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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated
to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.
The tri tip cut is a lean and healthy protein source that contains an abundance of juicy, marbled fat. It’s an ideal piece of beef to serve because it only takes about 45 minutes to grill.
However, the last thing you want is to spend several hours seasoning, marinating, and smoking or grilling your tri tip steak cut, only to cut it incorrectly at the end. When you carve up the tri tip in the wrong way, it leaves you with a dehydrated and chewy slab of meat.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can follow to cut your tri tip like a pro and leave your party guests asking for more.
1. What is Tri Tip, and Why Should You Try It?
Before looking at how to cut tri tip, it’s useful to know more about this piece of beef. This delicious cut of meat comes from the bottom sirloin section of a cow, just below the tenderloin and in front of the animal’s rump and rear legs. The tri tip has a triangular shape and is made up of the cow’s tensor fasciae latae (TFL) muscle. This TFL tissue works as a secondary hip flexor or adductor, making it a relatively lean cut of beef.
This slice of beef contains a healthy amount of fatty marbling that distributes juices and flavor throughout the meat during the cooking process. While tri tip is a nutritious and healthy meat cut, its marbling means that it also has a rich, juicy, and tender flavor. As you apply heat to the beef, the soft collagen tissue breaks down and spreads gelatin throughout the steak, creating a succulent texture.
You may find tri tip labeled as a bottom sirloin roast, triangle roast, California cut, or Santa Maria steak. This last name is sometimes used because the tri tip was “discovered” by a butcher in Santa Maria, California in the 1950s.
2. How Do You Cut Tri Tip?
If you carve the tri tip incorrectly and slice with the grain rather than against it, you risk turning your flavorful and succulent slice of beef into a cut with an unpleasant and sinewy mouthfeel. That’s because you’re slicing with the muscle fibers rather than breaking them down, which means you have to chew through these connective tissues and muscle cells when you’re eating the meat.
Here’s how to cut tri tip properly.
Ensure you have a suitable kitchen knife for the task
If you want to cut your tri tip slice against the grain, you’ll need a high-quality kitchen knife. This sub-primal cut doesn’t have a bone, so you won’t have to worry about using a boning knife to sever the meat from any rigid tissue. Instead, opt for a premium-grade carving knife or chef’s knife.
An effective chef’s knife is versatile and multifunctional, while a carving option is ideal for chopping your tri tip cut into thin slices for serving. Cutting through sinewy muscle fibers can be tough.
Cook or roast the meat on your grill or in your oven
You’ll need to smoke or grill your tri tip piece before carving up the cut. When you cook this meat, some of its muscle fibers will reduce and break down. This means that it’s easier to cut against the grain with cooked beef than when it’s raw.
Do not cook these steaks above medium. It’s a delicate cut, and high heat can result in a chewy, unpleasant steak that even proper cutting cannot fix. Medium-rare and medium are the perfect temperatures for a tri tip steak. Grill ¾” steaks for 9-13 minutes, and 1” steaks for 13-17 minutes.
Tri tip steaks are excellent for roasting in the oven. Sear it in a pan with olive oil first, with the fat side down, for 4 minutes. Flip it, and place it in an oven-safe roasting pan. Roast for 10-15 minutes per pound. It is done when it is 135°F for medium-rare, or 145°F for medium.
Allow the cut to rest
Once you’re satisfied that your tri tip cut is cooked, take it out of the oven or off the grill and let it rest on a warm plate or baking tray for 5-15 minutes. It’s crucial that you do this before cutting into the beef.
When you cook the cut, the water from the meat’s protein filaments and muscle fibers spreads throughout the tissue and mixes with the melted fat. This creates a lush and moist result. However, if you cut into the meat right after cooking it, this tasty moisture leaks out of the beef and onto your chopping board or kitchen counter, leaving you with a dry, tasteless cut.
This rest period allows these juices and fats time to settle into the meat, so when you get ready to cut, most of the moisture remains inside the tri tip.
Slice the tri tip steak into two sections
After the resting period, identify where the fiber grains change from moving vertically to moving at a slant through the meat. It’s best to find this intersection point when the meat is raw when you can see the fibers more clearly.
Once you’ve found this intersection, cut along the line, so you’re creating two halves of the tri tip steak. Splitting the beef into two sections allows you to adjust your angle of slicing with each piece so that you’re always cutting against the grain.
Chop up the two sections into thin, juicy slices
Take each section, and use a high-quality kitchen knife to cut perpendicular to the muscle fibers rather than along them. Your aim is to slice through these muscle cells, shortening them, so the meat is easy to eat and digest.
Cut the beef at a slight angle. This bias-cutting method helps to break down the muscle fibers further and create a juicy final result.
Aim to cut the meat into thin slices rather than thick, chunky ones. Thinner slices provide a more flavorful and textured tasting experience.
The Final Word
Tri tip is a nutritious and tasty cut of meat that goes well with seasoned potatoes, beans, butter, arugula, red onion, and zucchini. However, make sure you’re cutting this meat in the correct way before serving it. If you don’t, you’ll find the result is disappointing, dry, and slightly chewy.