Tri-Tip Steak

What is Tri-Tip? The Ultimate Guide to This California Classic Cut of Beef

Tri-Tip: The Ultimate Guide to This California Cut of Beef

Tri-tip is a triangular cut of beef from the bottom sirloin, which is known for its rich flavor and tenderness. It is a popular choice for grilling, roasting, and smoking, and it can also be sliced thinly for sandwiches, salads, and tacos.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about tri-tip, including its history, how to choose, season, and cook it, and some delicious recipes to try.

Key Takeaways

| What is tri-tip? | A triangular cut of beef from the bottom sirloin, weighing around 5 pounds. |

| Where does it come from? | It originated in California, where it is also called Santa Maria steak or California cut. |

| How to cook it? | It can be grilled, roasted, smoked, braised, or poached. It is best cooked to medium-rare or medium doneness and sliced across the grain. |

| How to season it? | It can be seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, and other herbs and spices. Some popular seasonings are Santa Maria seasoning, chimichurri sauce, and barbecue rub. |

The History of Tri-Tip

Tri-tip is a relatively new cut of beef that was first popularized in California in the 1950s. Before that, it was either ground for hamburger or used for stew meat.

The name “tri-tip” comes from its triangular shape and the fact that it is the tip of the bottom sirloin.

According to various sources, the first person to cook tri-tip as a distinct cut of beef was either Bob Schutz, a Safeway store manager in Santa Maria1, Otto Schaefer Sr., a butcher in Oakland2, or Jack Ubaldi, a butcher and restaurateur in New York3. Whoever it was, they discovered that this cut of beef had a lot of flavor and could be cooked quickly on a grill or a rotisserie.

Since then, tri-tip has become a staple of California cuisine, especially in the Central Coast region. It is often served with pinto beans, salsa, bread, and salad as part of the Santa Maria-style barbecue tradition4.

Tri-tip has also spread to other parts of the country and the world, where it is enjoyed for its versatility and affordability.

How to Choose Tri-Tip

When buying tri-tip, look for a piece that has some marbling (fat streaks) throughout the meat. This will ensure that the meat is juicy and flavorful. Avoid cuts that are too lean or too fatty. A good tri-tip should weigh around 5 pounds and have a thin layer of fat on one side.

You can buy tri-tip either with or without the bones. The bones add some extra flavor and help keep the meat moist during cooking, but they also make carving more difficult. If you buy a boneless tri-tip, make sure it is tied with butcher’s twine to keep its shape.

You can also buy tri-tip that is already seasoned or marinated by the butcher or the supermarket. This can save you some time and hassle, but you may not have control over the ingredients or the quality of the seasoning. If you prefer to season your own tri-tip, you can buy it plain or ask the butcher to trim off any excess fat or silver skin.

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How to Season Tri-Tip

One of the best things about tri-tip is that it does not need a lot of seasoning to bring out its natural flavor. A simple rub of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder can do wonders for this cut of beef. You can also add some dried herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, or sage for some extra aroma and taste.

If you want to spice things up a bit, you can use some barbecue rubs or sauces that complement the beefy flavor of tri-tip. Some popular choices are:

  • Santa Maria seasoning: A blend of granulated garlic, salt, black pepper, and sometimes brown sugar or other spices. This is the traditional seasoning for tri-tip in California.
  • Chimichurri sauce: A green sauce made with parsley, cilantro, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. This is a common condiment for grilled meats in Argentina and Uruguay.
  • Barbecue sauce: A sauce made with tomato paste or ketchup, vinegar, sugar or molasses, spices like paprika, cumin, mustard powder, and sometimes liquid smoke. This is a classic sauce for smoked meats in the United States.

You can apply the seasoning or sauce before cooking or after cooking depending on your preference. Some people like to marinate their tri-tip overnight in a ziplock bag with their favorite sauce or rub. Others like to sprinkle some seasoning on both sides of the meat right before cooking. And others like to baste their tri-tip with sauce during or after cooking.

Whatever you choose, make sure to let the meat rest for at least 10 minutes after cooking before slicing. This will allow the juices to redistribute and keep the meat moist and tender.

How to Cook Tri-Tip

There are many ways to cook tri-tip, but the most common ones are grilling, roasting, and smoking. Here are some tips and tricks for each method:

Grilling Tri-Tip

Grilling is a fast and easy way to cook tri-tip, especially if you have a gas or charcoal grill. You can grill tri-tip over direct or indirect heat, depending on the size and thickness of the meat and how you like it done.

Direct heat means placing the meat directly over the hot coals or burners. This creates a nice sear and crust on the outside of the meat, but it can also dry out or burn the meat if you are not careful. Indirect heat means placing the meat away from the heat source or on a cooler part of the grill. This cooks the meat more slowly and evenly, but it does not create as much browning or flavor on the outside.

A good compromise is to use both direct and indirect heat. You can start by searing the meat over high heat for a few minutes on each side, then move it to a cooler part of the grill and cover it with a lid or foil. This way, you get the best of both worlds: a crispy crust and a juicy center.

To grill tri-tip, follow these steps:

  1. Preheat your grill to high heat (about 450°F or 232°C) and oil the grates.
  2. Season your tri-tip steak with your favorite rub or sauce.
  3. Place the tri-tip on the hottest part of the grill and sear for about 4 minutes per side, or until well browned.
  4. Move the tri-tip to a cooler part of the grill and lower the heat to medium-low (about 325°F or 163°C).
  5. Cover the grill with a lid or foil and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 125°F (52°C) for rare, 130°F (54°C) for medium-rare, or 140°F (60°C) for medium.
  6. Transfer the tri-tip to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Slice thinly across the grain and serve with more sauce if desired.

Roasting Tri-Tip

Roasting is another simple and convenient way to cook tri-tip, especially if you don’t have a grill or you want to cook it in the oven. You can roast tri-tip in a baking dish, a roasting pan, or even on a baking sheet lined with foil.

To roast tri-tip, follow these steps:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425°F (218°C) and lightly grease your baking dish or pan.
  2. Season your tri-tip with your favorite rub or sauce.
  3. Place the tri-tip in the baking dish or pan with the fat side up.
  4. Roast for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 125°F (52°C) for rare, 130°F (54°C) for medium-rare, or 140°F (60°C) for medium.
  5. Transfer the tri-tip to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Slice thinly across the grain and serve with more sauce if desired.

Smoking Tri-Tip

Smoking is a great way to add some extra flavor and tenderness to your tri-tip, especially if you like a smoky taste and aroma. You can smoke tri-tip in a smoker, a charcoal grill, or even an electric oven with some wood chips.

To smoke tri-tip, follow these steps:

  1. Preheat your smoker or grill to low heat (about 225°F or 107°C) and add some wood chips of your choice (such as hickory, mesquite, oak, or apple).
  2. Season your tri-tip with your favorite rub or sauce.
  3. Place the tri-tip in the smoker or grill with the fat side up.
  4. Smoke for about 2 to 3 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 125°F (52°C) for rare, 130°F (54°C) for medium-rare, or 140°F (60°C) for medium.
  5. Transfer the tri-tip to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Slice thinly across the grain and serve with more sauce if desired.
Smoked Tri-Tip

Tri-Tip Recipes

Now that you know how to choose, season, and cook tri-tip, here are some delicious recipes that you can try at home:

RecipeDescription
[Grilled Tri-Tip with Chimichurri Sauce]A classic Argentinean dish that pairs grilled tri-tip with a fresh and tangy herb sauce
[Roasted Tri-Tip with Garlic Mashed Potatoes]A hearty meal that features roasted tri-tip with creamy garlic mashed potatoes and gravy
[Smoked Tri-Tip Sandwiches]A satisfying snack that layers smoked tri-tip, cheese, and coleslaw on toasted bread
[Braised Tri-Tip with Mushrooms and Red Wine]A cozy and comforting dish that cooks tri-tip in a rich and flavorful sauce with mushrooms and red wine
[Poached Tri-Tip with Horseradish Cream]A light and elegant dish that poaches tri-tip in a fragrant broth and serves it with a creamy horseradish sauce
Tri-Tip-Sandwich

Conclusion

Tri-tip is a delicious and versatile cut of beef that can be cooked in many ways. Whether you grill it, roast it, smoke it, braise it, or poach it, you will enjoy its rich flavor and tenderness. You can also season it with different rubs or sauces to suit your taste buds. Try some of the recipes above or create your own and share your results with us. We hope you learned something new about tri-tip today and have fun cooking it at home. Bon appetit!

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Tri-Tip FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about tri-tip:

What is the difference between tri-tip and round roast?

Tri-tip and round roast are both cuts of beef from the bottom sirloin, but they are not the same. Tri-tip is a smaller and more tender cut that weighs around 5 pounds and has a triangular shape. Round roast is a larger and tougher cut that weighs around 10 pounds and has a cylindrical shape. Round roast is also called bottom round or rump roast.

How long does tri-tip last in the fridge?

Cooked tri-tip can last for 3 to 4 days in the fridge if stored in an airtight container or wrapped tightly in foil or plastic wrap. Raw tri-tip can last for 3 to 5 days in the fridge if kept in its original packaging or wrapped well in plastic wrap.

How do you reheat tri-tip?

The best way to reheat tri-tip is to use low heat and moisture to prevent it from drying out or overcooking. You can reheat tri-tip in the oven, on the stove, or in the microwave. Here are some methods:

  • Oven: Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C) and place the tri-tip in a baking dish with some broth, water, or sauce. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until heated through.

  • Stove: Cut the tri-tip into thin slices and place them in a skillet over medium-low heat with some broth, water, or sauce. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated through, turning occasionally.

  • Microwave: Cut the tri-tip into thin slices and place them in a microwave-safe dish with some broth, water, or sauce. Cover the dish with a lid or plastic wrap and microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, or until heated through, stirring once.

Is tri-tip healthy?

Tri-tip is a lean cut of beef that is high in protein and low in fat. A 3-ounce serving of cooked tri-tip has about 170 calories, 9 grams of fat (3 grams of saturated fat), and 22 grams of protein. Tri-tip also provides some iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B12, and niacin. 

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