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- Mike Stevenson
Note: the following article is an edited transcript from the video.
My local stores and butchers don't carry much tri-tip meat, so I've only cooked it a few times. I turn to sirloin steak and strip steak a lot. Unfortunately, I don't have many personal good tips for tri-tip, but I know a lot of people who love it.
It's my understanding that you want to sous vide tri-tip to a steak-like temperature. You could select 131°F (55°C) if you like a medium rare steak. Some people enjoy tri-tip just heated through for 2 or 3 hours but others like to cook it a little bit longer to tenderize it. Mike says tri-tip is one of his favorite cooks. He does 134°F (56.6°C) for 12 hours and it comes out great.
If you're not sure what to start with, you can check the meat after 2 or 3 hours. If the tri-tip seems a little bit tough then I recommend trying 6, 8 or even 12 hours to tenderize it. But if it's already tender enough for you at 3 to 4 hours, then you're all set, you wouldn't need much longer. Now you can apply your newly discovered personal preferences to the next time you decide to sous vide a tri-tip steak.
Tri-tip definitely reminds me of a strip steak or a sirloin steak; a lot depends on the quality of the meat you use. If you have a prime strip steak you can heat it through, and it will be really good. But if you have a choice or select strip steak and only heat it for 2 or 3 hours it's still going to be pretty tough. However, if you let it sous vide for 8 or 10 or 12 hours, it really tenderizes it and turns it into a much more appealing piece of meat.
A lot of people ask questions about "how long and what temperature should I cook a particular steak at?", and we give a lot of quick answers in The Exploring sous Vide Facebook Group about what works for us. Unfortunately, we often overlook the variabilities that went into our original decision process as we share this advice.
The length of time impacts the tenderness of the meat. The longer you sous vide it, the more tender it becomes. The length of time is affected by a few variables.
Especially consider the grade of the steak. If it's a prime steak, you don't have to cook it quite as long because it's already going to be more tender, more flavorful, and have more marbling in it. What works perfect for one person might not do the trick for someone else. We need to be careful giving an answer just based on "sirloin steaks", "tri-tip steaks" or "strip steaks"; they might be very different grades. In addition, depending on the country, or region you live in, the name for a cut of meat might not necessarily match the same part of the animal in another locale.
My Facebook group has an international audience, and I've talked to some who sous vided their ribeye steaks for 12 hours and it was still way too tough. Apparently, it's because of the way their cows are raised, and things like how much exercise and energy they expend grazing. The meat on these animals was really tough to start with. They had to sous vide the ribeye steaks for about 24 hours to tenderize it enough for it to be enjoyable. Where for us in America, we would just heat it through.
When it comes to time and temperature the biggest thing to remember is the temperature dictates the doneness of the meat. There are two main categories to choose from: steak-like and braise-like.
Steak-like is generally anything at 145°F (62.8°C) or below. So if you want it to come out tasting like a steak, pick the temperature that you like between 120°F (48.9°C) for really rare up to 145°F (62.8°C) for pretty much well done. Just pick the steak-like temperature that fits your preferred doneness like you would in a restaurant.
If you want your meat to be more braise-like, you also need to determine the end doneness you are aiming for. I generally go with 156°F (68.9°C) for "starts to fall apart", everything is just beginning to break down. I use 165°F (73.9°C) for really starting to break down to where you can start to shred the meat. And 176°F (80°C) is really fall apart, "fall-off-the-bone" tender; more along the lines of a traditional pot roast. I would pick one of those temperatures for braise-like and depending on the quality of the meat determine the time.
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For example, often when newer sous viders ask "how do I cook a chuck roast?", they'll get a wide variety of answers. Things like: 130°F (54.5°C) for 36 hours, all the way up to 176°F (80°C) for 12 hours. Not knowing exactly what to do, they'll try to average it out and sous vide it at 140°F (60°C) for 30 hours. They really won't like those middle of the road results.
For temperature choose the doneness you want; steak-like or braise-like. If you want a medium rare steak or if you want a pot roast, you're going to select very different temperatures.
For timing I recommend choosing how tender you want the end result to be. Meat that's tender already, like a filet, you only have to heat it through. But for something like a chuck roast or short ribs you have to sous vide it for a long time.
Above all, beware, there's a lot of variability. In general, I recommend when you're trying to figure out time and temperatures, look at what you are trying to achieve, what works best for you. Also, try to continually get meat from the same market or butcher so you'll learn how to cook that type of meat consistently. It actually makes it a lot easier than trying to pick and choose from other people's preferences for unknown grades and cuts of meat.
For more information you can read my comprehensive article on How to Sous Vide Beef. I have times and temperatures for all different cuts of meat on my website and in my books. I recommend mine because I think they're pretty good, but both Chef Steps and Serious Eats has many solid guidelines. There are a few other good recommendations out there that I respect as well.
Find the temperature you want then look at what time they recommend trying and you should end up with something that you like. This will give you a starting point to build on for future cooks and not just varying answers that may all be right but in someone else's situation!
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