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What is a Tri-Tip Roast? A Deep Dive into This Magnificent Cut of Beef

The tri-tip triangle roast, cut from the sirloin, is a well-marbled, full-flavored, quite tender cut that roasts well, and grills well when sliced into individual steaks. Learn all about it here.

Emma Braby

Last Updated: August 11, 2020 | 7 min read

A grilled tri-tip roast, sliced and sitting on a wooden surface

The beef tri-tip roast comes from the Sirloin family of cuts.

A little-known piece of meat that, for many years, was another flavorful cut resigned to the ground beef pile or for the butcher to enjoy themselves.

This inexpensive and flavorful joint best for roasting, smoking, grilling, or turning into steaks, has soared in popularity over recent years. Not only is it easy on the purse strings, but it’s also a doddle to cook without spending hours at the grill.

Got your attention? Thought so…

So, hit up your local butchers, get practicing with some exciting recipes, and be the first to introduce the tri-tip to your BBQ buddies!

In this brief, we will make sure you know all there is to know about this crowd-pleaser, such as why it’s so good, how it’s butchered, where to get it and what to do with it.

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the tri-tip roast.

What is the Tri-Tip Roast?

The tri-tip for many years was added to the ground beef pile, and as such it’s relatively unknown compared to Sirloin steaks or the Rib-eye.

Butchers traditionally cut up the whole carcass themselves. They had limited space on their counter, and their space would be saved for the prime and expensive cuts only.

The rest were chucked on the ground beef pile or taken home for their family.

Nowadays, due to most meat being cut and packaged en-masse by big manufacturers, pretty much every cut is available and will turn up at both supermarkets and butchers alike.

Back in 1950’s California, a handful of butchers began spit roasting the tri-tip alongside ready to go Hamburgers, and it quickly became a new favorite and lucrative ‘grab and go’ hot food offering for the masses.

Once word got out, people then started to ask for it as a joint that they could cook at home for friends and family, and it was then that the tri-tip love affair began.

Where Does Tri-Tip Roast Come from on The Cow?

Diagram showing the sirloin primal on a cow

The name is in reference to its triangular shape and its placement at the tip of the Sirloin primal.

It’s the tensor fasciae latae muscle of the steer or heifer, which is found at the end of the bottom Sirloin. Sitting below and in front of the hip of the cow, the tip joins the flank and round primals.

A relatively tender piece of meat due to its position and below moderate use as a muscle, it can be cooked as a joint or carved into steaks for quick grilling.

If you wish to learn more about all the popular cuts, make sure to visit our comprehensive guide to the best cuts of beef.

Other Names for the Tri-Tip Steak

The exact origins of the name are not explicitly known, but many foodie blogs attribute it to the west coast of America, and more specifically, the Santa Maria area in the 1950s.

Legend has it a one-armed butcher named Bob Schutz first slow roasted it and brought it to the masses, and as such, it has been commonly referred to as a Santa Maria Steak since.

It’s other names include:

  • The Cardiff Crack – the name of the seaside market in Cardiff-by-the-sea San Diego, and their most popular marinade, which consists of cracked peppercorns.
  • Bottom Sirloin Roast – Due to its location in the bottom Sirloin area of the Sirloin primal.
  • Triangle Roast – Due to its shape when a whole joint and the fact it tastes tremendous when slow-roasted.

Whether you fancy the sound of exotic meat from the California coast, or an obscure cut from Cardiff, this is a fine cut that all good butchers will know and recommend if you ask for it.

Flavor, Texture, Fat Content And Tenderness

Two raw tri-tip on a wooden table surrounded by rosemary and thyme

The tri-tip is a flavor-filled favorite for a reason – it looks like steak, slices like brisket, and yet it has the beefy flavor of a Sirloin.

Cooked right and carved across the grain, it’s moist and succulently tender with an easy chew.

It does have a good amount of fat on the cap and some moderate marbling, which offers a recognizable buttery taste that usually comes from more expensive cuts like the Ribeye.

Typical Uses

The tri-tip comes as both a large joint, as well as steaks, so it’s very versatile for every need and recipe.

Popular as a large joint to slow-roast, grill or smoke, it’s more often found as the roast derivative than the steak. This way the consumer can decide whether to split it into steaks or cook whole.

Tri-Tip Roast Nutrition

NutritionTotal Amount (Based on 3oz Serving)% Daily Value (based
on 2000 calories/day)
Calories15010%
Saturated Fat2.6g15%
Sodium45mg2.2%
Protein22g44%
Iron1.4mg8%
Zinc4.1mg30%

It’s also a great source of Niacin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Phosphorus, Zinc, Selenium and Choline; full to the brim with nutritious goodness.

Buying Tri-Tip Roast

Having seen a somewhat recent rise in popularity, it’s now readily available in most supermarkets and butchers. And if it isn’t, simply ask as most butchers will happily order it in for you.

It can be bought as both a whole cut and individual steaks, so you have the choice depending on what your plans are. It’s readily available in 1 to 2lb joints or individual 5oz steaks.

Online meat markets will more likely give you a better choice and chance of scoring a good quality cut.

They show you a range of good, better, or top-quality meat cuts with varying prices so you can set a budget, and order what is right for you. Paying for quality accredited meat is always good practice.

Where to Buy Tri-Tip Roast Online

Many of us use online shopping because it allows you to relax in the comfort of your own home and get the things you want delivered directly to your door. So why should tracking down a brilliant bit of beef be any different?

Check out these online outlets and browse all of their amazing cuts and offers, including the tri-tip roast and steaks.

Tri-Tip Roast Price

At the time of writing, it’s still great value for such a tasty piece of meat considering it’s increasing demand.

It’s currently priced at $20 to $27 per pound across online outlets.

Portion Size: How Much Tri-Tip Per Person?

How much you need per person is dictated by the appetite of those you feed, how you cook it, and what you serve it with.

Weighing in at 1 ½ to 2lb as a whole cut the tri-tip should feed at least 4-6 people as a main meal with sides, or more if placed into sandwiches or wraps as a lunch or snack.

How to Prepare Tri-Tip Roast for Grilling Or Smoking

Tri-Tip roast isolated on white
Image courtesy of beefitswhatsfordinner.com

With such a solid flavor and so much meat on offer, preparation can be as involved or as easy as you want it to be.

The most popular method is a dry rub before smoking or a strong marinade that will battle the big beefiness of the meat.

But, if you like things simple, you need only a good seasoning with salt and pepper in preparation to cook it on the oven, or just salt if placing it onto a grill.

How to Cook Tri-Tip Roast on a Grill Or Smoker

This cut became popular as a result of slow roasting, and it’s now established as a BBQ and smoker favorite on the West Coast.

So we thought it was only fitting that we stay true to its roots and show you our favorite way to smoke it low and slow.

Tradition says to use Red Oak smoking chips and cook to medium-rare, so that’s exactly how we like to do it:

  1. Remove your tri-tip roast from the fridge and give it at least an hour to reach room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, set up your smoker with your chips, and you need a constant 225-250f cooking temperature. So make sure you have a reliable thermometer attached or to hand.
  3. Once the smoker is up to temperature, season the meat well with a mix of salt, pepper, and powdered garlic. If the cut has a thick fat cap, score it crisscross to aid the fat to render and prevent it tightening and deforming the cut.
  4. Place the tri-tip into the smoker for approximately 60-90 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 120-125f for medium-rare.
  5. Remove and tent with foil while you heat the grill to a high heat.
  6. Place the meat on the grill and sear all sides until a good golden crust is formed and then remove.
  7. Rest for a further 5 to 10 minutes and then slice against the grain before serving. Enjoy!

Three Best Tri-Tip Roast Recipes from Around The Web

Now that you’ve seen how versatile and forgiving this cut of meat is on the grill and smoker, it’s time to try it out for yourself.

Here are our favorite recipes that we know you’ll love:

Elise Bauer’s Santa Maria Tri-Tip

This is the traditional Santa Maria treatment.

Dry rubbed in salt, pepper, sage, rosemary, oregano, and cayenne, this is the key combination to the great tasting crust.

Full recipe and instructions can be found here:

https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/santa_maria_style_tri_tip/

Modern Honey Sweet Crust Tri-Tip Marinade

From a born baker and foodie comes this simple marinade to give a sweet and sour crust that will tickle those taste buds.

The key balance is Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and a little brown sugar for that extra sweetness.

Click here to see this sweet recipe:

https://www.modernhoney.com/grilled-tri-tip-steak-marinade/

Carolyn’s Beer Marinated Tri-Tip

The trick to this one is a high-quality beer with plenty of flavor and garlic studding the meat before it’s left to soak in the marinade for at least 8 to 10 hrs prior to grilling it.

Preparation is important here!

Check the video here:

Conclusion

The tri-tip roast is a Westcoast favorite whose popularity is rising fast, and as you’ve read, for very good reason!

It offers great value for money, an immense cavalcade of flavors when marinated or rubbed with the right ingredients, and can be cooked every which way you fancy.

What’s not to like?

So, whether you’re planning to dust off the grill or spruce up the smoker, this piece of meat will get you right back into the swing of summer even if it’s still freezing cold out there.

Be sure to send us a pic of your best tri-tip triumph in the comments section below, as well as any of your tri-tip tips.

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