Beef tri-tip is a cut of beef that's often overcooked, resulting in a tough, dry, and not very appealing meal. Cooking a perfect tri-tip isn't hard when you know how to do it right. We're going to share with you our favorite way to make juicy, tender tri-tip. One of the great things about this cut is that you can get great results without a ton of extra steps or special equipment, and you can have a delicious meal ready to serve in less than two hours.
What is a Tri-Tip Roast?
Before we get into our favorite way to make a delicious tri-tip, we want to explain where a tri-tip comes from on the animal and how to prep your roast before seasoning and cooking. The tri-tip is a lean cut that comes from the subprimal bottom sirloin taken from a rear quarter. Tri-tip can come from beef, pork, or wild game. The most common tri-tip available is beef.
A Brief History of Tri-Tip
The tri-tip cut is more popular in Western states, and it first originated in California. Sometimes, this cut of beef is called a Santa Maria Steak or a Newport Steak, both terms referring to cities in California where tri-tip was popularized. In the Central Valley of California, the thick outside layer of fat is typically left on the tri-tip. It's called the "lip" and it contributes to the unique flavor of the steak. The traditional California tri-tip roast is seasoned with garlic powder, kosher salt, and ground black pepper.
Tri-tip gets its name because of the unique triangle shape. The cut has grain running in two directions that meet in the center point at an angle. After we show you how to cook a tri-tip, we will explain the proper way to slice and serve the cut. Most tough tri-tip isn't overcooked, it's just sliced wrong. Which makes the meat difficult to chew.
A word on doneness: You cook a tri-tip to a medium rare. If you are a person who won't eat anything but well-done beef, it's probably best to skip a tri-tip. The cut becomes very tough and dry the more it is cooked.
Cutting and Trimming a Tri-Tip
When we extract a tri-tip, we start with an entire rear quarter. We start at the knuckle with our favorite 8" breaking knife and a meat hook. By pulling down the sirloin tip, we can cut around the knuckle and start slowly working the sirloin off the quarter. As we take the sirloin off, we are careful to find the seam and avoid leaving a bunch of the tri-tip on the quarter. This is one of those procedures where you can just use the tip of your knife and downward pressure. If you are doing this yourself, be careful not to cut into the sirloin tip which is located just behind the tri-tip.
Removing the Sirloin Round and Extracting the Tri-Tip
As the sirloin round is removed, you'll notice the bottom point of the tri-tip. Once you see that point, just remove the whole sirloin and place it on the cutting table. Find the cap on the sirloin round and use the tip of the knife and pressure to separate the two parts. The sirloin round is reserved for another day, and we will finish by trimming the tri-tip.
Trimming the Tri-Tip
This is a fairly straight-forward process from here. We just start by removing the excess fat, and you'll start to see how the grain is running. The way we like to do our tri-tip is to remove as much of the external fat as possible. Because we are smoking our tri-tip, the fat won't be rendering as much as if you were using a charcoal or gas grill. The Santa Maria-style tri-tip we mentioned earlier leaves the external fat in place, and the steak is often cooked rotisserie style over Red Oak wood lump charcoal. Scoring the fat with a Victorinox 6" boning knife before cooking lets the fat do its job and melt into the roast.
Most of the time, you will see trimmed tri-tip in the stores. When you buy a trimmed tri-tip, the butcher will have cut it the way we did today and you probably won't have to remove much, if any fat.
Seasoning the Tri-Tip
Today, we are using one of our favorite spice blends, the Bearded Butcher Blend Seasoning Black. One of our friends described this spice perfectly, calling candy for your steak. It's a blend that starts out with coffee and has a balance of salt and molasses. It's a perfect seasoning for our tri-tip steak.
Begin by letting the tri-tip set until it's room temperature. Sprinkle the seasoning liberally all over one side of the meat then the other, patting gently to make it stick. Get the whole thing covered. As you go, you'll see the salt in the blend start absorbing moisture and you'll end up with an almost wet surface. You really can't over-season the tri-tip, so don't be bashful.
That's it. Seriously. We told you this was an easy way to make a great tri-tip, and we weren't kidding.
Smoking the Tri-Tip Steak
We are going to use our Traeger 885 Ironwood grill today, which is our all-time favorite grill for cooking tri-tips. Smoking it on the Traeger is the best way to make tri-tip tender. We are using hickory pellets for our tri-tip recipe, which give a pleasant woody smoke that expertly compliments the sweetness of the Black seasoning. The Traeger grill is preheated to 165 degrees and we are going to place the roast on there with the outer fat side up until our internal temperature hits about 110 degrees. Then, we will crank the Traeger grill up to about 500 degrees until our meat hits 135 degrees on our Bearded Butcher instant read thermometer. This will sear the tri-tip, locking in all the juiciness and delicious flavor. The end result is a beautiful roast with a nice bark and a perfect medium rare center.
If you have never made tri-tip before, or if you've eaten some unpleasant tri-tip, our grilled tri-tip recipe is an easy go-to any time of year.
Total Time to Cook a Triangle Roast
The tri-tip will cook for 45 minutes to an hour at 110, but will only take about 20 minutes to finish at 500 degrees. After it's cooked, you'll want to let it rest for about 10 minutes. Your total cooking time will be about an hour and a half for a five-pound cut of meat. When it's done cooking, we are going to slide it onto a cutting board and take it inside to rest, then slice and serve.
Slicing a Tri-Tip the Right Way
Most often, the first time someone slices a tri-tip, they do it wrong. This is a lean cut of meat with strong muscle fibers, so it's essential that you cut across the grain. The problem with tri-tip is that the grain runs in two directions, and it can be a challenge to make sure you cut it correctly.
The easiest way to correctly slice a tri-tip is to cut the roast in half from the center point to the crook. You'll notice that the grain runs long ways on the long point, while it turns at the other point. Simply slice the long point across the grain, then turn the other section about 90 degrees and keep slicing.
Tri-tip is a very versatile cut. It can be used in a sandwich with a beef broth gravy, and it's very popular in Mexican cuisine as filling for tacos and quesadillas. You can slice the steak thinly, then sear in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, then season with garlic salt, pepper, and a smoky chipotle seasoning for authentic south-of-the-border flavors.
You can even make a tri-tip in the oven, cooking it in a roasting pan. If you decide to roast a tri-tip, try to use an untrimmed one for the best flavor and most juiciness. A remote meat thermometer is essential when cook a tri-tip in an oven.
Smoking a tri-tip steak on a Traeger is our favorite way to prepare this less common cut. It's really a simple process, and all you really need to flavor it with is pepper and garlic, and a little salt. Using the Bearded Butcher Blend Black Seasoning will give you an unbelievable amount of flavor and a juicy, delicious meal every time you make it.
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