probe to a Chef Alarm and set the high-temp alarm for your desired doneness temp. 133°F (56°C) is a great level for medium-rare.
- While the meat cooks in the bath, preheat your grill for direct-heat cooking. Also prepare your ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice, then filling up to the level of the ice with cold water.
- When the high-temp alarm sounds on your ChefAlarm, remove the meat from the sous vide bath and place it in the ice bath for two minutes, agitating it from time to time.
- Remove the meat from the vacuum bag and place the meat on the hot grill.
- Sear each side for 1–2 minutes, until good grill marks form.
- Remove the tri-tip from heat. Slice it and serve!
This method will work with any seasoning palate you like. We happened to go with something a little bit Mediterranean and made some delicious beef pitas out of it, following the same sauce and topping ideas that we used in our chicken shawarma post.
If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can put your tri-tip in a large freezer bag, squeeze most of the air out, and submerge it in the water. All the air will be pushed to one part of the bag and you can let it out there. Or you can hang a freezer bag from the side of your vessel using an office clip—no vacuum necessary.