All about Tri-Tip Steak and the Perfect Minimalist Rub

Tri-tip steak has just recently hit the tastebuds of the general population, although it was furtively consumed by the food illuminati for years. This particular cut of meat was usually considered scrap – used for ground meat, soups, and commercial foods. You might have been able to find tri-tip steak in the market but not often.

tri tip steak

Well, a few years ago the secret was out and tri-tip steak hit restaurants, food programs and the best of the cooking magazines. Even so, you don’t see a lot of information about it on the Internet and find it rarely in anything but specialty cookbooks. It isn’t because it is expensive and it certainly isn’t because it is difficult to cook. I think it is because the guys in butcher shop want to keep it for themselves.

You see, tri-tip is incredibly tender but also lower in fat than a lot of other cuts. Generally the fat is nicely marbled in the meat and there is very little of that icky hard fat. You may need to trim off a little silver-skin but I rarely find more than a patch or two on tri-tip. Best of all, the meat has a rich, beefy flavor. It is seriously good stuff.

Tri-tip steak is a small, triangular shaped cut that is found at the bottom of the sirloin. see that small triangle that hangs down from the bottom sirloin? Yep, that’s it.

tri tip steak


It usually runs from 1 1/2 pounds to 2 1/2 pounds and you can get it in either a roast or cut into long steaks. I prefer the steaks because you can cook them quickly (and I mean quickly!), giving the meat less of a chance to dry out. Because of the lean characteristics of this steak it will dry out pretty quickly if you over cook it. Tri-tip is best served medium rare, in my opinion. Cooked much beyond that you start losing the awesome characteristics that make it as delicious as it is.

Now, how to choose yours. The meat may be trimmed or untrimmed. I buy it untrimmed if I can find it and then trim it myself leaving a thin layer of the fat. You should look for a well marbled piece of meat with lines of fat running through it and no area of meat wider than about a half and inch that doesn’t have a line of fat through it.

I know, I know – we have been tutored to hate that fat but trust me, you want it in this meat. The fat melts through and gives it the flavor and tenderness that your guests are going to rave about.

beef cuts

You are going to pull the steaks out of the fridge about an hour or two before you are ready to grill. Rub the seasoning on and then let the meat come to room temperature. Take a xanax if you have to in order to get you through the trauma of fat and room temperature. It’ll be o.k. I promise. Just don’t tell Doc Oz.

A word about the rub. Tri-tip steak has flavor. Adding too much seasoning, marinating, or sauce is (to me) like adding sugar to a perfectly ripe melon – sure you can but why?

Grill it on high, fat side up,  until the interior temperature is 120 – 125 (rare) about 15 minutes total – turning it once with tongs. Remove from the grill and allow it to stand for 10 minutes in order for the juices to settle. During this time it will continue to cook a little giving you that tender-but-not-raw medium rare perfection.

Slice against the grain.

You will eat this again…and again…and again… I promise.

If you are having trouble finding it just ask your butcher. Some of them still use it for ground beef. I like a simple rub added with restraint to really let the flavor of the meat shine through.

Do you prefer a dry rub, marinade or other way of seasoning your grilled meats? I am curious. Comment and let me know.

Minimalist Steak Rub
  • 2½ tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely gound black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
  1. Mix well and rub on tri-tip steaks, covering all sides lightly.
  2. Don't over-season.
  3. Allow to stand until the steak reaches room temperature.
  4. Grill to desired state of perfection - I like mine medium.

Images: © 2012 Marye Audet

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