Tripletas (three-pleh-tahs) are a bakery staple in many Hispanic Caribbean ‘hoods. The “working person’s sandwich,” as I like to call it, is a meal-on-a-roll. In fact, since it has three different cuts of meat, a boatload of toppings, and a generous amount of condiments, it’s more like two meals-in-one. Though I know that many of you fine folks are observing a season of fasting, I’m going to be your temptation just this once. I’ll try to shoot you a more Lent-friendly recipe later on.
What are Tripletas?
Tripletas, literally “triples,” is a sandwich made with marinated and pan-seared cube steak (or bistek), sliced or shredded pernil (or roast pork) and ham. Usually, the ham is the cold cut/lunch meat you buy at the deli for your sandwiches.
Here recently, there’s been some blasphemous trend to include chicken in tripletas. That’s not how it’s done, my friend. There is no poultry in this sandwich, so if you’re going to add it, you need to call yours a cuatrilliza instead. As it is, the OG tripleta needs no help, nor does it need to be altered by new-age ideas.
In addition to the generous amount of protein in this sandwich, the classic toppings for tripletas are the same as you might find on a regular hero. The condiments take on a decidedly Puerto Rican flair with mayo-kechu: a mayonnaise and ketchup spread. Mine has a bit more excitement added to it, but mainly because I’m too lazy to add my condiments separately. A unique, maybe new to you, topping, potato matchsticks, are fun, though not required.
Everything is piled onto soft pan sobao, which is a Puerto Rican institution in and of itself.
Where do Tripletas come from?
Tripletas are a regular part of the Puerto Rican diet. Even folks who claim to be health fanatics have to break down everyone once in a while and order theirs fully loaded from the local panadería (bakery).
I remember my first experience with this meat-lovers sandwich. Hector and I made our regular stop at Las Villas, the neighborhood bakery/cafeteria/bodega and I ordered mine fully loaded with an Old Colony grape soda. My whole world was rocked, I tell you!! Between the still warm, fresh pan sobao that the sandwich was piled upon, the flavorful pernil and bistek, and being able to eat it on a tropical freakin’ island?!? I mean…you can’t get a more euphoric experience than that. It became my favorite sandwich in the ENTIRE world.
If you have never had a tripleta, the nearest thing you may have had is a Cubano. The difference between that Cuban, really Floridian, sandwich, and a tripleta is that the former lacks the cube steak, includes pickles, and comes piled on pan Cubano. Besides that, both sandwiches are very much the same. If you ask me, though, this one is way better.
What cut of steak is best for Tripletas?
There are two cuts of beef you can use to make these tripletas. For the sake of heartiness, I prefer to use bistek. You can find this in the store labeled: cube steak, inside skirt steak, or minute steak. Just make sure that, somewhere on the label, it says “tenderized.” That labeling means that the meat guys passed the piece of meat through a mechanical tenderizer that broke up some connective tissue. Without being tenderized, these cuts of meat are going to be too tough for this sandwich. Once you get them home, it’s best practice to whack them a few more times to further tenderize them.
Thinly sliced sirloin or top or bottom round are other cuts of meat to use in this sandwich. They are more expensive cuts that yield very tender slices of meat. While I recommend using them if you can’t find the ones I mentioned before, I don’t think they’re worth the price. They are more expensive and measly compared to the thicker, meatier cube steaks.
The thinner slices of beef also don’t need to marinate as long as the cube steaks, though, so if time is a factor, they may be worth picking up for this recipe.
How do I season the meat for Tripletas?
Once you have tenderized your meat at home a bit more, “wash” it with white wine vinegar. You can also use distilled white vinegar, fresh lemon or lime juice, or even beer to do this. The important thing here is to use a very acidic liquid. If you went with the thinly sliced steak, skip this vinegar bath.
Dousing the meat in the vinegar cleans the steak’s exterior while beginning the process of tenderizing the meat even more. There’s no such thing as it being too tender when it comes to this sandwich. The vinegar will redeem the tough cut of meat we’re using here.
After bathing the steak in the vinegar, allow the meat to sit with that acid on it for 20 minutes.
How long do I need to marinate the bistek (cube steak)?
After the vinegar bath, liberally sprinkle the spice rub over the meat.
This is an all-purpose spice rub, so I suggest making it in advance and using it on all of your proteins. It’s adobo, granulated garlic powder, granulated onion powder, meat tenderizer, pepper, and oregano. The adobo and the meat tenderizer are salty, so don’t go crazy when adding them. After you sear the meat, sample a small piece of the steak to see if you need more salt.
Combine the spices and generously sprinkle this spice rub on both sides of the meat. Marinate the meat for another 20 minutes to allow that seasoning to penetrate the meat.
Can I marinate, then freeze the bistek?
You can also transfer the seasoned meat to a food storage container and refrigerate it for 24 hours.
I often purchase cube steak when it goes on sale and season it after getting home from the grocery store. After I season it, I pop it into a freezer storage bag and freeze it for up to 2 months. The tripletas are even easier to make when the meat is already marinated and tenderized. If you choose to freeze the meat, just give it an overnight thaw in the fridge before searing it for the tripletas.
But, if you’re making the tripletas right away and not freezing the meat, you should marinate the meat for at least 20 minutes. While waiting, you can start prepping all of the toppings and the rest of the sandwich’s ingredients.
What else goes on Tripletas?
Serve this classic tripleta on either Pan Sobao or soft Italian bread. The other meats on this sandwich are pernil and ham (lunchmeat). I tend to always have frozen pernil in my freezer, but you’ll need to make some if you don’t. The ham is the same that goes on your ham and cheese sandwich. You can use Black Forest ham, honey-roasted ham, or Virginia ham. Heck! You can even use plain ol’ boiled ham. I prefer Black Forest ham, personally.
Toppings are the classic sandwich fare: iceberg or green leaf lettuce, beefsteak or vine-ripened tomatoes, and thinly sliced red onion. Something that might be new to you is canned shoestring potatoes. These potato-chip-like nibblies are a dose of nostalgia to people who grew up eating tripletas. They’re a fun addition but not a must. You can find these in the chip aisle of your grocery store.
Cheese plays a big role in this sandwich. You need a cheese that’s melty but not too forward flavor-wise. Stick with mild cheeses like Swiss (baby or regular), muenster, or gouda. Make sure you pick up thinly sliced cheese, too. You want it to be melted and gooey by the time you bite into the tripletas.
Finally, the condiments. I use a simple mayo-kechu spread that I make at home. You can top yours with your favorite sandwich condiments, though.
Okay! I think that covers it. Let’s go!
How long do I sear the steak?
The temp of your seared cube steak is a matter of personal preference. The kids and I like our steaks cooked to medium temperature. Hector, on the other hand, is more of a medium-rare guy.
Heat a well-seasoned cast-iron griddle to medium-high heat. Once a drop of water dances on the surface of the griddle, press your seasoned meat onto the hot metal. Sear the meat for 3 minutes per side for medium to medium-rare steak. If you plan to cook the meat to medium-well or well-done, decrease the griddle’s temperature after the first side has seared and taken on color. You’ll need to cook it for 6 minutes on the second side.
Transfer the steaks to a platter and tent a piece of foil over the dish to keep the steaks warm.
What other bread can I make Tripletas with?
Cut the pan sobao rolls in half to open them up. Decrease the heat of the griddle to low and place the bread on the uncleaned griddle. The bread will soak up the juice and fat from the steak and take on color and flavor. Heat the pan sobao on both sides for 1-2 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Remove the rolls from the griddle and set them aside.
Use a carving or slicing knife to thinly cut the cube steak against the grain. So, cut across the ridges in the meat and not along with them.
You can also leave the steaks whole, but I think it makes for a messier sandwich.
What are some other meats I can add to my Tripletas?
Once the cube steak is sliced, return it to the warm griddle along with the pernil and ham slices. I usually warm three slices of ham and a 1/4-pound of pernil per sandwich, but you can adjust the amount to your preferences. Top the ham with a slice (or two) of cheese towards the end of the warming period, which should only take about 3 minutes. Don’t worry; more cheese will be added to the tripletas later.
If you want to change this perfectly fine, exceptional-as-it-is masterpiece, you can add chopped chicken thighs. Season and marinate the chicken the same way as the cube steak. You need to cook it for 5 minutes per side, instead of 3, though. Leftover turkey from the holidays also works here. Swap out the sliced ham for hard salami, prosciutto, or pancetta. I know people who add bacon to theirs. Chopped brisket and pulled pork can replace the cube steak and pernil here, too. I mean, at this point, we’ve just defiled the whole sandwich, so why not go all out?
What condiments go on Tripletas?
Once the meats are warming on the griddle, begin assembling the rest of your tripletas.
Quickly mix together a mayo-kechu spread: mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and a small amount of adobo seasoning. You can also add a bit of spice by throwing in a few dashes of hot sauce or sriracha. This spread can be made a week ahead and stored in a container in the fridge. I dip fries in it, top burgers with it- it’s super versatile. If you don’t jive with mayo or “kechu,” you can add the condiments you prefer individually.
Slather the mayo-kechu spread generously on one (or both) halves of the pan sobao. I prefer to do both halves because it acts as a glue.
After spreading the mayo-kechu, top one half of the roll with the meats. Be strategic now! Go shredded but compact-able pernil, followed by cheese (or the glue), then a handful of the sliced cube steak, followed by cheese, then the cheesy-topped ham. The slice or two of cheese between the beef and the pernil ensures they stay in one place.
How do I top my Tripletas?
Now that the foundation has been laid complete the masterpiece.
Top your sandwiches with shredded lettuce, sliced, ripened tomatoes, and thinly sliced red onion. Some folks add sliced pickles to theirs, but I prefer to have mine on the side. Take advantage of that melty cheese and press a handful of those shoestring potatoes right on top of it, so they stick.
Slap the two halves together in holy matrimony, and your tripletas are ready to go
Can I make a larger version?
Instead of making four individual sandwiches, you can make a big footlong tripleta. Just grab a loaf long enough and pile everything onto it. Cut the assembled sandwich into smaller portions for a party or more generous slices for a smaller crew.
Also, you can totally make tripletas a couple of hours ahead, but they’re best when you make them “to order.” The longer the assembled sandwiches sit between the condiments and the toppings, the more pan sobao goes soggy. What I do is wrap my sandwiches in a layer of sandwich wax paper and a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. The wax paper keeps the bread from sticking to the foil, which retains a lot of the sandwich’s heat. I’d only hold these for an hour at the very longest.
How do I serve these sandwiches?
In Puerto Rico, these sandwiches are a meal on their own. Rarely do you see tripletas served with a bunch of other stuff. Chips and soda, or a Malta, is the absolute most one needs to be full after eating a sandwich of this magnitude. I hate Malta, so Old Colony grape soda is my go-to for a walk back in time.
Can I store leftovers?
Nah, I’m kidding. If you’re like me, you’ll get 3/4s of the way through your tripleta and begin to question all of your life choices. I have yet to finish one of these sandwiches. Unfortunately, despite how greedy I want to be, I don’t ever save my leftovers. I can’t eat food that’s supposed to be hot unless it is hot, so I just get rid of whatever I can’t eat. That is, I offer it to Hector or the twins. They usually act like vultures and treat my leftover food like it’s carrion. Hey, whatever it takes so the food isn’t wasted, right?
If you don’t mind cold, soggy-ish food, wrap up your leftover sandwich and store it in the fridge for later. I wouldn’t reheat it, what with all of the fresh veggies and the mayo. Thankfully, the meat tastes amazing when it’s cold, so you’re tastebuds won’t be disappointed.
What else can I serve with these Tripletas?
French fries are a good option if you have a bigger than average appetite. This Puerto Rican Potato Salad would go well if you want a really heavy meal. Hell, throw a salad in the mix, so you don’t feel like a complete heathen.
I, personally, think the tripletas on their own are more than sufficient, but I’m not here to judge your meal choices, am I?
Can I make these without meat?
Um…the short answer is no.
This is not the recipe to vegetarianize. Can you make it with only beef? Yes. Swap the pernil and ham with shredded brisket and roast beef. You can make it with chicken or turkey, but you already know how I feel about that. You can do both of those things, but you cannot make authentic, Puerto Rican Tripletas without meat. It just doesn’t go.
Be sure to share and pin this recipe for easy finding later. When you make it, be sure to tag me on social media!
Tripletas (Puerto Rican Steak, Pernil, and Ham Hero)
For the Marinated Cube Steak (Begin an Hour Ahead)
- 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) cube steak tenderized
- 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) white wine vinegar or white vinegar or lemon or lime juice
- 2 teaspoons adobo or seasoned salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated onion powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3/4 teaspoon meat tenderizer optional
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the Mayo-Kechu Spread (Can Be Made Up to a Week Ahead)
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup prepared yellow mustard
- 1 teaspoon adobo optional
- dash hot sauce optional
To Assemble the Tripletas
- marinated cube steak
- 2 pounds (907 grams) pernil cooked and shredded
- 12 slices ham deli meat
- 16 slices swiss cheese plus more as desired
- 4 pan sobao rolls or soft Italian sub rolls
- prepared mayo-kechu
- 4 cups iceberg lettuce shredded
- 2 vine-ripened tomatoes sliced
- 1/2 large red onion thinly sliced
- 2 cups canned shoestring potato chips optional
Tenderize and Marinate the Cube Steak
- Use a meat tenderizer to further tenderize the cube steak. Place the individual steaks between to sheet of parchment paper and pound each out to 1/2-inch thickness.
- Put the tenderized steaks into a shallow dish and pour the white wine vinegar over them. Flip the steaks to ensure the vinegar coats each one completely.Allow the meat to sit in the vinegar for 20 minutes.
- While the steaks are soaking, in a small mixing bowl, combine the adobo, granulated onion powder, granulated garlic powder, dried oregano, meat tenderizer, and black pepper. Generously sprinkle this spice rub on both sides of the meat. Marinate the meat for another 20 minutes to allow the seasoning to penetrate the meat.
While the Meat is Marinating, Prepare the Mayo-Kechu (or do this a week ahead)
- In a separate mixing bowl, use a whisk to stir together the mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and adobo (and hot sauce if you're using it). Store this spread, covered, in the fridge until you're ready to assemble the tripletas.
Cook and Warm the Meats and Rolls
- Heat a well-seasoned cast-iron griddle to medium-high heat. Once a drop of water dances on the surface of the griddle, press your seasoned meat onto the hot metal so that their entire surface makes contact with the griddle.
- Sear the meat for 3 minutes per side for medium to medium-rare steak. If you plan to cook the meat to medium-well or well-done, decrease the griddle's temperature after the first side is seared. Cook it for 6 minutes on the second side.Transfer the steaks to a platter and tent a piece of foil over the dish to keep the steaks warm and allow them to rest for 10 minutes.
- Decrease the heat of the griddle to low.Cut the pan sobao rolls in half to open them up, then place the bread on the uncleaned griddle cut side down. Allow the bread to soak up the juice and fat from the steak and take on color and flavor. Heat the pan sobao on both sides for 1-2 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Remove the rolls from the griddle and set them aside.
- Use a carving or slicing knife to thinly cut the cube steak against the grain. Cutting across the ridges in the meat and not along them.Once the cube steak is sliced, return it to the warm griddle along with the pernil and ham slices. Top the ham with a slice (or two) of cheese towards the end of the warming period, which should only take about 3 minutes.
Assemble the Tripletas
- While the meats are warming on the griddle, slather the mayo-kechu spread generously on one (or both) halves of the pan sobao. Top one half of the roll with the meats. Begin with the pernil, followed by a slice or two of cheese, a handful of the sliced cube steak, followed by another slice of cheese, and finally the cheese-topped ham. Now that the foundation has been laid complete the masterpiece.
- Top your sandwiches evenly with the lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion slices. Press a handful of shoestring potatoes on top of the melted cheese so they stick. Press the two halves together to complete the tripletas.
- Enjoy your tripletas with chips and your favorite soft drink.
Make Ahead Options:
- After seasoning the meat you can transfer the steaks to a food storage container and refrigerate it for 24 hours.
You can also transfer the seasoned meat to a freezer storage bag and freeze it for up to 2 months.
If you choose to freeze the meat, thaw it overnight in the fridge before searing it for the tripletas.
- The mayo-kechu spread can be made a week ahead and stored in a container in the fridge.
It's a great dip for fries or condiment for burgers.
- Wrap assembled sandwiches in a layer of sandwich wax paper, followed by a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
The wax paper prevents the bread from sticking to the foil, which retains a lot of the sandwich's heat. I only recommend holding assembled sandwiches for an hour or less.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Add chopped chicken thighs or replace one of the meats with them:
Season and marinate the chicken the same way as the cube steak. Cook it for 5 minutes per side, instead of 3.
- Replace the pernil with sliced leftover turkey.
- Swap the sliced ham for hard salami, prosciutto, pancetta or cooked bacon.
- Chopped brisket and/or pulled pork can replace the cube steak and pernil.
Party-Size Tripleta:Instead of making four individual sandwiches, make a big footlong tripleta. Use two foot-long rolls and complete the recipe according to the instructions. Assemble everything onto the two sandwiches. Cut the assembled sandwich into smaller portions for a party or more generous slices for a smaller crew.
- Wrap any leftover sandwiches and store it in the fridge for 1 day.
- Enjoy the sandwich without reheating it.