Tri-tip is affordable, flavorful, and forgiving on the grill.
Tri-tip is affordable, flavorful, and forgiving on the grill.

This Memorial Day, Try Tri-tip

Forget burgers and T-bones. Set aside thy holy rib-eye. Instead, think beyond the usual cuts and opt to load your grill with row after row of sizzling tri-tips. 

The cut is a small, triangular muscle (hence the name) culled from the bottom of the sirloin. Decades ago butchers ignored this supremely tender, flavorful, and affordable cut — opting instead to slice it into steaks, stew it, or simply grind it. Then in the 1950s, a Santa Maria, California grocer named Bob Schutz decided to grill it as a whole roast, according to the industry group Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board.

The move unknowingly birthed the now-beloved Santa Maria-style barbecue that pairs the steak with tender, red-brown pinquito beans, salsa, and buttered garlic bread. Still, the steak has remained mostly popular on the West Coast, even to the point where it's been called California cut. "I don't know why," says Proper Sausages' Freddy Kaufmann. "It's pretty simple to cook, it's well marbled, and it's sirloin, so it's got a flavor people are familiar with." Moreover, there's little connective tissue, making it a fast cook that yields tender, rich bites.

Despite its versatility and full flavor, only eight percent of the nation's tri-tip is sold outside of California, according to a report in the Modesto Bee. Here in Miami, Kaufmann stocks Jackman Wagyu Beef tri-tips for $16 a pound (they usually come in two-pound portions). Whole Foods in downtown Miami also has it on hand for $10.99. Yet none of the half-dozen Publix stores New Times  called had the steaks available for sale.

When you get one in your clutches, you have two options: Grill it as you would a whole steak,or cube it for kebabs. Kaufmann said it takes well to an overnight bath in chimichurri or a simple combination of olive oil, peppercorns, crushed garlic, and various herbs like fresh oregano and thyme. Whatever you do, cook it whole as you would a roast or steak. "Then you can slice it to serve in tacos or on its own," Kaufmann says.

Proper Sausages Barbecue Rub

  • 1 teaspoon salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon granulated onion
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste 

1. Combine ingredients well.
2. Use to coat tri-tip fully.
3. Allow to sit for at least two hours, preferably overnight.
4. Sear on a hot grill to desired temperature (140 degrees Fahrenheit should yield a perfect medium-rare once rested).
5. Slice against the grain and serve.

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