Tri Tip 101

May 5, 2011

Featured as part of our ongoing “Making the Cut” video series, the tri-tip is a triangular cut of beef that comes from the tip of the sirloin (hence the name!).


Relatively inexpensive yet full of flavor, tri-tip first became popular in Santa Maria, California in the early 50s and remains one of California’s signature cuts of beef for grilling.  And while it remained relatively unknown in other parts of grilling country for decades (usually ending up as cube meat or ground beef), demand for tri-tip and changes in the way in which most beef is processed and distributed have made it increasingly more available.


So now you have your 1.5-2 pound tri-tip.  What next?  While marinades are a great way to add an extra layer of flavor to the beef (I prefer a red wine, soy sauce and garlic based marinade), the traditional Santa Marie style of preparation was little more than a salt, pepper and garlic dry rub.  In the end, you can’t go wrong with whatever you decide to do, perhaps cranking up the traditional rub with ancho chili powder, cayenne and paprika or giving it an Asian twist with a soy, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar marinade.  As with everything on the grill, feel free to play with flavors and cooking methods and make each dish your own.


Once your tri-tip has been marinated, it’s on to the grill.  Traditionally tri-tip was cooked slowly over red oak or post oak, whether roasting over the fire on a rotisserie or on a grate over indirect heat.  Personally I cook mine indirectly over a combination of charcoal and oak chunks until it is approximately 10 degrees from desired temperature (I aim for medium rare and definitely don’t cook it beyond medium as it is a relatively lean cut and will dry out), sear both sides for approximately 3-4 minutes each, remove and rest for 10 minutes before slicing.


Now when it comes to slicing tri-tip, bear in mind that you should always cut against the grain (cutting through the visible fibers of meat in the meat versus cutting alongside them which makes the slices extremely chewy).  Also, as seen in the recent “Making the Cut: Tri-Tip” video, the grain runs in a different direction on the thicker side than on the point so it’s best to separate the two sections before slicing.


When serving, you can stick to the basics and simply top with the natural juices that collected while resting, go with the traditional method of topping with a fresh salsa, or any number of complimentary steak sauces including red wine sauce, peppercorn sauce or countless others.  Again, make the recipe your own, have fun while doing it and bask in the praise once your friends and family dive in the tri-tip!

- Clint Cantwell, Guest Editor

Related Topics: Making The Cut | Tri-tip

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