Sous Vide Tri Tip Recipe

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A sous vide bath is the ideal method of cooking trip tip to tenderize what is generally a firmer cut of meat. What exactly is tri tip? Tri tip is a relatively small triangular cut of beef from the hip area of the cow in the bottom sirloin.

This cut of beef is well balanced as it tends to be lightly marbled yet very flavorful since it’s one of the muscles that are being used more often by the animal. The precise low and slow cooking that only the sous vide method allows produces results exactly to your liking.

This sous vide tri tip recipe amps up the cook time to tenderize the meat. Finish options are grilled over oak for a traditional method or over a skillet for ease.

tri tip steak recipe

Trimming Notes

An untrimmed tri tip will weigh roughly 5 lbs. vs a trimmed tri tip of 2-3 lbs. If your cut comes with the full fat cap on, you should obviously trim it substantially.

In the case your tri tip has been butcher trimmed, use your discretion based on how much further to take it based on how much fat is left. Given the tri tip is generally leaner, we prefer not to trim all of the fat off.

trimming tri tip

That said, we would remove any pieces of hard white fat and remove any silver skin if visible. No need to fret over a perfect trim.

Sous Vide Immersion Prep

The basic premise of sous vide cooking utilizes an air tight bag submerged in water to cook at low temperatures for longer periods of time. This type of water immersion technique cooking method requires that sous vide foods are put into watertight tight sealed bags, devoid of as much air as possible.

There are two common practices to bag foods appropriately to cook sous vide: using a vacuum sealer or the displacement method.

A vacuum sealer is the optimal method to ensure all air is removed from the bag with a tight seal. You can find the right vacuum sealer for you here.

The displacement method is an effective and convenient method that can be used with Ziploc or silicone bags. After filling the bag with the appropriate food contents, you lower the bag into the water to displace the air out of the bag and seal on the follow.

Either method can be used for this recipe.

Sous Vide Time and Temperature

Our preferred time and temperature for tri-tip is 130°F (54°C) for 4 hours. This leads to a tender tri tip with a rosy pink medium-rare finish that maintains a firmer steak consistency. You can extend the time several hours for a more melt in your mouth consistency we associate more so with roasts. See reference guide below to adjust the time and temperature to your liking.

cutting tri tip steak

Sous Vide Tri-Tip Quick Reference Guide

Keep in mind the sear will raise the internal temperature ~3°F.

For a steak like finish, as we’ve suggested above:

Target DonenessTemp RangeTiming (Hours)
Very rare to rare +120°F (49°C) to 129°F (54°C)2.5
Medium-rare130°F (54°C) to 135°F (57°C)3 – 4
Medium136°F (57°C) to 142°F (61°C)3 – 4
Medium-well143°F (61°C) to 155°F (68°C)3.5
Well done156°F (69°C) +3

For a roast like finish:

Target DonenessTemperature RangeTiming (Hours)
Very rare to rare +120°F (49°C) to 129°F (54°C)8
Medium-rare130°F (54°C) to 135°F (57°C)10 – 12
Medium136°F (57°C) to 142°F (61°C)10 – 12
Medium-well143°F (61°C) to 155°F (68°C)11
Well done156°F (69°C) +10

Sear to Finish

Searing is critical to having your steak be plate ready. Not only does the searing process add color to the dish, but also adds depth of flavor, texture and locks in juices.

The critical steps to get a great crust are:

  1. Dry the meat thoroughly by patting with a paper towel
  2. Season the meat generously with seasoning such as salt and pepper
  3. Use extremely high heat
searing a tri tip steak

The first step is easy to forget but crucial. Failure to pat the meat dry inhibits the Maillard reaction needed to create a crust. Seasoning the meat adds flavor and induces the crust. Lastly, using extremely high heat creates the crust.

The three methods we would suggest for the high temperature sear are:

  • Pan searing, preferably using cast iron
  • Grilling, preferably over oak for a traditional Santa Maria tri-tip finish (further discussed below)
  • Using a searing torch

You’ll want to sear for 1 to 2 minutes per side. The less time taken to reach your desired crust, the better. If pan searing, we prefer ghee (clarified butter) or a high smoke point oil such as avocado oil, but regular butter will do. Limiting to the sear to 2 minutes per side should prevent the steak from overcooking.

It requires marginally more work, but searing the steak for 30 seconds to a minute per side, 2 (or more) times each can add more color and texture and further prevent overcooking.

In the searing stage we’re doing our best to preserve the perfectly even doneness of the sous vide meat, while adding color, texture and taste to further its appeal.

Carving

Carving a tri tip is trickier than standard cuts of beef because the grain changes direction. Its important to take a moment to study the the grain pattern to carve against it.

These labels are a bit dubious, but I would describe the grain pattern on a tri tip as starting from the outer corner (the ~90° angled corner – if the tri tip were an arm, this would be your elbow) and fanning out from there to the two points.

Cut against the grain to create a tender bite. Cutting with the grain will create extra chew. I prefer roughly a quarter inch thick slices on a tri tip steak. Further guidance on how to cut against the grain is as follows.

cutting a tri tip steak

Start at the pointiest end (again, if the tri tip were an arm, this would be the hand side) and slice until you reach the inner corner (not the aforementioned elbow corner, but the one opposite where your bicep and forearm would meet).

Once you’ve reached the inner corner, rotate the tri tip ~45° as the grain changes direction here.

Carving in this manner should maximize the tenderness by minimizing the chew.

Kitchen Equipment Needed

If you’re new to sous vide, we have a great post on sous vide starter kits to get you going equipment wise. Below we summarize the essentials.

Sous Vide Machine

This is the one piece of equipment that is critical to purchase to cook sous vide. It’s a portable machine that clamps onto a container to circulate, heat and regulate the the water bath to the desired temperature.

Immersion circulators include the Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker series and the Breville Joule Sous Vide Cooker. For a more complete comparison of sous vide cookers see our review of the 10 best sous vide machines.

Sous Vide Container

You don’t technically need a separate container and can use any metal pot at home, but I prefer a sous vide container. They’re lightweight, transparent and designed with sous vide cooking in mind.

We’ve reviewed the best sous vide containers to help you find one that best meets your needs.

Vacuum Sealer

If you’re serious about sous vide, a vacuum sealer deserves serious consideration. A vacuum sealer will eliminate the vast majority of bag issues that can cause your sous vide cook to go wayward.

Bonus, it will benefit you well beyond sous vide and likely pay for itself in short order. Check out our research on the best sous vide vacuum sealers.

Cast Iron Skillet

Not really unconventional, but if a cast iron skillet isn’t a part of your kitchen arsenal, it should be for sous vide. The heat retention of cast iron will go along way in pan searing, which is the most common and versatile form of searing sous vide cooked food.

Lodge makes a great and affordable cast iron skillet. I’d go with an oversized searing skillet to accommodate larger cuts of meat, but a standard size searing skillet will do just fine in most cases.

tri tip steak

Sous Vide Tri-Tip Recipe

Sous vide is great for tenderizing the long muscle fibers of tri-tip. This sous vide tri tip steak recipe calls for cooking the tri-tip for a handful of hours at a low temperature.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 8 mins
Inactive Sous Vide Time 4 hrs
Total Time 4 hrs 13 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people

Equipment

  • Sous Vide Cooker
  • Sous Vide Container
  • Vacuum Sealer optional
  • Vacuum Seal Bags or Ziplock like bags
  • Skillet or grill

Ingredients
  

  • 2-3 lbs beef tri tip (~1kg)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 4-5 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp ghee (or butter) for a skillet finish or extra virgin olive oil for a grill finish

Instructions
 

  • Set the sous vide machine to 54°C / 130°F to preheat the water.
  • Season the tri tip generously with salt, pepper, garlic and thyme sprigs.
  • Add 4 tbsp butter to the tri tip steak inside the bag and seal the sous vide bag.
  • Put the bag in the sous vide container and let it cook for 4 hours.
  • When the tri tip is ready, take it out of the vacuum sealed bag. Pat dry the tri tip.
  • Put the pan on high heat and sear the tri tip on all sides with ghee, 1 to 2 minutes per side including edges (5-8 minutes total). Alternatively, for a more authentic Santa Maria style finish, sear the steak with olive oil over oak on a charcoal grill.
  • When ready to eat, finish with salt, slice the tri tip steak against the grain and enjoy!
Keyword Beef, Sous Vide, Steak, Tri-Tip

Beverage Pairing

Like most steak, we’d recommend red wine as a perfect beverage pairing for this meal. Note, the beef is lean enough to be paired with a heavier Pinot Noir, not just the traditional big reds like Sangiovese or Cabernets.

Additional Tri-Tip Information

Other Names for Tri-Tip

Tri-tip is more common on the west coast of the U.S. as it was popularized there (more on this below). In other parts of the country, the cut is also known as bottom sirloin butt or triangle roast. Santa Maria steak, Newport steak, and California cut can also be used to name the cut.

With so many ways to refer to the cut, you may need to refer your butcher to this page and say your looking for the top triangular shaped portion of the bottom sirloin pictured in top left hand corner of the page (not the ball or the flap portion).

Tri-tip is also referred to as a poor man’s brisket, given the flavor profile is quite similar. Unlike a brisket, the tri-tip is relatively small at roughly 5 lbs. untrimmed, making it a much quicker cook than brisket. Note, brisket comes from the front of the animal below the chuck whereas tri-tip is a steak from the rear.

Origin Story of Tri Tip

Up until the 1950s, tri-tip was generally ground up along with other cuts into hamburger meat. At the Santa Maria Market, butcher Bob Schutz is credited for originating the cut by preparing the steak rotisserie made, which was well received. He thought of the idea after having an excess of hamburger meat.

The cut soon became a favorite of ranchers in the area, who would prepare a regional marinade and cook the steak over coals of the native coast live oak wood, also known as red oak.

Tri Tip Sous Vide FAQs

How do you sous vide tri-tip?

Using an immersion circulator for four hours at 54°C / 130°F degrees temp is ideal, followed by a 5-8 minute sear.

Is tri-tip good for sous vide?

YES. Sous vide is ideal to tenderize this mildly tough cut of meat. We’d prefer to finish the steaks over oak to add traditional flavor.

How long should you sous vide tri-tip?

4 hours is ideal for traditional steak consistency, though 3 will suffice.

How long is too long to sous vide tri-tip?

The longer time you sous vide, the more the meat will break down. We’re going for a traditional steak like consistency at 3-4 hours. Ten to twelve hours will get you to more of a tri tip roast consistency. Data says you can go as long as 24 hours before the meat starts to fall apart.

Other Sous Vide Cooking Recipes

Check out other sous vide recipes to help make tasty food for family and friends:

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