From one of the toughest muscles on the cow comes tri-tip, a cut of beef that is made up of two different directions of beef fibers. You will find it in a triangular shape, with the right side being much shorter than the left. It is classed as a bottom sirloin sub primal cut. However, they can be hard to come by, as there are only two tri-tip cuts per cow.
Other characteristics include a strip of fat that normally runs from its top to its bottom. This is the point at which the different grain directions will occur. It’s a cut that is becoming increasingly popular but is one that also causes the most dilemma and confusion in how to cut it. This cut is so versatile, as it can even be used in some chili recipes, being such a lean cut.
Its popularity comes from California, where it is the primary focus of a ‘Santa Maria’-style barbecue, a regional barbecue style which is not well known outside of that area.
The meat is cooked over an open pit of either red or live oak chips, with a simple dry rub of just salt, pepper and garlic powder. It’s usually served with pinquito beans, garlic bread, macaroni salad, and other additions!
From a tri-tip roast, you can create many tri-tip steaks, once you know the correct method to do so. But once you do, you’ll get an exceptional steak that is perfect for grilling, with a deep flavor.
Cutting steaks from a whole tri-tip turns out to be much cheaper than if you were to buy them individually pre-cut. If you don’t wish to cut it into steaks, it can also make a fantastic roast for the whole family.
Characteristics of the tri-tip cut
♦ Lower in fat than other more popular cuts
♦ Very tender, with a deep, rich flavor
♦ Small, triangular shaped cut of beef
♦ Can weigh from one and a half pounds to around two and a half pounds each
♦ Best served medium rare
♦ Has two different grain directions of the beef fibers
♦ Only specialized butchers sell them
Cooked or uncooked – when to cut?
A point of confusion for many people, is if it is better to cut the beef before or after cooking. A lot of places recommend cutting after cooking to ensure ease when cutting along the given grain directions. You can prepare the beef by rubbing in salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you desire. After you have cooked it, you should let it rest for at least 15 minutes to give it time for its natural juices to relax the meat fibers.
♦ Sharpened knife and fork
♦ Cutting board with grooves (to catch the juices)
♦ Platter for serving on
You may also need a wet towel in order to prevent the cutting board from moving when you begin cutting. If you use the wrong tools, or improperly cut it, it can result in a stringy and tough steak, and nobody wants that!
It’s also recommended that you cut the meat into thinner slices, to give a more delicate and tender meat.
How to cut
1. The initial cut will be down the seam of fat that we mentioned earlier, splitting the tri tip in half.
2. Cut the first half by cutting perpendicular to the earlier seam. This is cutting against the grain.
3. Now make sure you know where the grain is coming from on the second half, and repeat the same as the first half.
4. The seam may change on the second half, so keep in mind this until about three quarters down, where you will rotate the meat.
5. Here, the direction of the grain will change, so cut according to this.
6. You should end up with several smaller steaks ready to serve up, or ready to cook – depending on when you decided to cut the steak.
An extra note to remember is to always angle your knife slightly whilst cutting, this is called cutting ‘on a bias‘.
Cooking tri tip
If you have chosen to go down the route of a roast, it is recommended to cook the meat for at least 30 to 40 minutes. But if you have decided to go for the steaks, each steak can be cooked for 8 minutes, over a low to medium heat. Make sure to not to overcook it, as it can dry out easily. Another option is to fully smoke the meat before cutting.
Cooked as a roast, this gives you the option of being able to serve the meat at different levels of ‘done’, whether your preference is well done, or if it is blue, it can satisfy a whole family of preferences. This is because the tip will cook faster than the fatter end of the ‘triangle’.
This beef cut is also perfect for broiling, stove-top cooking, and using as a leaner mince. It has so many different uses, and can take on a wide variety of flavors – even strong Oriental or Indian flavors!
Simple grilled tri tip recipe
1. In a large bowl, mix together a quarter cup of soy sauce, a quarter cup olive oil, two tablespoons water and two cloves of peeled and crushed garlic.
2. Place your prepared beef tri tip (cut into 1/2 inch slices) into the marinade, cover, and marinate in the fridge for at least four hours.
3. Prepare your indoor or outdoor grill for a high heat, and oil the grate using with a light wash of olive oil.
4. Grill the marinated beef for three to five minutes on each side, discarding the remaining marinade.
5. Serve with sides of your choice.
Whatever your decision, tri tip is a versatile and delicious cut of beef that can be used in a variety of recipes, such as the traditional Santa Maria style, or even cooked using an Asian marinade. Make sure to speak to your butcher to learn more about the cut, and maybe he can even teach you a few more tricks regarding cutting this spectacular cut!