Sometimes sold as Santa Maria steak or Newport steak, Tri-tip steak is one of those steaks that can be quite intimidating to a lot of folks simply because they don’t know what it is and how to cook it. I am, well I was, one of those people. This is not a steak that you’d normally find in a restaurant or easily notice at a butcher’s. I rarely hear or read about this mystery cut anywhere. We all tend to be intimidated by what we know nothing or little about. This is the steak that I’d normally pass on at the store simply because I have never cooked it and don’t really know how it tastes or how to cook it.
The other day my wife picked up a package of six oddly shaped tri-tip steaks while she was shopping at Walmart. She said: look, I thought these would be nice to try – they look great and are quite inexpensive. I immediately went on the Internet to research how to cook this new-to-me beef cut.
In essence, tri-tip steak is one of the least tender and least flavorful beef cuts. On a scale of 1 to 10, its tenderness is at 5 while flavor sits at 4. That doesn’t sound too encouraging, does it? It’s less tender and flavorful than hanger, flank, skirt, or flap steak. There is very little connective tissue in a tri-tip steak so it won’t benefit from ‘low and slow’ cooking. Basically, to get the most out of it, you need to season it well and cook it quickly so as to not overcook it inside. Grilling is the ideal method of cooking as fire and smoke add a lot of flavor. However, cooking indoors can also produce a great tasting piece of tri-tip. The weather definitely does not want to cooperate this winter, so I chose indoor cooking.
I seasoned the steaks with the usual salt and pepper, but also added some paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and brown sugar. This should give my steak a great flavor boost. I did not bother measuring the ingredients, I simply sprinkled salt somewhat liberally all over the steaks, then a pinch of each of the rest of the ingredients per side. A little more of brown sugar, about a teaspoon per steak.
Just so I don’t overcook these quite thinly sliced steaks, I first threw them into the oven at 200F until they hit about 110F internal temperature. Thanks for the tip from a fellow Reddit member. After that I gave them a quick sear on a hot cast iron pan, about a minute per side, until I saw some nice browning. That gave me a perfect medium rare doneness (13oF internal temperature). If you use brown sugar like I did, the browning will happen fast, so keep that in mind. Don’t burn them. The amount of time you need to sear will depend on how hot your pan is. After that I took the steaks off the pan, put them on serving platter and covered with foil to let them rest for 10 minutes.
Thinking that all that seasoning may not be sufficient to give me good flavor, I prepared a basic red wine sauce in the same pan where I was searing my steaks.
So, after everything was set and done, came the time to taste. Let me tell you, the results were outstanding. I did not expect much out of this steak but it really surprised me. The meat was tender and juicy. The simple seasoning I put on the meat tasted great and gave the meat a huge flavor boost. As well as the pan searing. You could probably get away without the red wine sauce but I would make it without a doubt. It was literally licked off the plates.
For the side dish I also baked some Porcini and Parmesan Truffle Fries. If you haven’t tried those – do it ASAP. They are out-of-this-world delicious.
Simple Tri-Tip Steak Recipe
- 6 tri-tip steaks
- Salt (to taste)
- Black pepper, a generous pinch per side
- Garlic powder, a generous pinch per side
- Onion powder, a generous pinch per side
- Paprika, a generous pinch per side
- Cayenne pepper (to taste)
- Brown sugar, 1/2 tsp per side
For the garnish:
- 1 cup Homemade red wine sauce (optional but highly recommended)
- 1 Tbsp Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
Preheat oven to 200F.
Season the steaks on both sides and place on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Bake until the internal temperature reaches about 110F.
Meanwhile, preheat a cast iron pan over high heat as the steaks are approaching 110F internal temperature. Use a BBQ or an oven-safe meat thermometer. There is no other good way here.
Remove the steaks from the oven and immediately place on the hot pan. Sear on both sides until nicely browned and the desired target temperature is achieved. Remember, the temperature will keep rising after you remove the steaks from the pan so you have to account for that. Here is a quick reference sheet I use:
Rare - Remove from the pan at 120°F, 125°F Final Cooked Temp
Medium Rare - Remove from the pan at 130°F, 135°F Final Cooked Temp
Medium - Remove from the pan at 140°F, 145°F Final Cooked Temp
Medium Well - Remove from the pan at 150°F, 155°F Final Cooked Temp
Well Done - Remove from the pan at 160°F, 165°F Final Cooked Temp
Keep a close eye on the steaks if you used brown sugar as they will brown faster and you may have to flip them a few times to prevent burning.
Remove the steaks from the pan and place on a serving platter. Cover with foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
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