It wasn’t so long ago that Beef tri-tip, Bottom Sirloin, was a real bargain. Through the 50’s, butchers usually designated it for ground beef. That’s right, HAMBURGER. There are a few contradictions in the historical record as to the actual timeline, but it eventually became popularized. It was a very reasonably priced alternative to more familiar steak items like striploin, tenderloin, ribeye, etc.
This pricing benefit lasted well into the 80’s. Even in the new millennium, bottom sirloin could be had for $4/lb., if you haggled a little. Now, you see tri-tips priced closer to $7/lb., or even more. The principles of supply and demand can be very aggravating, because of cuts like tri-tip and short ribs. Somebody figures out how to make a cut seem more desirable and the next thing you know, marketers respond by elevating the prices. Producing tri-tips or short ribs doesn’t cost any more than it ever did, but it sure costs more to have them on your plate.
Sous Vide creates steak-like tenderness in almost any cut of meat, so I typically don’t shop tri-tips very hard. There’s very little marbling, and the grain is coarse and plainly visible. It’s no wonder butchers and chefs didn’t bother to investigate its potential. It really looks like it would be tough – and it can be.
So, I embarked on the search for the tri-tip grail. I didn’t actually go to stores looking for them, but when I did, I would cruise the meat department and compare price and appearance. Finally I happened upon the one pictured above. It was at a growing, employee-owned grocery store chain that’s prominent in the Northwest. They have large sections of ethnic foods, and many products are cross-labeled in Spanish, as was this one. You can’t really see the price in the picture, but it was $4/lb. Eureka!
There IS a catch. This is obviously not USDA Choice. Some people cringe at the thought of eating the lower grades. Good, Commercial, and Select beef are perfectly safe for consumption. They are not graded on the basis of safety. They are only graded on aesthetic quality, like marbling and fat content, and a few other characteristics unrelated to the health of the animal. Diseased animals will not pass inspection and never even get to the grading stage. Something else to consider. Only beef is graded. All other meats such as chicken, turkey, lamb, pork, etc. are only inspected.
If you look at the roast, you can see it is a little larger than the typical tri-tip, and leaner too. The fat is less firm than the higher grades, and the meat seems to be a little bit wetter. As you will see, however, the end result is still really good. Another feature of Sous Vide is that it cannot heal spoiled food, but it easily overcomes the challenges of toughness and lack of marbling.
Let’s Get to the Bottom of This Sirloin
You can’t just cook tri-tip like you would a steak. The cut is shaped kind of like a boomerang, so it’s best to cook it whole, let it rest thoroughly and then slice as thin as possible. As long as the flavor is good, BBQ patrons don’t seem to mind tearing at it a little bit. Restaurants use it for London Broil, which people seem to EXPECT to be just a little chewy, as long as the price is modest.
The good news, the really GREAT news, is that tri-tip benefits from Sous Vide just like any other cut of meat–especially the tougher ones. Tougher cuts have a lot of flavor packed into those hard working muscles, and tri-tip is no exception. In the Facebook Group, Bottom Sirloin / tri-tip is one of the most commonly shared items, almost always finished on the barbecue. It really is good that way. People seem inclined to treat tri-tip as a tender cut, even when they use Sous Vide to process it. I put it somewhere in the middle between tender and tough.
129Fx12+, Sear and Serve, or Shock and Refrigerate
Steaks that start tender don’t usually need more than 4 hours in the tank–even less in some cases. Cuts like Chuck and Top Round need 24 hours–or even more. I put tri-tips right there at around 12 hours. It’s a very durable cut. You can actually go even longer without going overboard. You can do a lot more than just grill them on your patio BBQ, but that’s where we’ll start.
Most Like it Hot
Once your roast comes out of the tank, you have the option of finishing and serving, or shocking and preserving. Assuming you want to satisfy your appetite ASAP, try this:
- Take advantage of the popularity and availability of smoked paprika.
- Combine an equal volume of the colorful powder to a simple mix of 7 parts salt to one part pepper.
- Apply approximately 1 Tablespoon of the rub per pound. This provides the desired hue, with a spicy but not overly salty kick.
- Sear @500F in a pan, on a grill or whatever suits you. Some people just use a torch.
- If you want to retherm and serve the next day, or the next day, or the next day, shock and refrigerate.
- When you’re ready to serve, remove from the bag, save the Sous Jus™ and apply your rub.
- Treat it as if it were raw. It takes about the same time as if it were.
- As long as your meat starts @40F, your results will be favorable. Some cooks like to bring meat to room temperature before finishing. For both safety and aesthetic reasons, I don’t recommend this.
- If someone in your gathering (or you) prefers a more well done appearance, just sear or roast longer. There’s no need to do multiple batches at different temps. Ah, the beauty of Sous Vide!
So Many Tri-tips, so Little Time
- After searing, give the steak a couple of minutes for the center to achieve the same temperature as the surface. It doesn’t need much, just enough to make it easier to handle.
- Slice as thin or as thick as you like. It’s going to be tender, no matter what.
I haven’t figured out how to make Chinese-style fried rice via Sous Vide, but I’m working on it. Try this:
- Stir fry some bean sprouts, water chestnuts, peppers, carrots, toss with some steamed rice and sprinkle with Soy Sauce, or
- Order some vegetable fried rice from your local Chinese eatery, and lay your tri-tip on top. There’s no shame in that!
- After searing, you can just cut a thicker piece, and give the same visual effect as a sliced tenderloin, at 1/3 the price.
- Go one step further, and you actually get the effect of a pan seared filet. As dark as this looks, it can still be rare inside.
- A couple more minutes in the pan, and you can satisfy the most squeamish of those who prefer their steaks well done.
It’s Cool to Keep Things Cool
- Even though the tri-tip is pasteurized, it can still be served Carpaccio style. The color is that well preserved. Radishes, Kalamatas, capers, a little EVOO, ground pepper, grissini, shaved Reggiano, just like downtown, only safer.
- This variant of a Club sandwich replaces turkey with tri-tip, and some non-sous vide waffle chips.
Look for upcoming posts explaining these presentations in detail. Unleash your creativity, amaze your guests, and save money, all at the same time. What’s not to love?