Have you ever heard of ball tip steak? Even if you have, you might have a hard time picturing it. This isn’t one of the most common cuts in the butcher’s case, but once you’ve tried it, you might just be hooked.
What is Ball Tip Steak?
Ball tip steak comes from the bottom sirloin and has a lopsided triangular shape. Due to its appearance and location on the cow, it’s sometimes confused with tri tip steak, but it’s actually a leaner cut. The meat isn’t naturally tender, but it has a nice flavor and is usually affordable to boot.
About Ball Tip Steak
The steak that’s styled the “ball tip” comes from the loin primal. To be more specific, it’s cut from the bottom sirloin, which gets more exercise than most other portions of the loin. As such, the meat is lean and can be tough if it’s not prepared right.
Ball tip might also be labeled “sirloin tip steak” or “petite sirloin.” If the fat hasn’t been trimmed off the meat, it may be called “round tip steak.”
In terms of flavor, ball tip steak can be compared to top sirloin. Since the muscles get more exercise, though, it won’t be as tender as that cut.
Due to its tougher texture, ball tip steak is one of the more affordable cuts from the loin primal. The low price makes it an appealing option, but be forewarned that you’ll have to know how to cook it correctly. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with a tough steak.
How To Prepare Ball Tip Steak
Not all steaks take well to marinades. For example, you don’t want to mess with the mild taste and buttery texture of a filet mignon by drowning it in a marinade. And a rich, fatty cut like ribeye has enough beef flavor on its own.
But ball tip steak is the kind of steak that seems custom-made for marinating. The salt and acid in the marinade help to tenderize the meat while providing a nice flavor boost. This allows you to experiment with different recipes and flavor profiles.
Leaner steaks also benefit from an extra dose of fat during cooking. After removing the steak from the marinade and patting it dry, try adding a light coating of olive oil. This will keep the meat from drying out on the grill.
You can cook this steak to whatever level of doneness you prefer. However, it’s better not to cook lean steaks past medium—that is, 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The meat will start to dry out when it passes the 150-degree mark, which will make it even tougher.
It’s also important to let the steak rest for at least 5 minutes after you take it off the grill. This step allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.
When it’s time to serve the ball tip steak, carve it into thin slices against the grain. Like flank steak, this cut has a thick grain that will give it a chewy texture if you were to carve it in the wrong direction.
You can enjoy ball tip steak as is, or use it as a filling for tacos or fajitas. Leftovers make great beef sandwiches. In fact, this cut makes a suitable substitute for flank steak if you’re having trouble finding that cut.
As we pointed out, ball tip steak is not a tender cut. You may want to employ one or more of the following methods to give the meat a softer texture.
—Use a meat mallet. Pound the steak thinly with the flat side of the mallet, then switch to the spiked side to create a series of divots in the meat. Don’t hit it too hard, though, as this can compress the meat’s fibers and create an even tougher texture.
—Make an acid-based marinade. The acids will break down the muscle fibers. Vinegar, citrus juice (particularly lime), and beer are all good options. Combine the acid with oil and seasonings to create a full-flavored marinade.
—Coat the meat in a generous amount of kosher or sea salt for about 15 minutes, then wipe off any excess before you start to cook. Don’t use regular table salt, as the crystals are smaller and will make the steak taste too salty.
—Marinate the steak in cola. The sugars and acids will work together to tenderize the meat. This might not be the best way to go if you don’t like the flavor of cola to begin with.
How To Grill a Ball Tip Steak
Grilling is a good method for ball tip steak, but you’ll want to use high heat. If the fire isn’t hot enough, the meat will dry out before it gets a good sear on the outside. You want it to retain as many of its natural juices as possible.
After you’ve tenderized and marinated (or salted) the steak, pat it dry with paper towels. Let it come to room temperature for up to 1 hour to ensure that the meat cooks evenly.
Set your grill to high (about 500 degrees) and clean the cooking grates. Coat the grates with a thin layer of neutral oil, taking care to avoid flare-ups.
Add a thin coating of oil to the steak as well, and season as desired. In addition to basting the meat as it cooks, the oil will help the spices adhere.
Put the steak on the grill and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, then flip with a set of heatproof tongs. Grill for an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until the meat reaches your desired temperature. We would recommend cooking ball tip steak to 130 degrees for medium-rare.
Remove the steak from the heat and set it on a plate, tented with a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil to keep it warm. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes, then carve it into thin slices against the grain.
Ball Tip vs Tri Tip: A Head-to-Head Matchup
Because both names contain the word “tip,” some budding chefs fall under the misconception that tri tip and ball tip are the same cut of meat. In fact, these are different cuts, and it’s important to ensure that you’re getting the right one.
Like the ball tip, tri tip is cut from the sirloin. However, tri tip has a noticeable amount of exterior fat, as well as some marbling. It’s not as fatty as a ribeye, but it has enough fat to imbue the meat with flavor and moisture.
By contrast, ball tip is even leaner. That can be a good thing if you’re trying to cut back on fat, but it does mean the resulting meat is less juicy that what you’d get if you were to grill a tri tip instead.
You’ll probably have an easier time finding ball tip steak, especially if you live outside of California. Tri tip is more prevalent on the West Coast—to the point where it’s also called “Santa Maria steak” or the “California cut.”
If you’re on a budget and don’t mind a leaner steak, ball tip could be the solution you’ve been looking for. While it lacks the robust flavor of a ribeye, it’s an affordable cut that tastes great with the proper treatment.