When you’re planning an event, you want to make sure there’s plenty of food to go around. On the other hand, you don’t want to be overwhelmed with leftovers—although it’s better to have too much food than too little.
How much tri tip per person should you plan on buying? If your guests don’t already know how delicious it is, they’re bound to go for seconds once they’ve found out. Our guide will help you nail the perfect portion size for your next party.
How Much Tri Tip Per Person
Try to aim for 1/4 pound of cooked tri tip per person when you’re serving a lot of side dishes or more than one type of meat. If tri tip is the main attraction, plan on having at least 1/2 of cooked meat for each person.
About Tri Tip
Have you ever heard of tri tip steak? If you haven’t, it’s probably because you don’t live on the west coast of the US.
This cut, which gets its name from its triangular appearance, is popular in California. As such, it’s sometimes called the “California cut” or “Santa Maria steak.” Although it’s difficult to find tri tip once you travel east of the Rockies, it’s not impossible.
The tri tip is cut from the bottom sirloin, which is part of the loin primal. It has a loose yet visible grain that gives the meat a mouthfeel that’s tender without crossing the line into mushiness. If the texture of filet mignon is too buttery for you, tri tip could be the answer.
Tri tip is excellent on the grill, so that’s how Californians tend to prepare it. You can also pan-sear it and then roast it in the oven to approximate the texture. Still, nothing can replicate the flavor of meat that’s been perfectly cooked over an open fire.
When cooking tri tip, try not to take the temperature past the medium zone—that is, around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Even if you opt to smoke the meat, it’s best when served medium-rare to medium.
Estimated Tri Tip Yield
Tri tip is a relatively lean cut. As such, you don’t have to worry about shrinkage to the same degree that you would when smoking a fatty cut like beef brisket.
Still, shrinkage is always a factor, no matter what cut of meat you’re dealing with. In this case, you should expect the tri tip to lose 25 to 30 percent of its weight during cooking.
Let’s say you’ve begun with 10 pounds of raw tri tip. If it shrinks by 25 percent, you’ll lose 2-1/2 pounds. That will leave you with 7-1/2 pounds of cooked meat.
How Much Tri Tip Per Person
Now that we’ve taken shrinkage into account, let’s talk about how much tri tip to serve per person.
Since you want to make sure there will be enough meat for everyone, plan on 1/2 pound of cooked meat per person when tri tip is the star of the show. That is, if you only have a couple of side dishes on offer, there should be more meat to go around.
On the other hand, if you’re serving up 5 or 6 side dishes—or even going so far as to grill or smoke another type of meat—you should be able to get away with 1/4 pound of cooked meat for each guest.
What does this mean if you have 10 people on your guest list? That translates into 5 pounds of cooked meat if you have just a couple of sides, or 2-1/2 pounds if tri tip is just one of many dishes you’re offering.
Assuming the meat will shrink down by 30 percent, you’ll need to start with roughly 7-1/4 pounds of raw tri tip to yield 5 pounds once it’s cooked. If you want to end up with 2-1/2 pounds, buy about 3-3/4 pounds of tri tip.
Note that these are generous estimates. There’s a good chance that people might consume a bit less, while others might take seconds. Since we like to assume that there will be leftovers, we prefer to cook more meat than we think we’ll need.
Other Factors to Consider
The number of side dishes should affect the amount of meat you plan to serve per person. But it’s not the only thing to take into consideration. There are several other factors that might come into play.
For one thing, young children don’t eat as much as grown adults. You can estimate 1/4 pound of cooked meat for each guest under the age of 10, regardless of how many side dishes you’ll be offering.
Lunchtime gatherings generally yield more leftovers than evening ones. This is mainly due to the fact that most people eat their main meal at the end of the day. So if your event takes place before dark, you can scale back a bit on your estimates.
The formality of the gathering will play a role as well. If it’s a casual barbecue with people eating off paper plates, the food might not disappear too quickly. But if you’re plating everything up and sitting at a table, your guests will probably consume more.
Lastly, consider whether you’ll be serving alcohol at your function. When people are drinking, they tend to fill their plates more. That’s a good thing, as they’ll need the food to help offset the effects of the alcohol. But it will still affect your estimate.
How To Keep Tri Tip Warm Before Serving Time
Since tri tip retains its best qualities when served medium-rare to medium, it’s critical not to overcook it. That can be challenging in itself, particularly when you’re cooking for a crowd.
Keeping the meat warm without overcooking it poses even more of a challenge. Here are a couple of tips.
Let it Rest
You should never serve meat as soon as it comes off the heat. The juices need time to redistribute. If you were to slice the tri tip right away, all those savory juices would run out onto the work surface instead, leaving you with dry, tough meat.
Cook the tri tip to within 5-10 degrees of your chosen serving temperature. The meat will continue to cook as it rests. By removing it a bit early, you can ensure that it will rise to the ideal temp before you serve it.
After removing the tri tip from the grill or smoker, tent it loosely with foil. Wait 10 to 15 minutes before you start to carve. The foil will help the meat retain its heat without letting the internal temperature climb too high.
Use a Faux Cambro
What if your tri tip is finished a few hours before you plan to serve it? In this case, we would recommend the faux Cambro method.
You may have heard of this technique if you’ve ever made pulled pork or smoked brisket for a crowd. It involves wrapping the cooked meat in foil and transferring it to a cooler that’s been warmed with hot water, then emptied out and lined with paper towels.
The problem with using the faux Cambro method for tri tip is that you will risk overcooking the meat. It’s better for fattier cuts that need to cook to around 200 degrees to begin with.
However, you can still use it for tri tip if you stop cooking the meat when it’s still much rarer than you’d prefer to serve it. The meat should stay warm in the insulated cooler for up to 6 hours.
Use the Oven
For obvious reasons, this method should be used only as a last resort, and only if your oven temperature can be set below 150 degrees. Otherwise, you’re sure to wind up with overcooked meat.
Set the oven to 140 degrees. The tri tip, wrapped in foil, can be stored safely inside for up to 4 hours. The foil should help it retain moisture while you wait for serving time. Don’t set the oven any higher, and be sure to stop cooking the meat at a rare temperature—no more than 120 degrees.
What to Serve Alongside Tri Tip
We would recommend choosing a blend of light and hearty side dishes to complement your perfectly grilled tri tip. That way, there will be something to appeal to every palate.
For something light, consider a garden salad or some grilled veggies. Asparagus, mushrooms and brussels sprouts all go great with red meat. As a bonus, they also take well to the grill.
On the heavier side, try making potatoes au gratin or rice pilaf. A homemade baked mac and cheese will round things out nicely, and it’s sure to appeal to any youngsters in the bunch.
For dessert, keep things simple. A platter of brownies or lemon cookies—or a combination of both—will give guests something they can grab for the ride home. If you have a campfire going, consider buying the fixings for s’mores and allowing everyone to roast their own marshmallows.
How To Carve Tri Tip
Since tri tip has an irregular shape, you should carve it into slices when you’re serving a group. That will also allow it to stretch farther, as people will probably only help themselves to a few slices at a time.
Don’t carve the tri tip until just before you plan to serve it. Otherwise, the slices will start to dry out.
After the steak has rested, locate the grain. That’s the term for the visible muscle fibers that run through the meat. Once you’ve found the lines, be sure to cut across them to ensure the proper texture.
Carve the tri tip into thin slices, transferring them to a serving platter as you work. When you’ve finished, drizzle any leftover juices onto the slices before serving.
Once you’ve gotten your basic estimate, round up by at least 1/2 pound. You’ll want to enjoy your leftover tri tip on salads or tucked into a hearty steak sandwich. If you have leftover grilled veggies to go with it, that’s even better.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!