A Moistness Trifecta for Tri-Tip
Tri-tip has has everything a steak lover could want: a robust, beefy flavor, natural tenderness and a low price – it goes for about $5 per pound year-round. In fact, you really don't have to do much to keep tri-tip moist except not overcook it; any cut of meat, even tenderloin and ground beef, dries out when cooked past medium. You can, however, improve on tri-tip's natural moistness with an ingredient you already have in your pantry: salt.
How Dry-Brining Works
Salt can dessicate or increase the intracellular moisture in meat; it's all about the timing. For preservation, you need long-term salting, as in months; for seasoning, you want short-term salting, as in 4 to 5 minutes. For increased intracellular moisture, or "juiciness," you need to get the meat to the optimal point when as much moisture as possible diffuses into the protein fibers, which typically occurs between 12 and 24 hours after salting.
During dry-brining, salt first draws, or diffuses, the moisture in the protein fibers outward, where it forms beads on the steak. The moisture then mixes with the salt to form a brine-like liquid, which diffuses back into the protein fibers, deeper than before.
When you cook a steak just after seasoning it, the salt used to season the steak draws moisture to the surface where it promptly sizzles away to allow for browning. When you wait 12 to 24 hours after salting, however, the surface has already dried, so it browns almost on contact, while more moisture stays deep inside the fibers – but again, only if you don't overcook the steak.
Total time: 12 hours, 30 minutes | Prep time: 15 minutes | Serves: 4 to 6
- 1 2- to 2 1/2-pound tri-tip steak
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Season the tri-tip liberally all over with kosher salt. Set the tri-tip on a wire rack set on top of a plate or tray in the refrigerator.
- Let the meat dry-brine for 12 to 24 hours.
- Heat the oven to 350F. Take the tri-tip out of the fridge, and let it sit at room temperature while the oven heats. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable in an oven-proof skillet over high heat on the stove.
- Season the tri-tip with freshly ground black pepper, and place it fat side down in the pan. Sear the tri-tip for 4 minutes and turn it over. Place the skillet in the oven.
- Roast the tri-tip for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 125F (medium rare) or 130F (medium).
- Take the tri-tip out and transfer it to a plate or cutting board. Cover the tri-tip loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for 10 minutes; the 10-minute rest period before slicing is crucial for maximum moisture retention.
- Slice the tri-tip across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Use a long, non-serrated knife (such as a chef's knife) for slicing.
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A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.