If You Can't Find Tri-Tip Steak, Flap Meat Is A Worthy Alternative

I love tri-tip. It has a rich, beefy flavor and tenderness when cooked right that is beyond compare. You'll often see this cut being used to make Santa Maria-style barbecue, a California culinary creation that isn't really barbecue but rather a specific form of grilling. However, the challenge often lies in finding tri-tip at local grocery stores or butchers outside of California. The meat in tri-tip is often used to create other cuts or ground to make lean ground beef, a butcher told me. Enter flap meat, a versatile and underappreciated alternative that has become my go-to when tri-tip is nowhere to be found.

Tri-tip steak is a triangular muscle cut from the bottom sirloin of the cow, boasting a balanced combination of lean meat with a tender grain. While not a particularly expensive cut, the fact that many people outside of California are unfamiliar with the cut means it can be hard to source. This is where flap meat steps in as a fantastic substitute. Derived from the bottom sirloin or short loin of the cow close to the flank steak, flap meat offers a similarly robust flavor profile, with marbling that ensures tenderness.

What makes flap meat a worthy alternative is its availability, affordability, and similarity. Unlike tri-tip, flap meat is often readily accessible at local grocery stores and butchers as it is not used to make other cuts. This makes it a convenient choice for those eager to satisfy their steak cravings without hunting down a tri-tip.

Cook it almost the same

The nice thing about flap meat filling in for tri-tip is that minimal changes are needed. I like to mimic Santa Maria-style barbecue when cooking tri-tip, which means cooking the whole steak over direct heat from charcoal. The slightly smoky flavor it imparts works beautifully with the robust beef flavor. Cooking flap meat only requires a slight adjustment in technique due to its thinner profile compared to tri-tip. Still opt for a hot and direct grilling method but with a shorter cooking time to prevent overcooking. I like to use a flavorful dry rub, featuring onion powder, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper, which enhances the natural taste of flap meat. The thin cut allows the spices to penetrate the meat quickly, infusing it with a delightful blend of savory and aromatic notes.

I apply the rub generously to both sides of the meat, ensuring an even coating and allow it to sit uncovered in the fridge for a few hours. This allows the spices to work their way in and for the exterior of the flap meat to dry a bit, a move that promotes a good level of char. Pull the meat from the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature as you light the charcoal. Grill the flap meat for about 4-6 minutes per side, depending on your desired doneness level. The result is a succulent and flavorful steak that rivals the satisfaction of a perfectly cooked tri-tip.