Cheaper Cuts of Meat

My fingers are crossed!

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We have a local ranch where steaks are Flannery priced for reference, that had a Monday sale for burgers at 20lbs for $75 so we bought 40lbs and splurged on a couple tomahawks for Xmas with the perceived savings.

I’ve had a question about this for some time. One of the craft butchers in Durham a few years ago would always leave the fat cap on the tri-tip and give me this look when i asked them to remove it, since I always just marinate and grill with high heat. The Durham WF occasionally does this as well. Is there a traditional cooking method that involves rendering the fat cap with lower heat?

Hmmm. Even when I make it low & slow, I’ll make sure it’s well trimmed. There is plenty of embedded intramuscular fat, so I don’t think it ‘needs’ a fat cap, unlike a pork loin roast which might be lean internally and benefit from a big slab tied/stitched on top.

I suspect the ‘look’ was for the commercial aspect. If they weighed the piece before removing the cap for you (like what a full service fishmonger does before dressing) then it would be that. Selling beef fat for $5-$10 a pound is preferable to folding that into burger grinds, or maybe even bird seed suet cages.

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Traditional Santa Maria Style Tri-tip involves using just a dry rub and grilling over oak, with a fat cap left on (I commonly see caps varying from 1/8" to 1/4"). The meat gets seared on each side and then is left to cook over indirect heat until it’s ready. Tri-tip varies quite a bit in its marbling, and a good amount of what you’d see at the store is relatively lean, so cooking with the fat cap up can help in that case.


In my region many meat counters sell it marinated in a wet barbecue sauce, and trimmed.

(It’s the regular meat which has the variance around how much fat is on it)

Santa Maria style is just one way to prepare it…when I lived in New England never really saw or heard of this.

You can find them that way here too, and our Costco sells both trimmed and untrimmed cuts side by side (all unmarinated). There are lots of ways to do it…Santa Maria Style is just one of the main well-known styles.

A friend from college (Cal Poly SLO) got married near Boston about 20 years ago, and he specifically wanted a tri-tip barbecue as part of the festivites. He ended up having to print out a butcher’s diagram of a cow, take it to a butcher’s shop, and point to what part he wanted because no one in that town had ever heard of the cut by that name.