If you’re having a hard time deciding between tri tip vs ribeye, you’re not alone. Both of these cuts are marvelous options for the grill. It can be tough to choose between one or the other, mainly because they’re very different cuts. Fear not—we’re here to help.
Tri Tip vs Ribeye
Tri tip, from the bottom sirloin, and ribeye, from the rib primal, both have superb beef flavor and impressive marbling. The ribeye is easier to find yet tougher on the wallet, while tri tip has a slightly chewier texture and is a good choice when you want to use a dry rub or marinade.
All About Tri-Tip Steak
Some folks have never heard of tri tip, especially if they live on the East coast. That’s because the cut is more widely available out west. In fact, tri tip was originally known as the California cut.
Other aliases include Santa Maria steak and triangle steak. The latter name comes from the fact that the steak has a roughly three-sided appearance after trimming.
The steak comes from the tri tip roast, cut from the bottom sirloin. Though it packs a huge punch in the flavor department, it’s not as pricey as steaks like ribeye or filet mignon, mainly due to its lack of notoriety.
This cut contains plenty of marbling (the term for the intramuscular fat that ribbons throughout the meat), and it’s tender to the bite when cooked correctly. When it’s overcooked, though, it can get unpleasantly tough.
Butchers usually cut tri tip steaks so that they measure about 1 inch thick. The meat is best when grilled over a hot fire, but you can use a cast iron skillet on the stovetop if you’re forced to move the party indoors.
All About Ribeye
Unlike tri tip, ribeye is widely known—and not just in the grilling community. It’s one of the most sought-after steaks on the market, and with good reason.
The ribeye comes from the rib primal, which is located on the upper center section of the animal. Essentially, ribeyes are cut from the meat between the actual ribs.
Since the rib primal doesn’t get much exercise, the meat is nice and tender. It’s also laden with marbling, giving it a rich and juicy texture. These qualities combine to make the ribeye one of the most flavorful steaks you can buy.
When ribeye is on the menu, we prefer to fire up the grill. It’s possible to broil it inside, but grilling the meat will showcase its best qualities.
Ribeye steaks are usually cut between 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick. They take up a great deal of space on the plate, too, making for an impressive appearance.
Tri Tip vs Ribeye: What They Have in Common
Tri tip and ribeye are both well-marbled and flavorful steak cuts. Like most good steaks, they’re excellent when prepared correctly, but can toughen up when overcooked (particularly tri tip).
Grilling is far and away the best way to handle both of these steaks. The high fat content can cause flare-ups, especially for ribeyes. But that’s a small matter when you consider the amazing flavor and texture you’ll get in return.
The storage techniques are virtually identical for ribeye and tri tip. You should plan on cooking the steak within 3 to 5 days once you’ve brought it home. If that’s not an option, both can be frozen for 6 to 12 months without ill effect.
Tri Tip vs Ribeye: How They Differ
Since the ribeye is from the rib primal and the tri tip is from the sirloin, there’s a noticeable difference in texture between the two. Ribeye is naturally soft and tender, but tri tip can be chewier, especially if you don’t carve it correctly.
When cutting into the tri tip, be sure to carve against the grain. That will divide the long, stringy muscle fibers, ensuring that the meat will be tender to the bite. It will still have a bit more “chew” than ribeye, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Ribeye is also easier to find at the butcher counter. You should also be able to locate it in well-stocked supermarkets, as well as smaller grocery stores. Because it’s so popular, it usually sells well, even in rural areas.
Tri tip, meanwhile, isn’t widely available outside of California. If you don’t see it in the meat case, ask your butcher if they’re able to procure it for you. In fact, it’s a good idea to ask them to cut it to order in any case.
You’ll probably pay more for a ribeye, too. Fewer people are familiar with the tri tip, which keeps the prices lower. Moreover, the tri tip can stretch further when serving a crowd—you can carve it into slices before serving, whereas the ribeye is typically served whole.
The tri-tip takes well to marinades, especially if you’re planning to cook it past medium-rare. That’s not the case with ribeye, which has such a prized flavor on its own that you don’t want to mess with it. Kosher salt and black pepper should do for this cut.
Speaking of temperatures, we would recommend medium-rare for both ribeye and tri tip. Since ribeye is naturally tender, it’s still decent when cooked to medium well. Beware of taking tri tip past the 150-degree mark, though, or it will be too chewy.
How To Cook Tri Tip on the Grill
1. With a sharp knife, trim away the silverskin and any visible exterior fat.
2. Season the steak as desired. If you’re using a dry rub, coat the meat with cooking spray made from a neutral oil first. If using a marinade, use about 1/2 cup, turning the steak so that it’s coated on both sides.
3. For best results, put the steak in the fridge for 8 to 12 hours to let the seasonings work their way into the meat. If you want to grill the steak the same day, wait at least 1 hour.
4. Bring the steak to room temperature for about 1 hour while you fire up the grill. This helps to ensure even cooking.
5. Build a two-zone fire in a charcoal grill, or light only half the burners on a gas grill. Bring the temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. After cleaning and oiling the cooking grates, set the seasoned steak on the cooler side of the grill. Cover and let the steak cook for 6 to 8 minutes.
7. Turn the steak over and check the exterior. If it’s nicely charred, you’re ready to start cooking the other side. If it needs more time to develop a dark crust, leave it in place for another 5 minutes.
8. Turn the steak and let it cook for another 6 to 8 minutes. After 6 minutes, it should be cooked to a nice medium-rare. Leave it for another 2 minutes if you prefer your steak cooked to medium.
9. Let the steak rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing it against the grain. Serve hot.
How To Cook Ribeye on the Grill
1. Start the grill so that it has time to heat up while you prepare the steak. Set the temperature to high when using a gas grill, or build a hot charcoal fire.
2. Pat the ribeye dry with paper towels and add a thin coating of olive oil or cooking spray. Season liberally with kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Clean and oil the grilling grates before putting the ribeye on the heat. Watch for flare-ups, especially during the initial stage of cooking.
4. Grill the steak to your desired doneness. A ribeye measuring 1-1/2 inch thick should cook for 6 to 7 minutes per side for medium-rare, or a minute or two longer per side for medium.
Tip: For steaks measuring 2 inches thick, you should build a two-zone fire and move the steak to the cooler side of the grill after it’s well-seared on each side. That way, the inside will finish cooking without burning the outside.
5. Remove the steak from the heat when it’s cooked to about 5 degrees below your desired temperature. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve.
The Bottom Line
You can’t go wrong with either tri tip or ribeye. Since ribeye is easier to find, you’ll probably end up cooking it more often. However, if you’re able to procure a tri tip steak at a good price, it’s definitely worth a try.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!