What is Tri-Tip Steak? Where to Buy and How to Cook it

grilled tri-tip

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If you’re looking for a cheaper, yet equally tasty alternative to brisket or sirloin, tri-tip steak could be the ideal cut for you. 

In this guide, we tell you all you need to know about tri-tip steak, from how to cook it to where to buy it, as well as some handy cooking tips for perfect results. 

What is tri-tip steak?

Also known as California cut, triangle steak, or Santa Maria steak; Tri-tip steak makes a fantastic, much more affordable stand-in for brisket, without any compromise on taste. In fact, you may even prefer it! 

It is a boneless steak and measures around one inch thick, with plenty of marbling, while remaining lean and tender. A tri-tip steak generally ranges from around 1.5 to 3 pounds, which should be good for four to eight people depending on your steak and portion sizes.

Where does tri-tip steak come from?

Tri-tip steak comes from the lower sirloin, which is the area situated towards the rear of the animal, just above the flank or stomach area. Separate areas of muscle meet in this area, giving the tri-tip its three-point shape, hence the name. 

BeefCutBottomSirloin

What does tri-tip steak taste like?

The all important question! 

Tri-tip steak has a robust, beefy flavor that is not unlike sirloin. However, thanks to its combination of tenderness with  a fair degree of marbling, it is smooth and succulent, slicing up more like a brisket. 

To really make the most of your tri-tip steak, be sure to check out our slicing tips below. When improperly sliced, this tender, flavorsome cut can become chewy and much less pleasant to eat. 

Is tri-tip steak healthy?

Packed with B-vitamins and minerals for a healthy immune system, tri-tip is also an excellent source of protein. Low in fat, tri-tip steak is one of your healthiest steak options. 

Here are the figures from the USDA for an average four ounce serving:

  • Energy: 186 kcal
  • Protein: 23.3g
  • Total fat 9.66g (of which 3.55g are saturated)

So, if you are looking for a steak that you can enjoy as part of a healthy lifestyle, tri-tip is up there with the very best. It’s a good, lean cut of meat with a great flavor. 

Where to buy tri-tip steak

If you’ve not tried tri-tip steak yet, then you’re most definitely missing out. 

It could be that it’s not a common cut in your area, or maybe you’ve just not been aware of its existence. 

Here’s how to find tri-tip steak to purchase online or in store.

You can purchase some fantastic cuts of meat online from specialty providers. As with almost anything else, there’s so much choice, covering a wide range of budgets. 

To buy tri-tip steak online, we recommend searching for top online retailers that offer convenient delivery slots and a good selection. Companies that flash-freeze their meats tend to provide steaks that taste better. 

While online steak companies provide you with high-quality steaks, they can be more expensive than buying in store. However, the convenience, and very often the high-quality that comes from a specialist company, cannot be beaten.

Buying tri-tip steak in store

If tri-tip steak is difficult to find in your area, you should be able to get one cut for you by your local butcher. So, don’t immediately despair if you can’t see any in the meat section.

Different areas cut their beef slightly differently depending on traditions and demand. If your butcher gives you a blank look when you ask for a tri-tip or a Californian cut steak, tell him or her that you are looking for the triangular section of the sirloin primal

Still drawing a blank? Make things crystal clear by adding that the tri-tip comes from the point where the sirloin meets the flank and round primals.

If your butcher still doesn’t get it, then you should find elsewhere to spend your hard-earned cash. 

Most places are more than happy to help their customers try out new cuts, and it’s a great way to get some extra know-how from a professional.

How to cook tri-tip steak

Perhaps the most important thing to note, right from the start, is that tri-tip is a lean cut. Therefore, you need to take care not to overcook it, which is very easily done.

Bearing this in mind, we recommend quick cooking methods for your tri-tip steak, such as broiling, pan searing, and grilling. 

Tri-tip steaks (approx 1 inch thick): 

  • Grill for approximately 15 minutes.
  • Broil for about 12 minutes (medium) 
  • Pan-fry around 5-6 minutes each side.

These times are guidelines only, adjust for your preferred degree of doneness and other elements such as steak thickness and heat levels.

Tri-tip roast (approx 2lbs):

  • Reverse sear method works best, check out our tri-tip recipe for a detailed guide.

As various factors can affect your cooking times, we recommend using a thermometer and relying on an internal temperature of 125 degrees for rare or 135 for medium-rare, to ensure you don’t overcook your tri-tip roast.  

How to grill a tri-tip steak roast

  1. Season your tri-tip and be sure to leave it sitting at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling.
  2. During this time, set up your grill for direct and indirect medium heat levels.
  3. Sear your tri-tip over direct heat for approximately 10 minutes each side, or until nicely browned.
  4. Move your tri-tip over to indirect heat, cover your grill and leave it to cook for around 20-30 minutes.
  5. Check the internal temperature is 125 degrees (or above depending on your preferred doneness level) at the thickest part before serving.
  6. Rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Top tips for cooking tri-tip steak

Don’t cook your tri-tip steak before reading through our tri-tip steak cooking tips. After all, it’s the little details that make the big differences. 

  • Pat your tri-tip with a paper towel before seasoning to remove excess external moisture. This prevents excess steam when grilling, allowing your tri-tip to sear faster and more easily.
  • Remember that your meat will continue to cook during the resting period, so you want to remove it from the heat around five degrees before your desired final internal temperature for serving. Double check before slicing; remember, you can always cook it a little more – but once it’s overdone, it’s overdone.
  • For tender, juicy tri-tip, always let your steak rest before slicing and serving. This is essential. If you cut your meat straight off the grill, all the juices will run out. The resting period allows your meat to reabsorb some of these juices for a tender, succulent texture.
  • Take time to find out how to slice your tri-tip properly. This is also absolutely essential and can make the difference between an enjoyable meal and a mediocre one. See our slicing section below.

How to slice a tri-tip

So, you’ve seasoned it, cooked it and rested it; don’t ruin it now! 

How you slice your tri-tip is essential to its texture and can make a huge difference to how it tastes. Here’s how to slice your tri-tip correctly.

The tri-tip actually has two grains running through it. As you always slice against the grain, you’ll have to locate these grains and where they meet. Approximately half of your steak will contain horizontal muscle fibers, the other half will run vertically.

  1. With your rested tri-tip in front of you, locate the two different grains. You are looking to slice into where they intersect.
  2. Cut your steak in half (once again, very approximately) along this intersection line. This should give you two halves, each with one distinct grain.
  3. Slice each of these halves against the grain. In other words, perpendicular,  in the opposite direction, to the grain. This will ensure your slices have great texture and are mouth-wateringly tender. 

If you don’t want to cut your tri-tip in half, you could try this alternative slicing method:

  1. Turn the thinner tail end towards you. 
  2. Start slicing against the grain. 
  3. Continue until you’re at the area where the grain starts to change, or around halfway into your steak.
  4. Rotate your tri-tip 90 degrees, or a quarter turn, and continue slicing against the new grain.

Wondering what’s the difference if you slice with the grain rather than against it? 

Well, put simply, slicing against the grain helps to shorten those long muscle fibers. If you slice with the grain, the meat will be tougher as the fibers will be much longer. Longer fibers take a lot more chewing to break down, resulting in a more chewy texture. 

Wrapping it up

Tri-tip is a great cut of meat. Not only is it lean, so it’s healthier, but it’s also quick to cook and considerably cheaper than many other great tasting steaks. 

As it’s less well known than your brisket or sirloin, it’s important that you know how to cook and serve it just right, especially as it has its own peculiarities (such as the double grain).

Let us know how your tri-tip steak went down in the comments below, or ask us your questions; we’re always happy to help! 

And don’t forget to share this article if your friends and family are looking for a great budget-friendly steak that’s a healthier choice. Not everyone has heard of tri-tip steak yet, so let’s spread the word!

Joe Clements

Joe Clements

As the son of a vegeterian, I grew up dreaming about meat. Now as the founder and editor in chief of Smoked Barbecue Source I get to grill, barbecue and write about meat for a living! I'm sharing everything I learn along the way on my journey from amateur to pitmaster.

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