Because I have family in California, I get the opportunity to visit now and again. On one of my trips, I encountered one of the culinary delights of California–a cut of meat called tri tip. Tri-tip is a tender, lean beef cut coming from the bottom sirloin that gets its name from its triangular shape. It is sold as a small roast or cut into steaks; there are only two of these cuts in each animal. What makes it so special is the full flavor it offers at an affordable price. Roasting and grilling are the best preparation methods as the tri tip is considered a lean cut of meat.
While readily available nearly everywhere in California, tri-tip is not a common cut in the Midwest. However, because I enjoyed it so much, I’ve frequently asked at different stores if it was possible to order and usually got a “no” response. Recently I was shopping at my local Fareway store and there in the meat case was a sirloin tri-tip!!! Right then and there, I made my first tri-tip roast purchase and profusely thanked the meat department manager for acquiring the cut. (Manager said that they will continue to carry it as long as they can get it.)
Having never prepared a tri tip on my own, I wanted to do it right. I looked at several recipes and blogs which offered a lot of insight. Eventually I decided on an online recipe for Santa Maria Style Tri Tip. (Santa Maria is famous for their tri tip barbecue.) My choice could not have been better!! We enjoyed a succulent roast prepared on the grill.
Here’s some tips that I acquired from reading various blogs and recipes that may help anyone else who would like to try a tri tip roast should they see one in their meat counter.
- Be prepared for uneven cooking. Due to the triangular shape, the roast typically has thicker and thinner parts. Because of the variation in thickness, the two parts of the cut will cook different, thinner faster than thicker. This is offers pieces ranging from more well-done to medium-rare. The flavor is the same regardless.
- Use a rub and allow the meat to marinate with the rub for a minimum of three hours and up to three days. The rub can be applied dry or with a bit of olive oil. If oil is used, the recommended method is to apply oil lightly to the meat before the rub. Oil can be used after the rub is applied but if the meat will be grilled, the oil may cause flash burning.
- After applying rub, the roast should be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated until ready to grill or roast. If grilling, bring the meat out 30-60 minutes beforehand.
- Whether grilling or roasting, sear the roast on both sides to lock in moisture and flavor. This can be done on the grill or in a skillet.
- Stop cooking at a temperature a few degrees lower than the desired doneness. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the meat until it reaches 120-125°F for medium-rare or 130-135°F for medium. Do not cook beyond medium as the cut contains very little fat.
- Allow the roast to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Remove the meat from the grill and wrap it loosely in aluminum foil. The foil will collect any juices that are released and also allow the meat to reabsorb some juice. During this resting time, carryover cooking occurs and the internal temperature of the meat will rise (depending upon thickness, the internal temperature will increase 10 to 15 degrees during resting). This is why it is important to stop cooking before the desired doneness temperature is reached with nearly any kind of meat.
- Slice against the grain. Per Traeger, a little-unknown fact about tri tip is that it is comprised of two different grain directions, making slicing it correctly slightly more difficult than other meats. Incorrectly slicing the meat can make a perfectly grilled or roasted tri tip tough and chewy. Check the Traeger website for great tips and pictures for correct slicing.
- While I have yet to try oven roasting tri tip, I will start with the Better Homes and Garden version and experiment from there. The BH&G method does not include pan searing which many recipes and blogs recommend. Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner is also a good resource for tri tip preparation tips.
By following these simple tips, I hope your first experience with tri tip will be as good as mine. If you’re already a Tri Tip Queen or King, I’d love to know your tips for success, too.
A tri tip fact sheet is available from the Beef Board which includes nutrition and calorie information as well as additional cooking tips.
Update to this blog: South Dakota State University Extension has published How to Grill Amazing Tri-Tip