Tri-Tip and Pressure Cooker Cheesecake

Cook Dates: July 7 & 13, 2019

I’m going through my standard grilling and barbecue recipes to see how they work on my new Mak 2 Star pellet cooker. I’ve worked my way up to Santa Maria Tri-Tip; one of my favorite cuts of beef.

We invited our friends, the McD’s, over so I wanted to do something special. I’ve been talking about it ad nauseam for two years so I decided to make a cheesecake in my pressure cooker. That’s right! The cheesecake needs to be cooked the day before and chilled overnight so let’s start there.

Many of the recipes I read were basically cream cheese, sugar and eggs. I wanted something with a bit more complex flavor – maybe a bit of tang. So, I followed a DadCooksDinner recipe. This recipe adds 1/4 cup sour cream for that extra flavor. I didn’t use the strawberry topping he used – but more on that later. After reading a few of Mike Vrobel’s later blog posts I added two teaspoons of corn starch to keep the eggs from curdling.

All across the web it was driven home that for best results the cream cheese and eggs need to be at room temperature. So, I put them out on the counter for them to rest for an hour.

I was going to use a mixer for the filling and I didn’t want to dirty up the food processor as well, so – following his technique – I crushed 6 graham crackers in a 1 gallon plastic bag. I varied from Mike’s recipe by using 6 graham crackers and 3 tablespoons of melted butter instead of short break cookies.

Crushing graham crackers for the cheesecake crust.

Over a year ago I bought a 7-inch springform pan and a silicone sling; it finally got used. Forgetting to spray some vegetable oil in the pan to prevent sticking, I pressed the crust into the pan and pushed it up a bit higher on the sides.

Cheesecake crust

Time to get everything together: cream cheese, lemon zest, corn starch, eggs, vanilla extract, and sour cream.

Cheesecake filling ingredients.

I got busy mixing the ingredients in the right order so I didn’t grab pictures. You’ll need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times. Before adding the eggs I tasted it and it was just like cream cheese frosting – no surprise.

I carefully poured the filling into the pan on top of the crust. I should have worked a bit more to get the top smooth.

Cheesecake batter ready for pressure cooking.

After putting 2 cups of water in the bottom of the InstantPot, I lowered the cheese cake in its sling, sealed it and cooked it for 20 minutes with a 20 minute pressure release. I slid a small paring knife – dull side forward – around the pan to loosen it.

Cooked – but not finished – cheesecake.

After it cooled a bit more I put it in the refrigerator and contemplated the topping. Fresh blueberries are filling the produce aisles of our local stores this time of year, but I wanted to make a conversation piece. Dulce de Leche it is. Again, following Mike Vrobel’s lead, I used a can of sweetened condensed milk.

Dulce de Leche ingredient – REMOVE THE LID IF YOU MAKE THIS

This can of Borden’s milk brings back memories. We didn’t have Borden brand where we lived – or maybe my mom just didn’t buy it. But my Grandma had it, so it reminded me of fun times at my grandparents house when I was a kid.

If you make this recipe, REMOVE THE LID BEFORE COOKING! I pulled off the pull tab lid, stripped the paper off the can, covered tightly with aluminum foil and cooked it for 40 minutes in the pressure cooker with 2 cups of water. Wait for the natural pressure release and there you have it: Dulce de Leche – a beautiful milk caramel topping.

Dulce de Leche from Sweetened Condensed Milk

The next morning I removed the springform side of the pan and held my breath. I couldn’t figure out a way to make a taste test without prematurely cutting out a slice, so I just trusted the process.

Pressure Cooker Cheese Cake.

The crust isn’t as thick as it looks here; it is pushed up on the sides pretty far.

We didn’t really eat dessert first, but let’s proceed thematically. Dianne McD is a master baker so I asked for her help drizzling the Dulce de Leche over of each piece. Dessert is served.

I held my breath and took my first bite – it was delicious! The sour cream added just the right amount of tang and the lemon zest brightened it up without being over powering. If you make this, used the DadCooksDinner recipe and follow his directions closely – make sure the cream cheese is room temperature when you start and don’t over beat the eggs.

We also had Tri-Tip. I’ve written about this so much I’ll keep it short(-ish). I did have a problem adjusting to my new grill. With gas grills I crank all the burners to high, scrape the grates, then reduce the heat wait a few minutes and cook the meat. The Mak grill is well insulated by that thick stainless steel so it didn’t want to come back down to a reasonable cooking temperature – 230° to 250°. So I opened the lid for a while. Well, the thermocouple is in the back corner so by the time it got down to the target temperature, the front part of the grill – where I’d be cooking – apparently got too cool. So, it took an hour longer to cook than usual. I learned from my mistake and tried again the following weekend with better temperature control. I’ll be using pictures of both cooks.

If you aren’t familiar with Tri-Tip you are probably a vegetarian, or haven’t lived in the western U.S. or both. I guess butchers in other parts of the country cut it up differently. My recipe can be found here: Tri-Tip with Santa Maria rub. That recipe is for a gas grill – but it can be easily adapted to charcoal or pellet.

Pay attention to the grain of the meat; you’ll see it runs in opposite directions on the two sides. When carving, cut in half from the hypotenuse (long edge) to the right angle. Then slice each half into thin slices against the grain. If you don’t you’ll have some tough meat and wonder why I like this dish so much.

I applied a liberal dusting of Santa Maria rub: granulated garlic, onion powder salt, black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne pepper.

I used the reverse sear sear method. Set up the grill for 2 zone cooking. Start the roast on the indirect of a grill. Flip at the 15 and 30 minute marks and spray with a mixture of garlic olive oil and red wine vinegar. Then flip and baste every 5 to 10 minutes until the internal temperature is about 125°. Finally, move the meat to the hot side of the grill to get the outside nice and crusty, taking it off the heat when the internal temperature is about 5° to 10° shy of your desired level of doneness. Follow USDA guidelines for doneness temperatures.

Searing the Tri-Tip with corn on the front side. (Picture from 2nd cook)

I got a little anxious toward the end and cranked the temp a bit too much at the end. It was good, but a bit more medium than medium-rare.

Dinner is served: Tri-Tip with corn on the cob and a side of beans.

Look closely and you can see the red smoke ring around the outside. For authentic Santa Maria Tri-Tip, cook with oak pellets or wood chunks.

I had much better results the following weekend with a better controlled grill temperature. I cooked at 235° for about an hour. I think next time I’ll cook with the grill at 250°. I put it in the warmer when the internal temp got to 125°, then cranked the grill temp up to finish.

Tri-Tip and corn on the cob – take 2.

For the second take I removed the corn from the foil and grilled directly for a few minutes. It looks prettier – to me – but uncharred was a bit tastier according to the judges.

Dinner is served (Second cook)

Medium rare Tri-Tip with corn on the cob and Olive Ciabatta Bread

And for good measure a close up shot.

Medium rare Tri-Tip with corn on the cob and Olive Ciabatta Bread

2 thoughts on “Tri-Tip and Pressure Cooker Cheesecake

  1. Such a delicious “birthday” dinner! Thanks again. Now I want an Instant Pot if only to make cheesecake and the caramel topping.

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