Choosing between London broil vs tri tip should be an easy choice when you understand the terms. Steak lovers should be well pleased with either one. However, the distinction between the two might come as a surprise.
London Broil vs Tri Tip
London broil is a cooking method that begins with a lean, flat steak, which is then subjected to a marinade and seared quickly over high heat. Tri tip is a steak cut from the bottom sirloin, with a triangular shape and relatively tender texture.
What is London Broil?
The term “London broil” refers to a lean steak that’s grilled or broiled quickly using high heat, then sliced against the grain. Before cooking, the meat is typically marinated in an acidic mixture to help break down the muscle fibers and promote tenderness.
Flank steak and bottom round are commonly used to make London broil, but any similar cut will do. It’s not the cut of steak that makes it London broil, but the cooking technique.
Often, a London broil steak is pan-seared in a cast-iron skillet before being finished on the grill or in the oven. Either way, the process is a short and simple one.
Since the steaks used for this method tend to be lean and somewhat tough, it’s best not to cook them past medium. Flank steak, which is fairly thin, only needs to be seared for 2 to 4 minutes per side for optimum flavor and texture.
Incidentally, the name “London broil” didn’t originate in London, England. Its origins are in fact a mystery, but many believe that it can be traced to the area around Philadelphia. Since there’s a New London Township not far from there, this is a plausible theory.
What is Tri Tip?
If the term “tri tip” is unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone. Many steak aficionados have never heard of this cut, especially if they live on the east coast of the United States.
This triangular-shaped cut (hence the name) is sourced from the bottom sirloin. It has a fair amount of marbling to lend it flavor and moisture, but the meat isn’t as fatty as ribeye.
Once you’ve sampled grilled or smoked tri tip, you’re bound to become a fan. The meat has plenty of beef flavor and just enough chew to be satisfying, especially when cooked over an open fire.
Tri tip is sometimes labeled as “Santa Maria steak,” a name that comes from its California origins. In fact, “California cut” is yet another alias for this delectable steak.
London Broil vs Tri Tip: What’s the Difference?
The obvious answer is that London broil refers to a preparation method, while tri tip is an actual cut of meat. When you look at it that way, it’s easy to tell the two apart.
However, the two do share some common qualities. For one thing, London broil is usually marinated, and the tri tip also takes well to marinades. That’s because the meat isn’t naturally tender like a filet mignon, so it needs some help from acidic ingredients.
The two may also be sourced from the same area on the steer. The bottom sirloin, from which the tri tip is cut, is located just behind the flank. Though London broil isn’t always made from flank steak, it is a popular choice for this cooking method.
The carving technique is also similar. All flank steak should be carved in thin slices against the grain, whether it’s prepared as London broil or not. The same is true of tri tip. If the meat is sliced incorrectly, each bite will be too chewy.
Can You Use Tri Tip to Make London Broil?
Technically, you could. As we pointed out, tri tip steaks take well to marinades. The meat is also best served medium rare, so on paper, this looks like a good fit.
However, there is one important distinction. Bottom round and flank steak are relatively small and thin cuts that are best when only seared for a few minutes per side. This is one of the hallmarks of London broil.
Tri tip, meanwhile, is a large and irregularly-shaped cut, often weighing 3 to 5 pounds. Even when it’s trimmed, it’s a formidable piece of meat. Moreover, chefs prefer to cook it whole rather than cutting it into smaller pieces. This helps it maintain its juiciness.
Grilling and reverse searing are popular cooking methods for tri tip. This cut is also delicious when it’s smoked over low heat. If you’ve been lucky enough to procure a tri tip steak, we would advise saving the London broil preparation for another day.
Tri Tip Substitutes
Interestingly, tri tip is sometimes referred to as “poor man’s brisket,” owing to the fact that it’s a smaller and leaner cut that’s nonetheless a good choice for the smoker. Though brisket is tougher and fattier than tri tip, you can substitute it if you’re in the mood for smoked beef.
Another sirloin cut can be a good alternative as well. Just make sure that the meat contains plenty of fat, as most sirloin steak is leaner than tri tip.
A chuck steak or roast, both of which offer a nice amount of marbling, could work if you’re planning on smoking the meat. Chuck needs to cook for a long time to tenderize the meat, so it’s not the best choice for the grill.
How To Slice Across the Grain
Whether you’ve prepared a London broil or a smoked tri tip, you’ll want to make sure to carve the meat against the grain.
Your first step is to identify the grain so you’ll know where to start cutting. The grain is the term for the pattern of muscle fibers that run through the meat. With flank steak, this task is easy, as the grain is wide and highly visible.
Once the London broil has cooked to your liking, remove the meat to a cutting board and tent it with foil. Be sure to let it rest for at least 5 minutes so that the juices will redistribute.
Position the steak so that the long side is facing you. Then use a sharp knife, held at a slight angle, to carve the meat into thin slices across the short side. You’ll cut through the longer muscle fibers, making the steak more pleasant to chew.
It’s more complicated to identify the grain on a tri tip, mainly because the pattern changes direction. For this reason, you should cut the steak into two portions before carving.
Again, make sure the tri tip has had a chance to rest before you attempt to cut into it. A 10-minute resting period is preferable, since this is a larger cut.
Set the steak on a cutting board so that the point of the triangle faces away from you and the shorter side is to your left. Then make the cut from the crook of the flatter end to the center of the tip.
Keep cutting straight across until you’ve reached the tip, then rotate the steak 90 degrees. At this point, you can carve the meat into thin slices.
Since London broil isn’t a cut of meat but a cooking technique, your results will be largely dependent upon your skill. Tri tip, on the other hand, is a specific cut that’s best when grilled or smoked to a perfect medium-rare.