Grilled Tri-Tip

published Jun 15, 2023
Grilled Tri-Tip Recipe

Medium-rare, cut-against-the-grain tri-tip contains all the flavor and juiciness of a pricier single serve steak at less than half the price.

ServesServes 4 to 8

Prep5 minutes

Cook25 minutes to 40 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Sliced grilled tri tip.
Credit: Kelli Foster

It’s officially grill season. And while I love my burgers and brats, there are times when a juicy steak is just what the grill master ordered. While T-bone steak (aka Porterhouse) is my favorite cut for grilling, it’s hardly within my budget for feeding the whole crew.

Enter: beef tri-tip, the West Coast cut that is the answer to steak-lovers on a budget. When tri-tip is grilled to medium-rare and sliced against the grain, it has all the flavor and juiciness of a pricier single-serve steak at less than half the price.

What Is Tri-Tip?

This boomerang-shaped roast cut comes from the sirloin primal and, although it’s from a less tender part of the steer, it’s naturally marbled and capped with a moisture-giving cap of fat. A tri-tip roast varies in size from 1 1/2 to 4 pounds, so it can feed from four to eight people. At around $7 a pound for conventionally raised tri-tip, it’s a steak-lover’s bargain.

On the East Coast, the roast is often trimmed and cut into thin pieces and labeled Newport steaks or cut into sirloin tips. Out West, the tri-tip cut is frequently kept whole, rubbed with a kicky spice rub, and grilled. It’s sometimes called a Santa Maria tri-tip roast, after the central California coastal town where it gained notoriety. Ask for it at the butcher counter and let them know you’re looking for a medium-sized tri-tip roast for grilling.

What Is the Best Way to Prepare Tri-Tip?

A tri-tip roast comes either untrimmed, with a thick, solid layer of fat on one side, or trimmed, with no outside fat left. Although the fat will help keep the roast moist, it can also melt and cause some serious flare-ups on the grill. I recommend trimming the fat yourself so there is only a thin (1/4-inch) layer left. 

To build a delicious, charred crust, I like to rub the roast with a salty steak rub, such as pitmaster Rodney Scott’s Porcini Garlic Herb rub, an umami-rich blend of dried mushrooms, coarsely ground pepper, chipotle, salt, and juniper. 

Because it is a thick piece of meat, it’s best to let the roast rest at room temperature for an hour before grilling, so that the meat cooks evenly throughout. If the meat goes directly from the fridge to the grill, the center will remain cold and raw while the outside burns. 

Credit: Kelli Foster

How to Grill Tri-Tip

The best method for grilling tri-tip is to use the two-zone method. First, sear the meat over the hotter side of the grill. Once the meat has a nice, caramelized char on the outside, scoot it over to the cooler part of the grill. 

A general rule of thumb for grilling a tri-tip roast is about 10 minutes per pound (not counting the time of searing), but it’s best to check after 20 minutes with an instant-read thermometer. You’re aiming for 115°F for rare or 125°F for medium-rare meat. Tri-tip is best when served medium-rare; beyond that it can become tough (think: London Broil from the same primal). 

How Do You Serve Tri-Tip?

Once the meat is done, let it rest for at least 15 minutes to let the meat finish cooking and encourage the juices to redistribute. The boomerang shape of the cut has muscle fibers running in two different directions, so you’ll need to slice the meat first one way to cut against the grain, then rotate the remaining roast to slice it the opposite way where the fibers change direction.  

As with any steak meal, a grill-baked potato, Caesar salad, and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah round out the meal perfectly. Leftover thinly sliced tri-tip makes an incredible steak sandwich the next day.

Credit: Kelli Foster

Grilled Tri-Tip Recipe

Medium-rare, cut-against-the-grain tri-tip contains all the flavor and juiciness of a pricier single serve steak at less than half the price.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes to 40 minutes

Serves Serves 4 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    (2 to 31/2-pound) tri-tip roast

  • Vegetable oil, for the grill grates

  • 2 to 2 1/2 teaspoons

    dry rub of your choice

Instructions

  1. Let 1 tri-tip roast sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

  2. Heat an outdoor grill. For a gas grill, heat half or 2/3 of the heating elements (leave the last element off) to medium heat until the grill comes to 400°F. For a charcoal grill, light briquettes in a chimney starter. Arrange a single layer of unlit briquettes on only half of the bottom rack of a grill. Add the lit briquettes; once they have ashed over and you can comfortably hold your hand above the grill for 5 seconds, the grill is ready.

  3. Scrape the grill grates clean as needed. Oil the grill grates with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil.

  4. If needed, trim any surface fat on the trip tip to about 1/4-inch thick. Pat the roast dry with paper towels. Rub 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons dry rub all over the roast. Place on the hot side of the grill. Cover and grill until browned all over, 4 to 5 minutes per side, watching for flare-ups and moving the roast with tongs as needed.

  5. Move the roast to the cool side of the grill with the thinner, tail end of the roast oriented to the coolest part of the grill. Cover and cook, adjusting the heat of the gas grill or vents of the charcoal grill as needed, to maintain an internal grill temperature of about 200°F (low to medium-low for a 3-burner gas grill).

  6. Check the temperature of the roast with an instant-read thermometer after 15 minutes and continue to grill, flipping the roast every few minutes, until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the roast registers 115ºF for rare or 125ºF for medium-rare. A 2-pound roast will need 15 to 20 minutes of indirect heat cooking.

  7. Transfer the roast to a clean cutting board. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for 15 minutes (the internal temperature will increase as it rests). Cut the roast in half crosswise at the center point. Cut each half across the grain into slices about 1/2-inch thick.

Recipe Notes

Marinade: For added flavor (not that this cut particularly needs it), you can marinate the meat in your favorite beef marinade overnight in the refrigerator. Be sure to pat it dry thoroughly before rubbing on the seasonings.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. To reheat, let the meat come to room temperature. Reheat slices in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat until just warm.