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Today I’ll let you in on a California secret: The humble tri-tip. Part steak, part roast, and totally, absolutely, 100% delicious. This little-known cut of meat that’s sure to be the next big thing at your summer barbecues. Most of all, this might be the best, easiest tri tip recipe out there.
Because this cut isn’t always the easiest to find outside of California, it pays to have a good butcher who can cut one for you. Beyond a doubt they’ll be impressed that you’re asking, and maybe even a little jealous that they’re not invited to dinner.
In my opinion, the tri-tip steak is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s tender, juicy, super flavorful, and any leftovers can be sliced up into sandwiches or tacos the next day.
What is a Tri Tip?
Like most celebrities, the famous tri-tip has many nicknames: triangle tip, triangle steak, triangle roast, bottom sirloin steak, just to name a few.
16In the West, it’s often called Santa Maria steak, because this meaty, delicious roast plays a starring role in California regional food, especially Santa Maria barbecue. Out East, however, it’s known as a Newport steak. No matter what its name, it’s a fabulous cut that’s worth searching out.
What cut of beef is a Tri-Tip?
If you’re not familiar with it, the tri-tip is a small, boneless, triangular cut from the sirloin. It usually weighs about 1 1/2-2 pounds. It resembles a thick, slightly lopsided boomerang that is laced throughout with just the right amount of marbled fat. Even though it’s a lean cut, the marbling contributes to its flavor and tenderness.
What’s the difference between a Tri-Tip, flank steak, and a brisket?
While all of these cuts are delicious, they have their differences. A tri-tip is part of the sirloin, near the bottom by the hip. However, a brisket is a giant cut, ranging in size from 12-20 pounds, from the breast area. Most people know it and love it, but it’s an enormous cut with a looser grain and much more marbling.
In contrast, flank steak comes from the lower abdomen. Although it’s very lean it isn’t as tender as tri-tip, so it benefits from marinating and shouldn’t be overcooked.
What is Santa Maria Barbecue?
If you’ve never had it, it’s California cuisine at its best! First, the tri-tip is covered with a dry rub and cooked over a fire made of red oak wood. Then it’s served up in juicy, medium rare slices with pinquito beans, a green salad, garlic bread, and salsa. At last, crusty bread is used to soak up the drippings.
Can you cook a Tri-Tip steak without a grill?
Even though my favorite way to make tri-tip in over the coals, if it’s pouring outside, don’t let a rainy day spoil your tri-tip fun. There are other ways to cook this tri tip recipe.
Cooking a tri-tip in the oven:
If you’d like to use an oven, roasting at high-heat works well for this compact meat.
- First, preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Next, place the roast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert an oven-going meat thermometer into the center of the roast.
- When ready, cook uncovered on high heat for about 20-25 minutes, until a meat thermometer reads 130 degrees.
- When cooked, remove from oven and cover with foil, and wait 10-15 minutes before carving. While resting it not only brings up the temperature, it also allows the juices to be absorbed back into the meat so they don’t spill out onto the cutting board.
Broiling a tri-tip:
- First, preheat the broiler. Then place the steaks on the unheated rack of a broiler pan.
- When ready to cook, broil 3 to 4 inches from the heat to desired doneness, using a meat thermometer (130 degrees for medium rare).
- Finally, transfer the steaks to a plate, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Cooking a tri-tip in an Instant Pot:
Although I don’t necessarily recommend this cut for a tri-tip, some people want a fall apart tender roast rather than a medium rare steak. If that’s you, here’s how to do it:
- First, season the roast with salt and pepper.
- Put the roast in the pot (using a rack if you have it).
- Next, add 2 cups of beef broth, one medium diced onion, a bay leaf, and 4 cloves of garlic.
- When that’s ready, close the lid, then select either the “pressure cooker” button or the “manual” button, and finally set the time to 35 minutes.
- When your Instant Pot has stopped cooking, use a pot holder to open the valve to quickly release the steam. Make sure all steam has been released and carefully remove the lid.
How do you cut a Tri-Tip?
When carving, the trick is to carve the tri-tip against the grain, which can change directions in this cut. To solve this, I recommend slicing the roast in two at the place where the fibers change direction, then carve each piece separately.
How do you season a Tri-Tip?
To keep things simple, my recipe is a paste made of olive oil, garlic, salt and black pepper, but any boldly flavored dry rub will also be excellent.
What side dishes work well with a Tri-Tip?
Since you’re serving slices of this great cut of steak, the sky is the limit when it comes to sides. If you need suggestions, try my Slow Cooker Calico Beans or maybe Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables. I also love potato salad and grilled corn! More than anything, any leftovers make righteous sandwiches on crusty bread, too!
- 6 garlic cloves chopped
- 1/4 cup oil
- 4 teaspoons Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 1/2 pounds tri-tip roast with thin flat layer
- In a blender, grind the garlic, oil, salt and black peppercorns to a coarse paste.
- Pat the tri-tip dry with paper towel and score the fat layer with a sharp knife, cutting through the fat, but not through the meat.
- Place the meat in a sealable plastic bag, scrape in the garlic paste, press out the air and seal tightly. Massage the meat with the garlic paste until it is evenly coated. Set aside at room temperature for at least 1 hour. If you are going to marinate more than 2 hours, refrigerate the meat but remove it one hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.
- About 1 hour before serving, start a fire on the grill using 1 chimney full of charcoal briquettes, about 50. Put one-fourth pound of oak or hickory chips in a bowl and cover them with water. Place an inverted plate on top of the chips to keep them submerged. When the flames have subsided and the coals are covered with white ash, dump the chimney into a mound on one side of the grill. Drain the wood chips and scatter them across the top of the coals.
- Sear the flat side of the tri-tip, cooking directly over the flames with the grill lid off. This will only take 3 or 4 minutes. Don't worry if there is a little char; that is almost necessary to get a good crust. When the fat side is seared, turn the tri-tip and sear the lean side directly over the coals. This will take another 3 or 4 minutes; again don't worry about a little char.
- When the lean side is seared, move the tri-tip to the cool side of the grill and replace the lid, with the vents open. Cook to the desired doneness, checking the temperature of the meat every 4 or 5 minutes. It will 20 to 25 minutes for 125 degrees, which is on the rare side of medium-rare, 25 to 30 minutes for 135 degrees (on the medium side). Cooking time will vary according to the type of grill and temperature of the fire.
- Remove the roast to a platter and set aside for 10 minutes to finish cooking and for the juices to settle. Carve the tri-tip fairly thinly (at almost one-fourth-inch thick), against the grain and with the knife held at an angle to give wide slices. Spoon the carving juices over the meat.
Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.