I had my first Tri-Tip this weekend at my friend Jon Petty's. A slow cook in "The Big Green Egg" http://www.biggreenegg.com/ yielded a fine steak, tender and tasty. I did some research on the Tri-tip, a cut not often found in Richmond, or the east coast for that matter. But one of Richmond's great new additions, The Belmont Butchery, http://belmontbutchery.com/, never ceases to surprise.
According to a few sources I found, Tri-tip is a small roast cut from the bottom of the sirloin primal. There is only one tri-tip per side of beef, a total of two per animal. Tri-tip also goes by the name "bottom sirloin butt" and "triangle roast", due to its triangular shape. In many parts of the country, your butcher will look at you funny if you ask for tri-tip...they have no idea what you're talking about. ( But not the Belmont Butchery! ) Tri-tip is nicely marbled, tender, and one of the most flavorful cuts of beef you'll find. In The Complete Meat Cookbook, authors Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly write, "In the old days, when butchers cut their meat from the whole beef, they cut sirloins with the bone in, and the tri-tip portion, a triangular chunk of bottom sirloin, ended up as a nondescript part of sirloin steak. Nowadays the sirloin is boned out whole at the packing plant, and the two tri-tips are separated, boned, and sold to butchers whole, thereby creating a new and tender cut."
The Oregon Beef Council tells a slightly different story: "Tri-tip was seldom marketed when carcass beef or beef hind quarters were delivered to retail markets because there is only one per hind quarter. This meant that there was not enough for a case display, so the butcher would grind or cube it. Today, most stores receive boneless boxed beef. If you don't see tri-tip in the meat case, ask for it. Tri-tip roasts can be ordered separately if your butcher knows there is a demand."
Most tri-tip is shipped to the Western U.S. where it is very popular with consumers. Tri-tip is even included in many West Coast barbecue competitions as an optional category. It is often associated with California's central coast region and the Santa Maria Valley in particular, where "Santa Maria-style" tri-tip is the meat of choice. In a tradition going back to the days of Spanish rancheros, the meat is heavily seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic, cooked slowly over a red oak fire, then sliced across the grain and served with fresh salsa, cooked pinquito beans, guacamole and warm tortillas.