Top Of The Food Chain: Tri-Tip
Welcome to Top Of The Food Chain, a column from Eat Me Daily's meatiest columnist, Ryan Adams. Every week we'll attempt to demystify the options available in your supermarket, breaking animals down piece by piece so that the next time you find yourself staring at endless Styrofoam containers, you'll be able to make an informed purchase. This week: Tri-Tip.
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.
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.
There are two tri-tips per carcass, and they can be sold whole, or cut into steaks. Sometimes butchers will call the tri-tip "coulotte", but that term should be reserved for the top sirloin cap.
What to look for when buying
If you're in California, congratulations! Tri-tip is well-known in your area, and it's likely that your supermarket won't grind them up. It's not impossible for folks elsewhere to source this cut. Your local supermarket will be able to order them for you with little issue, and dedicated butcher shops will have them on hand, but call ahead to make sure.
Plan on having six to twelve ounces per serving. 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 container doesn't contain excess liquid.
Whole Tri-tip can be stored in the refrigerator for tree days before cooking, and one day if you've got a tri-tip steak. Beef can be frozen in its original packaging for up to two weeks. If you're going for longer storage, you'll want to prevent freezer burn by re-wrapping the meat in freezer paper, plastic freezer bags or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Try to remove as much air from the packaging as possible before sealing.
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. This recipe comes from Derrick Riches.
- 2 pounds tri-tip roast
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
Lightly oil the cooking grate on your grill. Preheat grill and prepare for indirect grilling.
Combine garlic powder, onion powder, pepper and salt. Rub it over the surface of the tri-tip roast. Place tri-tip on grill, fat side up. You can place a drip pan under it to catch the drips which will make a great gravy later.
With the grill on low cook for about 1 hours or until it reaches your desires doneness.
Let it rest for 5 minutes before cutting to allow the juices to redistribute themselves throughout the muscle tissue.
- Marinated Tri-Tip Roast with Mushrooms and Garlic from Simply Recipes
- "Santa Maria Style BBQ" Oakwood Grilled Tri-tip via Bobby Flay
- Barbecued Tri-Tip with Caramelized Red Onions Recipe from Epicurious.com
- Hoisin-Marinated Tri-Tip Roast care of Chow
Special thanks to Bob del Grosso, Chef and Charcutiere of Hendricks Farms and Dairy in Telford, Pennsylvania, for consulting on this post.