Rare steaks: what is Tri Tip and how to cook it

Continuing the series of exploring less popular or lesser known steaks (check out the articles on the spider and flatiron) we’re going to take a look at the Tri Tip.


This cut is pretty much the brisket of California – they often refer to it as Santa Maria style bbq, and have been enjoying it for decades, but it’s still a little bit of a mystery outside of the Golden State. Just as the name would suggest, Tri Tip is a triangular muscle from the Bottom Sirloin area called the tensor fasciae latae (NAMP 185D). 


A tri tip weighs roughly two pounds, which makes it more than a single person feed, but the perfect cut for sharing. The tri-tip has a good amount of marbling throughout, but is actually quite lean and devoid of any fat caps, so it can be tough if not cooked properly. This is definitely a cut built for grilling and keeping medium rare to medium. Slice against the grain when serving.


I cooked up a tri tip recently with my homie Evan LeRoy. The fine folks at Pit Barrel Cooker Co had just sent me out a grill and I was keen to take it on it’s maiden voyage. The PBC is a really interesting unit: an oil drum with a porcelain coating, it has a charcoal basket at the base and the food is hung above the indirect heat on rods to cook. Interestingly, once you set the vent according to your altitude for the first time, the cooker needs no more tuning or adjusting, that’s it. And the best part – a tri tip only takes around 45 minutes to cook on one of these babies, and it’s practically set and forget.


Evan seasoned up the Strube Ranch Wagyu tri tip with a pretty classic Texan salt & pepper rub. The PBC was lit, allowed to heat up, then the tri tips were hung via hooks over the coals. The only downside of this cooking method is you may not get as caramel/dark a finish on the outside as if you were searing. Luckily, our mate Aaron (owner of every kitchen gadget your heart could possibly desire) had brought along his Searzall, a power-broiler blowtorch attachment that any culinary pyromaniac will love, and we added a little extra color to the outside of the meat before resting.


The results: tender, juicy and umami-packed slices of perfectly seasoned goodness. Reckon you’ll give tri a try?

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