Opinions vary among experts and those in the meat industry substantially. At the lowest, you should prepare 0.03 to 0.07 pounds (13 to 14 grams) for small children and elderly persons, or if your tri-tip is part of a larger meal. At the very most, you should prepare ½ pounds (226 grams) of tri-tip per adult per meal if it is the central part of the meal.
Of course, how much tri-tip you and the others in the backyard will eat depends on how much you love BBQ. For some, a 1/2 pound is plenty. For others, it’s just enough for an appetizer!
But before you get cooking, there are a few things you should consider first—what meal are you making? Who’s going to eat it? How much does tri-tip shrink during cooking? And how should tri-tip be cut?
Who Are You Cooking for and What Are You Cooking?
Is your tri-tip the central part of the meal or part of a larger meal? If it is part of a larger meal, you may want less, if it is central to your meal, you could serve larger portions. More importantly, though, who you are cooking for matters.
According to Arielle Kamps of SFGATE, “The Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein for men and women is 56 grams and 46 grams per day” (0.12 pounds and 0.10 pounds) and “To meet these recommendations, you should consume approximately 5 to 6 ounces of protein foods”.
Similarly, the World Health Organization recommends that adults consume 160 grams of meat per day, which is 0.35 pounds.
So, what does this mean when it comes to preparing tri-tip? Well, Kamps further explains that “One ounce of meat is equivalent to 1 ounce of protein food”, and long story short, you should consume no more than four ounces of meat a day for a healthy diet.
Based on this assumption, a healthy adult portion of tri-tip—if it is the central part of the meal—should not be larger than 0.25 pounds at the most.
But you also have to consider kids and the elderly, who may prefer smaller portions. The Food and Nutrition Board outlines their dietary allowances according to age and sex. Here’s a quick summary of what they recommend for protein intake:
- Ages 1 to 3: 14 grams (0.03 pounds)
- Ages 4 to eight: 19 grams (0.04 pounds)
- Ages 9 to 13: 34 grams (0.07 pounds)
Things begin to change as we become teenagers between males and females.
- Males 14 to 70+: 56 grams (0.12 pounds)
- Females 14 to 70+: 46 grams (0.10 pounds)
With the elderly, it can be a bit more complicated. According to an article by Judith Graham of Kaiser Health News, the elderly should eat more protein to overcome some of the problems of growing old, however, it is still suggested that they consume approximately 25 to 30 grams (0.05 to 0.06 pounds) of protein per meal.
Remember, meat is not just protein! As Exploratorium explains, meat is typically 75% water, 20% protein, 5% fat, as well as some carbohydrates. Don’t assign protein measurements to your tri-tip portions.
There are some tools online that make the process much easier. Roseville Meat Company has a “Meat Calculator” that can help you figure out how much meat you should buy. It calculates based on the type of meat, if it is boneless or not, and if you’re cooking for adults or kids.
Roseville Meat Company’s ‘rule of thumb’ is to buy ½ pounds (226 grams) of beef per adult and 0.25 pounds (113 grams) of beef per child for boneless meat. This is on the assumption that the meat will shrink when cooked (more on that below) though this is much higher than what the WHO and The Food and Nutrition Board advise.
Your tri-tip will shrink when you cook it, just like any other meat, so do not be surprised if it weighs less cooked than when you cut it. (Remember, meat is approximately 75% water! And water evaporates when hot!) According to WeightWatchers, meat can shrink up to 25% when cooked.
Chef Ha Nguyen of OTAO Kitchen has some great tips on how to reduce tri-tip from shrinking. Also noting that meat can lose up to 25% when cooked, they suggest planning for this when purchasing the meat—for example, if you want 0.75 pounds of meat, buy 1 pound. But more importantly, cooking on a lower heat will reduce shrinkage, so slow cooking could be a good option.
Other ways to reduce moisture loss include using ingredients from plums, such as a plum marinade or pouring a little water on the meat after cooking and covering it in a microwave lid.
If shrinkage is a real concern for you, you can try to seek tri-tip with less water content. It is widely known that some meats are pumped with water to increase their weight. As reported by Food Navigator in 2005, in the UK it was revealed that some of the most well-known companies were pumping between 10% to 20% water into their meat.
Buying meat with added water could mean your tri-tip will shrink more than expected, so check the back of the package beforehand. Often, more expensive brands are less likely to pump water into their meat than cheaper brands. Unfortunately, you might not know until you cook your tri-tip.
But it’s not just water, protein also releases liquids when heated. Chef Ha Nguyen also mentions: “When the protein or meat is heated, it releases juices that cause the protein to shrink. The amount the protein-containing food shrinks depends upon how fatty it is and how much moisture it contains.”
How to Cut Tri-Tip?
To get the right size portions, you will want to make sure you cut your tri-tip properly, however, because of tri-tip’s usual triangle shape, it can be confusing and an awkward cut and produce awkward results.
Gabriel Woods of Carnivore Style recommends preparing a non-slip board, fork, and kitchen knife ready before cutting. He also explains that before cooking, it is important to identify the grain—there should be two distinct patterns, both heading in different directions.
After cooking, slice the tri-tip across the seam that separates the two different grain patterns. With your two slices, locate the grain and cut your meat against it into portions.
This is super important to know before considering the portion sizes you want to prepare because depending on the size of the tri-tip you have, it could mean the portions are smaller or larger than expected. You may aim for your tri-tip to be 0.10 pounds per person, for example, but when you get cutting, it might not end up that way.
Smaller portions could be a little disappointing and will be better for a side dish, but at least with larger portions, you can easily cut them and make them smaller.
So, How Much Is a Serving of Tri-Tip?
If you want to keep healthy, stick to the dietary experts. If you want a meaty meal, listen to the meat people. For a healthy diet, adult males and females should not eat more than 0.12 and 0.10 pounds of meat a day, but this varies among experts. Meanwhile, those who work with meat will suggest up to ½ pounds per adult per serving.
When it comes to buying tri-tip, though, it is advised that you buy 25% more than the net weight you are aiming to cook. This is because meat can shrink by up to 25% when cooked, though you can mitigate this loss by cooking your tri-tip at a lower heat.
And when it comes to serving your tri-tip, remember to cut along the seam separating the grain patterns and then into smaller pieces.