I don’t recall tri-tip being around when I was a kid. We certainly never had it when I was growing up; it only seemed to appear when I was an adult. And apparently it wasn’t around, at least under that name and cut. According to good old Wikipedia:
In the United States, this cut was typically used for ground beef or sliced into steaks until the late 1950s… Shortly thereafter, it became a local specialty in Santa Maria, California…
It has different names and cooking methods around the world. If you’re really interested – I don’t know why you would be, but if you are – you can look it up here.
About 20-25 years ago tri-tip suddenly started appearing at barbecues. It was something I always looked forward to and was nearly always bitterly disappointed by. It would have the shit cooked out of it and be grey and tough. You’d have to floss your teeth after eating it to get the stringy bits out. Great flavor but like chewing on a dog’s tail, without the fur.
A few years ago I bought a tri-tip because it was on sale. I thought maybe it could be made into chili or carne asada. On some long-forgotten website, I found directions for cooking tri-tip in the oven. Thinking that even if it was a flop, I could still make the ruins into tacos, I tried it. I was instantly converted, yea verify the scales had fallen from my eyes and lo the voice of the turtle was heard in the land. Tri-tip CAN be modestly tender, juicy, and not overcooked. Done this way, it’s perfect every time. Big thanks and props to the person who posted this, whoever they are.
First: thoroughly preheat the oven to 450 degrees – let it preheat about 20 minutes. If previously frozen, the tri-tip must be completely defrosted; then let sit at room temperature one to two hours. Don’t worry – it won’t spoil.
Tri-tips don’t vary much in size. They’re about 3 to 4 pounds, not much bigger or smaller.
Sometimes they have lot of fat across one side. You can slice this off if you want. I usually leave it on to protect the meat while it’s cooking, and also I don’t mind some fat, but suit yourself.
Here I have coated the tri-tip with spicy brown mustard and herbs de Provence plus lots of freshly ground black pepper. You could also marinate the tri-tip for 24 hours in your choice of marinades. A great marinade with Mexican flavors might be a combination of tequila, chopped cilantro, ground cumin seed, olive oil, salt, and a crumbled dried chipotle pepper (or one from a can of chipotles in adobo). For tastes more associated with a Greek lamb dish, try a combination of red wine and/or lemon juice, crushed garlic, olive oil, rosemary, and pepper. Or apply a dry rub, or just salt and pepper the meat. Your choice. What I would not do is apply any sweet sauce like a commercial barbecue sauce, because it will burn like crazy.
Put the tri-tip on a baking sheet/cookie sheet and put in the 450 oven for 20 minutes.
After 30 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and roast the meat another 30 minutes.
Now: wrap the tri-tip completely in aluminum foil, and let sit 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, place on a platter and unwrap, carefully letting any juices pour onto the platter.
This is great with horseradish and mustard. To go with, serve a tomato-based dish like lentils and salsa, stewed tomatoes, or a tomato salad, plus a starchy dish… mashed potatoes are always good with beef, but creamy polenta would be delicious too.
If you have leftovers, this makes great tacos, or is even better tucked into pita bread with chopped tomato-cucumber-lettuce-onion salad, plus a big spoonful of yogurt.