Different cuts of beef need to be sliced in different directions depending on which way the grain runs. Learn how to cut tri-tip so that you have tender slices every time.
Tri-tip is a delicious cut of meat but can be a little confusing to figure out how to properly cut the slices. Why? The grain actually changes directions around the middle! Get all the tips you need to cut tri-tip so that you end up with tender, delicious meat every time.
What Is Tri-Tip Steak?
Tri-tip is also known as California Cut, or as a Santa Maria Tri-Tip. Those terms can all be used interchangeably and refer to the same cut of meat. The reason it has these names is because it’s one of the cornerstones of Santa Maria Style BBQ, which you can read more about over here. It’s a tasty style of BBQ where the meat is cooked directly over the fire in an open pit. Slices of grilled or smoked tri-tip are also what is used in the famous Santa Maria Steak Sandwich, and don’t you worry, I have a recipe for those coming up soon!
Tri-tip is a distinctive cut that has a somewhat triangular shape, thus the name tri-tip. It comes from the bottom sirloin section. The “steaks” are quite big, often over two pounds. It’s therefore not a single serving piece of beef, as is typical of other steaks like filet mignon, New York strip steaks, and chuck eyes. For this reason, people sometimes call it a tri-tip roast instead of a steak.
It’s best to think of tri-tip more more like a skirt steak or flank steak, where you can cook the cut of steak whole and then slice it up to serve to multiple people. One tri-tip steak is typically enough meat for 4-6 people, depending on what you’re serving it with. You can use my Pan-Roasted Tri-Tip recipe to cook it or make grilled tri-tip instead.
Identify The Different Grain Directions
The tri-tip has a unique grain which needs to be kept in mind when slicing the steak. Take a look at the steak and notice its triangular shape. It’s not surprising that with three edges, the grains run in more than one direction – they have three sides to run back-and-forth to, after all.
So, before you cook your tri-tip, look at it and notice the grain and which directions it goes. Then keep that in mind for later when it comes to slicing time. I find the best strategy for slicing it once cooked is to cut it into two pieces, right about where the grain changes direction. Then you just have to cut each piece across the grain going in one direction.
I’ve provided some diagrams below with the raw steak so you can visualize the direction of the cuts, as well as a video of slicing the cooked meat below.
Video: How To Cut Beef Against The Grain
Watch this video to get a clearer picture of how to slice not only tri-tip, but also flank and skirt steak, all against the grain.
How To Cut Tri-Tip Correctly
Use a sharp knife, a cutting board, and the above diagram as your guide to slice tri-tip after cooking. So, you’ll cook the tri-tip and then allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes. That allows the juices to calm down so they don’t all come running out at you when you cut into the meat.
Then, locate where the grain changes direction, which is usually somewhere in the middle of the cut (where the blue line was above). Cut the tri-tip into two pieces, right along that line.
Then, take one of your two pieces, I like to start with that narrower tail. Turn it so that the grain is running horizontally in front of you from right to left, and then make thin vertical slices perpendicular to that grain.
Once you’ve finished that piece, take the second piece and turn it so that its grain is running horizontally from right to left. You can just go ahead and start slicing against the grain. However, I find the slices from this section can be a bit large. If you’re finding it unwieldy, make a cut parallel to the grain right through the center. Then slice against the grain one piece at a time.
What Temperature Should You Cook Tri-Tip?
As you’re slicing your tri-tip, you will notice that some of the slices are more well-done than others. That’s because tri-tip is of an uneven thickness. That very middle spot is quite a bit further from the edge than the meat in the middle of the tail.
I actually really like this about tri-tip. For my family, where some people prefer more medium-well beef and some prefer more medium-rare, this is perfect. What I typically do is to cook the steak so that the middle thickest part is medium-rare. Then, I know that there will be a variety of slices ranging from that medium-rare temperature all the way to more well done.
More Beef How-To’s
- How To Dry-Brine Steak
- How To Cook Steak Perfectly
- How To Cook Picanha Steak
- How To Cook Cube Steak
- How To Cook Steak Tips
- How to Cook Steak In The Air Fryer
- How To Cook Tomahawk Steaks
I can’t wait for you to try all of these delicious recipes! Enjoy! -Christine xo
Podcast Episode Explaining How To Cut Tri-Tip
Listen to me explain briefly about how to slice tri-tip steak, along with some other great tips, by clicking the play button below:Print
Learn how to expertly cut tri-tip for tender slices every time.
- Cooked tri-tip
- Let your cooked tri-tip rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
- Locate the area in the middle where the grain switches direction and cut the tri-tip in half at that point.
- Start with the narrower “tail section” and place it on your cutting board so that the grain is running from right to left. Slice thinly perpendicular to that grain, working from right to left. Set those slices aside.
- Take the second piece of meat and place it on the cutting board so that the grain is running from right to left. Optional: Cut this piece into two halves to make them easier to slice. The cut will be made parallel to the grain along the mid-point, such that you’re making one horizontal slice.
- Slice your remaining piece or pieces against the grain from right to left making thin, vertical slices.