When I was in grade school, the cafeteria introduced me to the “wonders” of low-budget eats, by which I mean I learned to deal with the slop that was put in front of me at lunch. There was, however, one standout meal that I could get excited about: beef tri-tip with gravy on toast. It was easily one of the best meals we were given during the week, beating out the anemic “pizza” easily. Even now, the thought of preparing tri tip takes me back to those school days and the good times associated with them. Make some happy memories for yourself with this surprisingly flavorful cut.

Ryan Adams has done an excellent series on different cuts of beef and has given permission to re-post his content here, with minor modifications for the Professional Chef audience.

Cuts of Beef Series: Tri-Tip

Tri Tip-grilledPicture by loremipsum

The tri-tip cut comes from the bottom sirloin area of the loin primal. Slightly curved and shaped like a triangle (hence the name), the muscle weighs between a pound and a half to 2 and a half pounds. Cheap, full of flavor and yet tender, the tri-tip is a lean cut with little marbling.

For a long time, butchers and meat packers would grind the tri-tip into hamburger meat, or cut it into stew meat. Eventually, someone in Santa Maria, California, decided to try something different. After applying a rub, they put the tri-tip on a rotisserie and cooked until it was medium rare. The finished product was so well received that Santa Maria steaks are still sold to this day, and the majority of tri-tip cuts are shipped to California.

In New York, tri-tip found acceptance at the Florence Meat Market, where it was cut into inch thick slices and sold as “Newport steaks“. The name came from the Newport cigarette quarter moon logo that the steaks resemble.

Recently, tri-tip has become popular within competitive chili cooking. The leanness of the meat keeps the chili from becoming greasy, which can lead to deducted points from the judges.

Beef Tri Tip IMPS/NAMP 185D

Tri Tip 185D
Photograph: NAMP Meat Buyer’s Guide

There are two tri-tips per carcass, and they can be sold whole, or cut into steaks. The difference between a 185C & 185D is the 185D is defatted. Tri Tip 185C and 185D are both available in two sizes: 1.5 lb – 3 lb, and 3 lb ups. Sometimes butchers will call the tri-tip “coulotte”, but that term should be reserved for the top sirloin cap.

What to look for when purchasing

The meat itself should be bright cherry-red with a small amount of fat running through the meat. Check that the muscle is firm to the touch, and that the cryovac doesn’t contain excess liquid.

Tri Tip BBQ
Picture by pingpongdeath

Basic Tri Tip Preparation

Roasted whole, tri-tip makes for some seriously good eats. The meat should be cooked over high heat quickly, and served rare to medium rare to ensure that the meat is moist and tender. Grilling and broiling are excellent methods of preparation as well. If you’d like, marinating is popular with this kind of cut, as the process imparts extra flavor and moisture while softening the meat.

Beef Tri Tip Recipes

Nose To Tail At Home


How to Carve a Tri Tip

Comments from before Site Migration

JOHN C RITCHIE []    [ Sep 27, 2015 ]

Thanks for the primer on the 185 spec, Tri-Tip.  They lost favor in my area and I have not seen them on any menus locally.  I look forward to reintroducing them.

Again, thank you!

TREY MORAN []    [ Oct 27, 2010  ]

I have had great success smoking tri-tip. It comes out great as long as you keep an eye on the internal temp.  If you get let it go too far it will dry up on you but if you don’t leave it long enough it will be as tough as leather.  Plus, it takes a fraction of the time that a brisket takes.



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