The Simple Kitchen: Learning to love tri-tip, one slice at a time

Written by and Photography by Charla in In the kitchen, The Simple Kitchen

I used to live in fear of the tri-tip, the iconic cut of meat that realized long ago it does not need to sit in the high-brow category of expensive cuts like rib-eye, tenderloin or the top-dollar standing rib roast.

My past experiences with tri-tip have not given tasty results, or were tough and chewy. After all, the tri-tip is cut from a part of the cow that is rudely called “the bottom sirloin subprimal cut” and it seems to appear mostly in touristy magazine articles for the town of Santa Maria on California’s Central Coast.

Having driven through Santa Maria many times – quite possibly at a high rate of speed – I can assure you that tri-tip promises unbelievably good flavor and tenderness without much work. It is a perfect fit for The Simple Kitchen here at So There’s That, and is worth keeping in mind for cooking something good and low-maintenance over the holidays.

Quick aside: It has not escaped us that the holidays are here, as we like everyone else want to enjoy the holidays as they were intended: celebrating with friends and family, giving thanks for what we have, pausing to remember what is important. Nowhere on that holiday to-do list are things like: stressing out, meeting other people’s impossible expectations, spending money we don’t have, or baking eight dozen perfect Christmas cookies tonight starting at 1:00 a.m. Unless, of course, we are truly passionate about late night baking. Which we are not.

But back to tri-tip. This particular cut of meat benefits from indirect heat on the barbecue or a roast in the oven accompanied by things like potatoes, garlic, carrots, or whatever other vegetables you have laying around. Or not. A little goes a long way with tri-tip.

Our recipe is for tri-tip roasted in the oven. If you have a cast iron pan, use it. If you don’t have a cast iron pan, then add it to your letter to Santa and use another sturdy oven pan. Season the meat with just salt and pepper, or get into complicated rubs like this chipotle rub, or channel your internal immaturity and slather on Butt Rub, one of my favorites. If the pan is large enough, then include things like potatoes, fennel, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and garlic. Always garlic.

This is what makes tri-tip a good, simple pick for the holidays whether for guests or cooking for two. The recipe for oven roasted tri-tip and optional accompanying vegetables is below. Meanwhile, there are two commandments that all successful tri-tip roasts must follow:

  1. Thou shalt let the meat rest after cooking.
  2. Thou shalt slice the meat against the grain and never with the grain.

If using one pan, don’t crowd it. For browned and crispy edges to things like potatoes and carrots, be sure that an oiled cut surface of that vegetable is face down in pan so that it touches the hot pan.

The meat will cook in the oven 25 minutes or so. Potatoes, carrots, fennel, garlic, and thick vegetables take twice as long, so consider cooking the vegetables in a separate pan.

When the meat comes out of the oven, let it rest! Don’t touch it! If you cut it right away, be ready for a flood of juices all over the place. Train yourself to step away for at least 5-10 minutes.

A benefit of pan roasting that doesn’t happen with grilling is that the meaty roasting juices will gather at the bottom of the pan. Stir the roasted vegetables so that they pick up some of these juices. Later, drop unserved slices into the pan where they can steep in their own juices and pick up just that much more flavor. Heck, slice the whole thing up and mix the meat pieces in the juicy pan.

Which brings us to the second rule of tri-tip: Slice against the grain. Find the thin lines of muscle fiber and cut thin slices at right angles to those lines. A parallel cut along the fibers will result in a tough and chewy dish. Notice the grain before cooking, since it will be easier to see.

Finally, the third bonus commandment: Thou shalt give a tester slice of meat to at least one dinner guest before serving. Even if it’s not the holidays.

Oven roasted tri-tip.

  • Tri-tip. It comes varying sizes but a typical, triangular cut. It may be trimmed of fat, however you are recommended to leave at least ¼ inch of fat on the side where it naturally occurs.
  • Seasoning. Salt and pepper, or your favorite meat seasoning. The possibilities are endless however in the Simple Kitchen, less is more.
  • Olive oil.
  • Cast iron pan.
  • Meat thermometer. Optional.

Add salt, pepper, or seasoning liberally all over meat. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan. When hot, add meat, fat-side down, to the pan.

After five minutes and before the fat browns too much, flip meat and brown on the other side for five more minutes.

Take pan off heat and put into hot oven, ensuring that the fatty side is facing up. Leave in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 130 degrees for medium rare or 140 degrees for medium cooked meat.

Remove from the oven, set the pan down and do not touch it for ten minutes! Remove meat to a cutting board and slice thinly against the grain. Serve immediately.


Optional additions to the pan.

  • Garlic. Best results are whole cloves left in the skins. Otherwise, use this roasted garlic recipe.
  • Onions. Chopped roughly into large pieces.
  • Potatoes. Sliced or cubed into any size, peeled or unpeel.
  • Butternut squash. Sliced lengthwise, with seeds removed and seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil.
  • Fennel bulbs. Halved or quartered, with stalks and tough outer layers removed.
  • Broccoli or cauliflower. Cut to any size. Smaller cuts will crisp up more.
  • Carrots. Chopped to any size.
  • Mushrooms. Whole or cut.
  • Any vegetables, really. Season and coat with olive oil.


What to do with the leftovers.

  • Slice the leftover meat very, very thin
  • Put onto sandwiches
  • Dice, saute and put into tacos
  • Add to salad
  • Eat ravenously, standing in the kitchen with a glass of wine after work and before cooking dinner. Not that we would ever do that.