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How to Cut Tri Tip

Tri Tip is a very tasty cut of beef. Also known as ‘Bottom Sirloin’, ‘Triangle Steak’ or ‘Santa Maria Steak’, this cut of beef is so rewarding for meat lovers.

It offers superb flavor, and, if you cut it right, tender morsels of umami laden delectation. Another point in its flavor (sorry), is its affordability. Ounce for ounce, you’re going to pay less for Tri Tip than for more well – known cuts of steak like rib – eye, and you won’t be sacrificing on great taste.

We are going to enlighten you on Tri Tip as a smart beef cut choice – what it is; how to cut it for superior tenderness; its distinctive qualities and place in your diet; cooking it well and so much more!

Let’s familiarize ourselves with the basics of the Tri Tip.

What is a tri tip?

What is a tri tip?

A Tri Tip is a roughly triangular cut of beef taken from the bottom sirloin. It has three ‘points’ to its shape, hence the name. A Tri Tip that you’ll find at the grocery store usually weighs in at around 1 ½ pounds to 2 ½ pounds, but you can find heavier Tri Tip at dedicated butcheries or buying directly from meat dealers.

Here’s a diagram to show you the bottom sirloin of beef, where the Tri Tip cut is taken from:

The Tri Tip cut of beef, being a muscular part of the animal, can be expected to be fibrous and tough in character as it is a part of the animal that does a fair amount of work during the animal’s lifetime.

It’s a deeply beefy cut of meat, you get real bang for your buck with Tri Tip beef, and it’ll satisfy the carnivore in any home cook!

Although marbled with fat throughout, the Tri Tip is also one of the leaner cuts of beef and so it can be tough or slightly dry if not cooked correctly. We’re going to discuss cutting and cooking Tri Tip so that it’s both butter tender and very, very juicy, so stick with us dear reader!

Tri tip and your health

Compared to other cuts of beef, the Tri Tip is on the leaner side comparatively and thus lower in fat and cholesterol. This makes it a wise choice for the health conscious. 

It’s also rich in B vitamins, especially vitamins B6 and B12, and offers health building amounts of protein, iron, zinc, and other nutrients. 

Although nobody should be eating huge amounts of animal protein on the daily, in moderation Tri Tip is sustaining and delicious as part of a balanced diet.

Understanding meat grain 

Before we even get into cutting Tri Tip, let’s get a basic overview of meat grain and how it affects the quality of any cooked meat.

Meat ‘grain’ simply means the direction that the muscle fibers in the meat are positioned. If you picture the weave of a piece of cloth, the ‘grain’ of the meat will be the ‘threads’ of muscle. 

By understanding how these lie in your piece of meat and cutting them correctly, you get a much more tender and enjoyable result from cooking beef or any other piece of animal protein.

Cutting across the grain of tri tip and why it’s important

With Tri Tip and with most other cuts of meat, cutting across the grain is the butcher recommended method. Why is that?

By cutting meat across its grain, you’re chopping those fibers in the meat shorter, which makes them easier to chew, because you’re not having to gnaw through long ‘ropes’ of muscle!

You’re essentially breaking down the muscle fibers of the meat into manageable bits which makes them softer, and easier to chew and digest. For tender and melt in the mouth steak like Tri Tip, slicing it across the grain is the only way to go.

We also recommend marinading your Tri Tip before cooking – this adds a lot of moisture to the beef and can impart wonderful accents of flavor.

Cutting your tri tip like a pro

Cut tri tip

When to cut tri tip

This lovely cut of beef sirloin is best cut after cooking to preserve its juices. It’s important also to allow the Tri Tip to rest after cooking for a good 10 minutes – this adds to tenderness as the muscle fibers relax.

The tools you’ll need

For cutting cooked and rested Tri Tip, you’re going to need a sturdy chopping board and a very sharp chef’s knife.

Alternatively, a carving knife can be used, or some people even use a serrated bread knife as a ‘fall back’ option. Whichever type of knife you have available, it must be razor sharp so that you don’t lose precious steak juices as you cut through your Tri Tip!

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Slicing tri tip step by step

The fat cap

On your Tri Tip, you may see a cap or layer of fat called the ‘fat cap’ on the meat. In most instances it is removed from the Tri Tip before being sold, but if it isn’t, you can remove it now by just slicing it off if you want to. This is optional and it’s important to note here that fat does add flavor, so use your own discretion and taste here.

Cutting technique

  1. Place your Tri Tip on the chopping board in front of you in a horizontal or lengthways position.
  2. Two corners of the meat will be facing toward you, and the upper corner of the meat ‘triangle’ will be facing away from you.
  3. If you look carefully at the lines of muscle in your Tri Tip, you’ll see that about halfway along the meat the grain changes. The muscle threads will run almost horizontally along the skinnier end of the cut, and then become vertical as they enter the thicker end of the meat.
  4. Once you’ve identified the spot on the Tri Tip where the muscles change direction, you’re going to divide the Tri Tip in half there, by slicing once through it vertically. This gives you two pieces of Tri Tip, and you’ll see that the grain on each is quite different.
  5. Starting with the skinnier end of the Tri Tip, where the fibers are running horizontally, you’re going to make thin cuts vertically so that you’re cutting against the horizontal grain. This will give you thin, tender slices of the Tri Tip. Continue slicing thinly until that half of the Tri Tip is completely sliced.
  6. Now move on to the thicker half of the Tri Tip, where the muscle fibers are running vertically across the meat and make thin slices horizontally across its length so that you’re slicing across the vertical grain. Once again, this ‘across the grain’ cut will make the ‘mouth feel’ of the meat very tender and easy to chew. Continue making thin horizontal slices until all the thicker half of the Tri Tip is carved.

You’ll end up with two piles of beautifully and professionally cut Tri Tip to eat and enjoy however you please!

How to cook tri tip for best results and optimal yum!

Grilled tri tip

Pan fry

If you’re going to pan fry Tri Tip steaks, they should be fried over medium high heat, and the fat side down at first to release the fat and baste the meat as it fries. You’ll want to fry each side of the meat for around 5 minutes.

If the meat is dark on the outside but not done your liking on the inside, transfer it to an oven at 350F and cook further until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 135F (medium rare).

Oven roast

If roasting a whole Tri Tip roast in an oven, as opposed to Tri Tip steaks, we recommend an oven at 400F for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on your taste.  If the meat is underdone to your liking, simply lengthen the cooking time.

Under the broiler/grill

Put your broiler in the oven onto high.  Place the Tri Tip on a tray or baking sheet on your oven rack, and make sure it’s no more than 4 inches from the broiler heat. Cook under that direct broiler heat for around 5 minutes, checking now and then to determine doneness.

Resting and moisturizing your tri tip

Whichever method you use to cook your Tri Tip roast or steaks, it’s very important not to forget resting the meat adequately after cooking! This beef cut can also handle heavy seasoning and marinading very well so don’t hold back on spice rubs, glazes, and marinades.

Tri tip FAQs

In conclusion

Tri Tip is a budget friendly beef cut that gives BIG flavor. If cut across the grain and prepared with care, it’ll reward your efforts and give you soft and luxurious meat in every bite.

We hope that this look at Tri Tip has prompted you to take advantage of a superior meat cut at an affordable price!

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