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The California Cut: Learn How Tri-Tip Steak is Uniquely Californian

Those of us from Northern California find it weird to think that people outside of California aren’t familiar with Tri-Tip. I’ve personally had several conversations with out-of-state visitors recently who asked about this strange cut of beef called a “Tri-Tip.” It was because of these conversations I decided to do a little research on the history of the Tri-Tip and it’s California origins.

The Cut

Though there are differing stories of exactly who should be given credit for the popularity of Tri-Tip, most historians agree on the origins of this cut. Back in the late 1950’s a man by the name Bob Schultz was the butcher and meat manager of a local Safeway in Santa Maria, CA. One day Bob decided to try and separate the triangle shaped cut of beef from the underside of the sirloin section of the animal. This cut was difficult to get to and was normally used for stew meat or ground into hamburger meat, but Bob Schultz had a different idea.

Bob separated this triangular cut and cooked it over fire to test it out. He thinly sliced this grilled Tri-Tip “against the grain” as to make it more tender. The meat didn’t sell out right away, but slowly gained in popularity in the area thanks to Bob. This is why the original name of the Tri-Tip was the “Santa Maria cut.” The rest is history.

The History

There are probably over 100 different stories about the history the the Tri Tip, but here are our favorite 5:

  1. Florence Prime Meat Market (1940’s)
  2. The Newport Steak (1950’s)
  3. Otto Schaefer Sr. in Oakland (1950’s)
  4. Jack’s Corsican Room in Long Beach (1955)
  5. Desert Provisions Newspaper Ad in Palm Springs (1964)

The Name

The name “Tri-Tip” was obviously given to this cut because of its triangular shape, but who is responsible for naming it? It was that same pioneer of the California meat movement Bob Schultz who gave our state pride its name. After leaving Safeway Bob opened The Santa Maria Market where he promoted and helped customers learn how to cook this new cut at home. This is where he dubbed it the “Tri-Tip” and where its popularity in our state began.

From a life long Californian and true beef lover, I must say, Bob Schultz, we salute you.

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Brien O'Brien

As the Food Editor and Co-Founder of Eating NorCal, Brien O'Brien is one of the most influential foodies in NorCal. After being named the “14th Best Home Cook in America” in 2017 by the FOX television show MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay, he moved to the Napa Valley where he spent a year and a half studying food and wine at the Culinary Institute of America. Now, he resides in the Farm to Fork Capital of America - Sacramento.

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