Food & Drink

What Is Tri-Tip Steak? A Complete Guide

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 | 0 Comments
tri-tip steak

Cooking is a skill that takes time to master, and cooking meat is something that takes a certain amount of finesse, especially tri-tip steak. It’s a tender cut of beef that can safely vary in rareness and texture and is packed with a lot of flavor. It lends itself well to a number of different types of dishes and cuisines, too, making it a worthwhile cut of beef to include in your weekly meals.

If you’re like many people, you know your way around a sirloin steak or a ribeye very well, but your tri-tip steak knowledge might be a tad lacking. What is tri-tip steak? Is it different from other cuts of beef, and is it budget-friendly enough for at-home cooking? The best way to answer these questions would be to attend a cooking class near you. There are cooking classes in DC all the way to cooking classes in Mississauga, all led by expert chefs ready to show you how to prepare and cook any cut of beef properly. 

Until then, however, read on to learn exactly what tri-tip steak is, its flavor and how to cook it.

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What Is Tri-Tip Steak?

Tri-tip steak comes from the sirloin primal cut of beef, specifically the lower or bottom portion towards the cow’s underbelly muscle. This cut gets its name from its triangle shape and the fact that it’s from the tip of the sirloin. Called by many names such as a California cut, a Santa Maria steak, a Newport steak, a triangle steak and a bottom sirloin butt, this steak is amongst the cheaper cuts of beef. While it isn’t sourced from a brisket, it is also known as a “poor man’s brisket” because the flavor and texture is similar to a brisket but at a fraction of the cost.

It’s a leaner, boneless cut of meat and usually averages about an inch thick. However, it is still packed with protein and zinc, with just enough fat marbled in to enhance the flavor profile. It’s a tender cut that is ideal for roasting and grilling but can also be broiled or cooked in a skillet.

tri-tip beef over vegetables with rice
via Canva

Originally, tri-tip beef was used only for hamburger meat up until about the 1950s, when Bob Schutz of the Santa Maria Market decided to try his hand at cooking it like a regular steak. Locals loved the idea, and this steak’s popularity soared from there. (This is where the nickname “Santa Maria steak” originated.)

Now it can be used as standalone meat, for stews or sandwiches, placed on kebabs or sliced up for tacos. The versatility of this cut of steak for differing recipes is part of the reason it’s so desirable, apart from its tender texture and appetizing flavor.

tri-tip steak sandwich
via Canva

Flavor and Texture of Tri-Tip Steak

This cut has a brisket-like, tender texture and is known to be one of the most flavorful parts of the tri-tip beef cut. There is extensive marbling throughout a steak of this cut, giving it an almost buttery taste, but it can become tough if it is overcooked. After cooking, the tip of the cut will be tougher than the rest of the meat, no matter the level of doneness. 

slicing into a tri-tip steak
via Canva

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How to Cook Tri-Tip Steak


This particular cut of beef can be found trimmed or untrimmed. If it is untrimmed, you’ll want to cut off the silver skin or ragged ends it may have in order to trim down the fat to get the lean and boneless steak you desire. Be sure to have a sharp knife at your disposal, otherwise this prep step could prove difficult.

Marinades and rubs alike work well with tri-tip beef, so it will adapt to the flavor combination you use — this could be simple salt and pepper or a sauce made of red wine and garlic. If you’re planning to make your version of it more well-done rather than rare, marinating for two to three hours before cooking will help seal the flavor into the meat.

raw tri-tip steak
via Canva


As previously mentioned, this steak cut can be cooked through grilling, broiling, roasting, barbecuing or simply just on the stovetop. Through roasting or broiling, it will take about 45 minutes to cook the entire way through. When it comes to using the grill or stove, each side should be seared after cooking for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your preference. One thing to note, however, is that you only want to flip the steak once and not continuously.

Depending on the rareness you would like, you’ll want to cook it for less or more time than stated, while simultaneously reaching for an internal temperature of at least 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

steak on a hot barbecue grill
via Canva

Where to Buy Tri-Tip Steak

Want to try it out for yourself? Due to its inexpensive price and commonality, these steaks can be found both at a butcher shop and at a local grocery store, making it easy to cook for yourself, a group or while enhancing your skills from a professional in an online cooking class. It’s generally cheaper when going to a butcher shop to buy the meat untrimmed, but just keep in mind that you’ll have a longer preparation time than you would with a trimmed cut.

If you’re shopping for this cut somewhere other than the West Coast, keep in mind that some stores may carry it under one of its alternate names, such as Santa Maria cut or bottom sirloin tip rather than tri-tip steak. Most butcher shops, however, will know the cut you’re asking for.

sliced tri-tip steak
via Canva

There are many different ways to prep and cook this specific type of steak in accordance with your preferences. There are also plenty of recipes and cooking classes to utilize and learn the skills necessary to master the talent of cooking tri-tip beef. This budget-friendly cut of beef can be packed with tasty, melt-in-your-mouth flavor similar to a beef brisket but at a much cheaper cost. Whether it is for a cooking class or simply trying your hand at cooking different kinds of beef, this cut of steak is sure to be a welcome addition to your dinner table.

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