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The tri-tip is a triangular cut of beef from the bottom sirloin sub primal cut, consisting of the tensor fasciae latae muscle. Untrimmed, the tri-tip weighs around 5 pounds. [1]


The cut existed as early as 1915, called "the triangle part" of the loin butt. [2] Triangle tip, cooked in wine, was served at Jack's Corsican Room in Long Beach, in 1955.[3] The cut was marketed under the name "tri tip" as early as 1964, at Desert Provisions in Palm Springs.[4]

Donna Fong, a competition barbecue pitmaster, says that Otto Schaefer, Sr. discovered and marketed tri-tip in Oakland, California in the 1950s.

Otto decided to cook that triangular shaped steak which was located next to the ball tip. He cooked it whole and then sliced it thinly; instead of cutting a thick slice and cooking it like a traditional steak. The flavor was marvelous if you sliced it thin against the grain. The discovery got Otto thinking that this cut of meat could be sold as a steak instead of being ground up into the less expensive hamburger. Otto started talking to their retail customers and marketed the steak as “Tri-tip” because of its shape. [5]

Larry Viegas, a butcher at a Santa Maria Safeway store in the late 1950s, says that the idea to cook this part as a distinct cut of beef first occurred to his store manager, Bob Schutz, when an excess of hamburger existed in the store (into which meats from this part of the animal were usually ground).[6] Viegas says that that day, Schultz took a piece of the unwanted meat, seasoned it with salt, pepper, and garlic salt, and placed it on a rotisserie for 45 minutes or an hour; the result was well-received, and Schultz began quietly marketing it as "tri-tip".[6]

Roasted tri-tip.

It became a local specialty in Santa Maria in the late 1950s.[6] Today, it is seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh garlic, and other seasonings, grilled directly over red oak wood to medium-rare doneness. Alternative preparations include roasting whole on a rotisserie, smoking in a pit, baking in an oven, grilling, or braising in a Dutch oven after searing on a grill. After cooking, the meat is normally sliced across the grain before serving.[7]"

Sometimes labeled "Santa Maria steak",[citation needed] the roast is quite popular in the Central Coast of California and the Central Valley regions of California.[8] It has begun to enjoy increasing favor elsewhere, as well, for its full flavor, lower fat content, and comparatively lower cost.[citation needed] Along with top sirloin, tri-tip is considered central to Santa Maria-style barbecue. In central California, the fat is left on the outside of the cut to enhance flavor when grilling, while butchers in many states trim the fat side for aesthetic purposes.


Tri tip is called aiguillette baronne in France and is left whole as a roast.[9] In northern Germany, it is called Bürgermeisterstück or Pastorenstück, in Austria Hüferschwanz, and in southern Germany it is called the same name as the traditional and popular Bavarian and Austrian dish Tafelspitz, which serves it boiled with horseradish. In Spain, it is often grilled whole and called the rabillo de cadera.

South America[edit]

In Argentine asado, it is known as colita de cuadril.[10] In Brazilian churrasco, it is known as maminha.


This cut of beef can be sliced into steaks, grilled in its entirety, or used in chili con carne.[11]

North American Meat Processors Classifications[edit]

Tri-tip dinner with gravy, served with brown butter, parsley potatoes

In the U.S., the tri-tip has the meat-cutting classification NAMP 185D.