What is Tri Tip?

Acabonac Farms |

The tri tip, a triangular cut of beef taken from the sirloin, has emerged as a fan-favorite among grillmasters and home cooks alike for its rich flavor, tenderness, and versatility. It’s considered a regional steak due to its popularity and prevalence on the west coast, but has quickly become a staple of American barbecue. 

In this article, we will explore everything to know about this cut, from what it is to how to trim it, and explain why choosing 100% grass-fed tri-tip from reputable local farms like Acabonac Farms ensures the absolute best flavors and results in your recipes.

Tri Tip Steak cut

Key Takeaways

  • Tri tip is a versatile and flavorful cut from the bottom sirloin, known for its Californian barbecue origins.
  • Its rich taste, tenderness, and relatively quick cooking time make for a conveniently delicious option that is growing in popularity.
  • Grilling, roasting, and smoking are the best methods to bring out tri tip’s flavor and texture.

What is Tri Tip?

The shape of the cut is what gives this popular tip steak its name. It’s usually a triangular piece of beef (but can be rectangular) taken from the lower part of the sirloin and sits right beside the intersection of the round and flank. Positioned towards the rear of the animal, the tri tip is lean and boneless, but still manages to retain a high level of tenderness and a flavor absolutely unique and perfect for grilling. You can only get two tri-tips from a cow, making it a sought after cut of steak that you should get your hands on - especially if you can find 100% grass-fed pastured tri tips

This steak rose to prominence in California in the 1950’s, becoming a cornerstone of Santa Maria-style barbecues, a distinct cooking style from California's central coast featuring open-flame grilling alongside salsa, beans, and garlic bread. This explains why tri tip remains most popular and prevalent in the western US. Just how strong is its connection to the region? You’ll sometimes find tri tips referred to as "Santa Maria steak", "Newport steak", or even “California steak.”

What is Tri Tip

Why Tri Tip is Becoming So Popular

Tri tip was an under-utilized cut until the 50’s and 60’s, largely flying under the radar as a west coast exclusive for years. Today however, the steak is quickly rising in popularity countrywide due to its exceptional versatility. It's equally suitable for grilling, roasting, and smoking, and this adaptability makes it a go-to choice among those who don’t want to be pigeonholed into a single technique. The flavor profile of tri tip also contributes to its appeal, offering a rare balance between heart-healthy leanness, and a deep meaty taste and tender texture.

Additionally, it is increasingly recognized for its affordability and growing availability. Compared to traditionally preferred cuts like ribeye, tri tip offers a cost-effective alternative that doesn't sacrifice quality or flavor. 

How to Select the Perfect Tri Tip Steak

When choosing your tri-tip, there are some key factors to consider to ensure you're getting the best quality for your recipes. 

  • Good Marbling: Look for an even distribution of the small streaks of fat throughout the meat - it's crucial for flavor and tenderness. 
  • The Right Color: The steak should be a vibrant red, indicating freshness. 
  • Cut Size: Allocate about half a pound of tri tip per person. Typically one to two pounds is ideal for feeding around four people.

Pro tip: It's important to buy your meat from reputable butchers or local farms if you're looking for that deep flavor and tenderness responsible for tri-tip’s fame. In fact, the best way to be disappointed by tri-tip is by purchasing it from grocery stores. Why? Unfortunately, grain-fed beef cuts from grocery stores are produced with only efficiency in mind - leaving flavor by the wayside. Grain fed beef is raised on a one-note diet meant only to grow calves to slaughter size as quickly as possible. This has a very real effect on flavor. 

Local sources like Acabonac Farms grow their cattle on a varied diet that comes directly from the grassy pastures they are raised on. This results in a richer and more complex flavor than anything you’ll find on the shelf. Whether it’s tri tip or other grass-fed steaks, you’ll get fresher meat, higher in key nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, without any added hormones, fillers, or antibiotics ever. It's the most healthy, humane, and delicious way to enjoy tri tip. 

Tri Tip Beef marbling

How to Trim Tri Tip

Trimming is essential for even, optimal cooking - otherwise you can end up with chewy pieces of meat. Here’s how to do it effectively:

  1. Start with the Right Tools: Use a sharp boning or filet knife for clean cuts.
  2. Remove the Fat Cap: Tri tip typically comes with a layer of fat on one side, known as the fat cap. While some fat is desirable for flavor and moisture, too much can be overwhelming and unevenly cooked. Carefully slide your knife under the fat and trim off the excess. Aim to leave about a quarter-inch of fat to help keep the meat moist during cooking.
  3. Trim the Silver Skin: Locate the silvery membrane on the meat, often found on the side opposite the fat cap. This tissue does not render down during cooking and can be tough. Slide your knife under the silver skin, and gently pull it up with one hand while you cut it away. Keep the knife angled away from the meat to avoid cutting too deeply into the muscle.
  4. Shape the Meat: If there are any uneven or loose pieces of meat, trim these off to ensure even cooking. Tri tip can sometimes have ragged edges, which could burn or cook faster than the thicker center.

How to Cook Tri Tip

The great thing about tri-tip is that it’s versatile. There are many ways you can go about preparing it, but here are the essential tried and true methods of cooking it perfectly:

Preparation: Start by trimming the tri tip as previously described to remove excess fat and silver skin. Marinating the tri tip can add flavor and tenderness. A reliable tri tip marinade includes olive oil, garlic, herbs, and a splash of vinegar or lemon juice. Let it marinate in the fridge for at least a few hours, or overnight for even better results.

Seasoning: Before cooking, pat the meat dry and season generously. Common seasonings for this steak include salt, pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika. For a more Californian touch, use a rub combining these spices with dried herbs like rosemary and thyme.

Cooking Methods:

  • Grilling: Preheat your grill to high heat. Sear the tri tip on all sides to develop a crust, then lower the heat to medium or move the meat to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking. Cover the grill to keep the heat in.
  • Roasting: Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Place the seasoned tri tip on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast in the oven until it reaches your desired doneness.
  • Smoking: Set up your smoker to maintain a temperature of about 225°F (107°C). Smoke the tri tip until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F for medium-rare, which typically takes about 90 minutes.
  • Monitoring Temperature: The key to perfect doneness is monitoring the internal temperature. Aim for 135°F (57°C) for medium-rare or 145°F (63°C) for medium. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature in the thickest part of the steak.

Resting the Meat: After cooking, let the tri tip rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring it is juicy and tender when cut.

“Santa Maria” Style Sides: Complement your meat with traditional sides that echo the original Californian preparation of tri tip like pinquito beans, garlic bread, and a fresh, zesty Santa Maria salsa.

How to Slice a Tri-Tip

Since tri tip is a relatively lean cut, slicing it correctly is just as important as your cooking method if you are looking for maximum tenderness. Here's how to do it:

Understanding the Grain: The direction the muscle fibers run is the 'grain' of the meat. Tri-tip is unique because the grain can change direction partway through the cut. Paying attention to this will guide your slicing. Whenever you cut tri tip, make sure to slice against the grain so that each piece is tender and breaks apart more easily in the mouth. 

Rest the Meat Before Slicing: Always let your tri-tip rest for about 5 minutes after cooking. This pause allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring it remains juicy and tender when sliced. If you cut the steak too early, the flavorful juices will simply pour out all over the plate - you don’t want that.

Steps to Slice Tri-Tip Like a Pro:

  1. Locate the Grain: Look at the cooked tri-tip and note where the grain changes direction.
  2. Start Slicing: Begin slicing against the grain. That means your knife should cut through the fibers, not alongside them. This method breaks up the muscle fibers, making each slice easier to chew.
  3. Adjust as Needed: When you reach the point where the grain changes, rotate the meat to continue slicing against the grain for the rest of the cut.

Where to Buy Grass-Fed Tri Tip Steak Online

Ti-tip steak is known for its rich flavor - particularly from pastured grass-fed sources. Acabonac Farms offers a premier grass-fed tri tip that combines quality, taste, and sustainability. Choosing grass-fed beef from Acabonac Farms ensures you're getting a nutritious product with a deep flavor while supporting sustainable farming practices that benefit the environment.

Cattle from Acabonac Farms are raised without hormones or antibiotics and graze their entire lives on natural wild pastures. This varied diet contributes to the beef's richer flavor profile and higher lean protein content. While being lean, the tri tip steaks from Acabonac Farms are known for their tenderness and distinct, robust taste, making them a superior choice for your next barbecue or family meal.

Grass-fed tri tip steak

Frequently Asked Questions about Tri Tip Steak

What is the difference between tri tip and other beef cuts like brisket or ribeye?

Tri tip comes from the bottom sirloin section of the cow, making it leaner than ribeye, which is from the rib section and typically more marbled and fatty. Unlike brisket, which requires long, slow cooking to break down the collagen, tri tip is more tender and cooks quickly, making it suitable for a variety of faster cooking methods.

Can tri tip be cooked from frozen?

We don’t recommend it. For the best results, thaw it first in the refrigerator. Cooking from frozen can lead to uneven cooking, where the outside might be overdone before the inside is cooked through. 

Is tri tip suitable for high-heat cooking methods?

Yes, tri tip is excellent for high-heat cooking methods such as grilling and broiling. Its robust texture stands up well to the intense heat, which creates a delicious crust while keeping the inside tender and juicy.

Is tri tip steak a good cut?

Absolutely, tri tip steak is a fantastic cut due to its rich flavor, versatility, and relatively quick cooking time compared to other cuts. It offers a great balance of texture and taste, making it a favorite among beef enthusiasts.

Is tri tip steak expensive?

Tri tip steak is generally more affordable than premium cuts like ribeye and filet mignon. Its cost-effectiveness makes it a popular choice.

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.