If you’ve never had tri tip, you haven’t lived! I will show you how to cook tri tip on the grill or in the oven. It’s SO easy and the flavor is unbeatable! We always had tri tip for Christmas dinner growing up; it’s an impressive holiday meal! Or make it in the summer with these Santa Maria Pinquito Beans! Originally posted November 9, 2018.

juices flowing from a tri tip temp of 135 degrees f, medium rare

Tri Tip – Cooked 2 Ways

Sometimes I start to make a list of things to buy at Home Depot, and I get totally overwhelmed. Does this ever happen to you?? It’s basically impossible to stop at a home improvement store for just one item because there are always SO many projects on the to-do list when you’re a homeowner.

Like yesterday, I was going to head to the store to grab a new broom. Then I remembered that I also needed to shop for a new meat thermometer (for grilling this tri tip). I asked Eric if we needed anything else.

tri tip steak cut into 4 slices with blackened edges

“Yeah. Get a wall patching kit, the kind with the mesh screen. Oh, and get some more ducting for the air conditioning, I need to patch some of it. And some new ceiling tile, the entry to the attic is getting worn down. And grab some nails, I’m running low, oh and some sand paper and wood oil so that I can refinish that bench on the porch.”

I can see future Karen, standing in the aisles of Home Depot, paralyzed with choices. But WHICH ducting should I get?? And nails, do you KNOW how many kinds of nails there are at Home Depot?? Like, 10,000, at least.

I ended up just not going at all. Home improvement, schome improvement. Instead let’s get down to business: It’s tri tip time. Are you ready??

What is a Tri Tip cut?

tri tip steak with one slice cut out, pierced by a fork

Tri tip is a triangular cut from the bottom sirloin, with 3 tips. Grilling it became a thing in the 50s in Santa Maria, California, and it’s getting more popular nationwide, but some still haven’t heard of it. Sometimes outside of California it’s called a triangle roast. If you ask your butcher for a tri tip roast and he gives you a blank stare, try calling it the “California cut.”

It’s a unique cut that is part steak, part roast. When grilled, you get that perfectly tender, pink center with a browned-to-a-crisp, caramelized exterior,  but it doesn’t take as long to cook as a full roast. It’s also cheaper than if you were to buy an equivalent amount of steak.

Is Tri Tip Roast the Same as Tri Tip Steak?

I guess, technically, what I call “tri tip” could be called tri tip roast, meaning that the cut of meat is all together. A tri tip steak is an individual slice of tri tip roast—but don’t you dare cut your tri tip into strips before cooking so it has the fancy word “steak” in it! Just say no!! After you’ve grilled or baked your tri tip, you’ll be slicing it. If you want to call those slices “tri tip steak,” knock yourself out. But I’m Californian. So, to me, the meat is simply “tri tip” before and after cooking, and before and after cutting.

knife cutting into tri tip roast

(I wish you could see the juice pour out of this as I sliced it.)

Tri tip is HUGE in my family. We’ve eaten it for every Christmas dinner for as long as I can remember. My family was born and bred in California, so I had no idea it was a regional thing until I moved out of state as an adult, and realized people didn’t know what cut of meat I was talking about.

Tri Tip – Cooked 2 Ways

Is tri tip a thing where you are from?? If you haven’t tried it yet, you are missing out! Today I will show you how to cook tri tip on the grill (which is the best way to do it) or in the oven.

Although I grew up eating tri tip at every holiday meal, we actually never made it ourselves. There is a locally famous butcher shop and deli in Manteca, my hometown. It’s called Fagundes Meats. We would always order a huge tray of grilled tri tip to be picked up on Christmas Eve, and then we would warm it in the oven the next day for Christmas dinner.

close up of medium rare tritip

But I live in Sacramento now, an hour away, and I can’t just stop by anytime I want a delicious tri tip. So I called them up and asked about their process for how to cook tri tip. I’m so glad I did, because it’s different from what I thought! (it’s a shorter process than I imagined, which is good news for everyone.)

How to cook Tri Tip in Oven or on a Grill

a bowl of spices next to a raw tri tip roast, seasoned

Here’s a simple overview of what to do and what to watch out for. (Step-by-step instructions given in recipe below.)

  1. Prepare the marinade by combining all the spices: garlic salt, seasoning salt, kosher salt, pepper, sugar, garlic powder, and parsley. 
  2. If you are grilling, trim the fat cap from the roast. 
  3. If you are oven roasting, leave the fat cap on.
  4. Rub the spice mixture over the roast with your hands. Place in a large ziplock bag with 1/4 cup olive oil and seal the bag. Massage the oil into the meat. 
  5. Marinate in the fridge, turning a couple times, for about 8 hours. (This is ideal. If you only have an hour or even 15 minutes, guess what, you’re still going to get a great roast. But the longer you marinate, the more flavor there will be. You can leave it in the fridge for up to 3 days.)

Grilling the Tri Tip

  1. Remove the meat from the fridge 30 minutes before you plan to cook it.
  2. Preheat your grill to high heat. 
  3. Place the roast on a plate and discard the marinade (or save it to add to a pan sauce if you plan to make one).
  4. Grease the grill (or brush oil directly on the meat).
  5. Sear the roast over high heat for about 2-3 minutes, until it is nicely browned. Flip over (grease again if necessary) and sear the other side for 2-3 minutes. Keep the lid shut as much as you can.
  6. Turn off the heat on the side of the grill that your meat is on and lower the other side of the grill to low heat. We are cooking it over INDIRECT heat. 
  7. Grill without opening the lid for about 20-25 minutes, or about 10-15 minutes per pound. Rare is when the center of the roast reaches 135 degrees F. Medium rare is 145 degrees F. 
  8. Remove the roast from the grill, and place on a rimmed serving platter. Cover well with foil and let rest for 10-15 minutes.
  9. Slice against the grain and serve. (See tips below for how to slice a tri tip.)
raw tri tip roast with seasoning
Here’s the set up for how to cook tri tip by roasting in the oven. This is pre-searing.

Roasting the Tri Tip in an Oven

  1. Remove the meat from the fridge 30 minutes before you plan to cook it. 
  2. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place an oven-safe cooling rack on top, and set aside.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers. Place the roast in the pan, fat side down. Sear the roast for about 3-4 minutes, until a brown crust has developed. Flip and sear the other side.
  5. Place the roast on the cooling rack. Save the marinade and oil from searing for a pan sauce, if you choose to make one.
  6. Put the roast in the oven and bake at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, or about 10-15 minutes per pound, depending on how rare you want it. Rare is when the center of the roast is 130-135 degrees F. Medium rare is 135-145 degrees F. Don’t cook it past 145; the meat doesn’t have enough fat for medium well or well. Use a meat thermometer inserted in the center of the roast to check the temperature. 
  7. Remove the roast from the oven, and cover well with foil. Let rest for 10-15 minutes.
  8. Slice against the grain and serve. (See tips below for how to slice a tri tip.)

Fagundes is famous for their Santa Maria style dry rub seasoning. I know it’s a secret recipe, so I didn’t bother asking for it, but after lots of research, I’ve come up with something that tastes just right to me! It’s so simple. Just a little salt and pepper and garlic, plus some other spices to enhance that garlicky combo. It’s so good! And you don’t even have to chop anything.

marinade herbs sprinkled over tri tip steak, raw

I’ve provided both of these methods for cooking tri tip because I know not everyone has a grill, but I have to tell you that they are not equal. Tri tip is MADE for grilling, and it just tastes better than oven roasting. You are going to get an amazingly tender tri tip either way,, but you are only going to get that ultra-crispy black exterior from the grill. The smoke also adds flavor. The original Santa Maria tri tip is traditionally grilled over red oak wood, but I don’t have any and I’m guessing you don’t either. I promise, a regular gas grill will work just fine! Charcoal would be great too if you have that.

Do You Cook a Tri Tip Fat Side Up or Down?

The tri tip in the photos is trimmed, meaning the fatty layers surrounding it have already been removed by the butcher. If your cut of meat is untrimmed on one or both sides, here’s what I recommend:

For grilling: I prefer trimming so there are no fatty layers before cooking. Use a very sharp knife and pull the fat up, away from the meat, as you trim.

For oven baking: Make sure to trim so that at least one side has no fatty layer. Place the meat in the oven fat-side up for baking. The fatty juices will keep your meat moist and tender! 

Once the meat is cooked, pull the fat away from the meat. It will separate fairly easily. Use a sharp knife to complete the separation. Do this before you slice up the meat for serving.

How to slice a tri tip roast

raw tri tip with black lines showing the grain of the steak

Tri tip is kind of weird because the grain runs in two different directions. You can’t slice it in the same direction all the way across. Use the above photo as a guide. The black lines are where you should cut. (Only once it is cooked! Don’t slice while raw. I just took the photo before cooking so you could see the grain of the meat.)

medium rare tritip steak with blackened, crispy top

Tri tip (and all meat) should be cut against the grain, and that means your knife should be perpendicular to the lines you can see (called the grain) in the meat. The thick black line that I’ve drawn above, where you see that thicker fat, is where you can cut the roast in half. Then slice each section of the tri tip against the grain. That’s why some of the photos on this post show small pieces of meat, and some show super long and thin slices, like this:

Tri tip recipe cut in long, thin slices, medium rare

Why is my Tri Tip Chewy?

No one wants chewy tri tip, so don’t let it happen to you! 

The biggest keys to tender tri tip are to:

  1. Massage the oil into the meat. Don’t skip this part! You can tenderize your roast now with oil and a free massage, or tenderize it later via chewing. 
  2. Marinate. 8 hours is ideal. 3 days is great too (but not longer!) If you only have an hour or even 15 minutes, guess what, you’re still going to get a great roast–as long as you massage the oil into the meat! However, the longer you marinate, the more flavor and tenderness there will be.
  3. Remove meat from the refrigerator 30-40 minutes before cooking, so that it starts cooking at room temperature.
  4. Use a meat thermometer! Don’t overcook! Remember, the temperature climbs for about 5 minutes after the meat is off the grill. Take the tri tip off the heat once it reaches 135 degrees for a medium rare tri tip, or 5 degrees below your preferred doneness.

Follow the slicing instructions! Much of the toughness of a slice of meat comes from cutting it incorrectly. Follow the slicing instructions above.

close up of tri tip in the oven with juices flowing

Should I wrap my Tri Tip in foil?

Definitely don’t wrap your tri tip in foil for grilling, let’s just put that out there right now. You want those crispy, smokey edges. If you’re a big foil-fan, I’m begging you. At least take the foil off for the last minutes of cooking!

For baking in the oven, the baking time in this recipe is designed for having no foil. If however, toward the end of the baking time, the internal temperature is lower than 135 degrees, but the meat is already getting crispy and black, protect against overcooking by folding aluminum foil into a tent shape and placing it over the tri tip.

santa maria pinquito beans with tri tip on a plate

So, now you know how to cook tri tip! If your family is not into turkey, this would be an AWESOME main dish to serve at Thanksgiving. And as I already mentioned, we always have it for Christmas dinner, with all the regular fixings: mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, etc. It’s so good.

The traditional way to serve tri tip is in sandwiches though. Slice it up, put it on a soft roll, hoagie, ciabatta, whatever you want. Slather with mayo, add in some onions and BBQ sauce and you will be in heaven! UPDATE JULY 2020: I finally tried the traditional Santa Maria side dish that goes along with tri tip: Santa Maria Pinquito Beans. They are SO good and the perfect summer compliment to tri tip! Try it out! I’m obsessed:

P.S. If you are into grilling, I recently posted all about How to Cook Flank Steak. Check it out!

P.P.S. New update (June 2020)! I recently mastered How to Cook Ribeye Steak! You’re going to love it!

More holiday dinner ideas!

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juices flowing from a tri tip temp of 135 degrees f, medium rare
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Tri Tip Recipe (Grilled or Oven-Roasted)

If you have never had tri tip, you haven’t lived! I will show you how to cook tri tip on the grill or in the oven, it’s SO easy and the flavor is unbeatable! We always had tri tip for Christmas dinner growing up, it’s an impressive main dish!

Ingredients

  • 2 & 1/2 pound tri tip roast
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon Lawry’s seasoning salt
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried or fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Instructions

Choose your tri tip:

  • If you can, get your tri tip from a local butcher. They will have what is called “prime” cuts, which has more fat and marbling than you can find at the grocery store. It will take longer to cook because of all the fat. (Fat=flavor)
  • If you buy your tri tip at the grocery store, make sure that you go to a high-end grocery store. High-end grocery stores are going to have mid-range cuts of meat. A discount store is going to have discount meat, and it will not be marbled well. Your roast will shrink a lot more and it will take a shorter time to cook. 
  • Ask the butcher or grocery clerk for a well marbled tri tip roast, or “California cut” or a “triangle roast.” If they still don’t know what you mean, ask for the bottom sirloin butt (subprimal cut).

Prepare the marinade:

  • In a small bowl, combine all the spices: galic salt, seasoning salt, kosher salt, pepper, sugar, garlic powder, and parsley. 1 tablespoons of dried parsley is fine, you can use 2-3 tablespoons if you are using fresh parsley.
  • If you are grilling, trim the fat cap from the roast. If you are oven roasting, leave it on.
  • Rub the spice mixture all over the roast with your hands. Place in a large ziplock bag and add 1/4 cup olive oil. Seal the bag and massage the oil into the meat. Place in the fridge and marinate, turning a couple times, for about 8 hours. (This is ideal. If you only have an hour or even 15 minutes, guess what, you’re still going to get a great roast. But the longer you marinate, the more flavor there will be. You can leave it in the fridge for up to 3 days.)

How to Grill Tri Tip:

  • Remove the meat from the fridge 30 minutes before you plan to cook it. It should start cooking at room temperature.
  • Preheat your grill to high heat. Make sure you give it a good 15-20 minutes to heat up.
  • Place the roast on a plate and discard the marinade (or save it to add to a pan sauce if you plan to make one).
  • Grease the grill (or brush oil directly on the meat).
  • Sear the roast over high heat for about 2-3 minutes, until it is nicely browned. Flip over (grease again if necessary) and sear the other side for 2-3 minutes. Keep the lid shut as much as you can.
  • Turn off the heat on the side of the grill that your meat is on. We are cooking it over INDIRECT heat. Lower the other side of the grill to low heat. If you are cooking over charcoals, arrange the meat and charcoals so that the meat is off to the side, not cooking directly above the charcoal. 
  • Grill without opening the lid for about 20-25 minutes, or about 10-15 minutes per pound, depending on how rare you want it. Rare is 135 degrees F. Medium rare is 145 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer inserted in the center of the roast to check the temperature. 
  • Remove the roast from the grill, and place on a rimmed serving platter. Cover well with foil and let rest for 10-15 minutes.
  • Slice against the grain and serve (see photos). Try this tri tip with it’s traditional side dish, Santa Maria Pinquito Beans!

How to Roast Tri Tip in the Oven:

  • Remove the meat from the fridge 30 minutes before you plan to cook it. It should start cooking at room temperature.
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place an oven-safe cooling rack on top, and set aside.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil shimmers, place the roast in the pan, fat side down. Sear the roast for about 3-4 minutes, until a brown crust has developed. Flip and sear the other side.
  • Place the roast on the cooling rack. Save the marinade and oil from searing for a pan sauce, if you choose to make one.
  • Put the roast in the oven and bake at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, or about 10-15 minutes per pound, depending on how rare you want it. Rare is 130-135 degrees F. Medium rare is 135-145 degrees F. Don’t cook it past 145; the meat doesn’t have enough fat for medium  well or well. Use a meat thermometer inserted in the center of the roast to check the temperature. 
  • Remove the roast from the oven, and cover well with foil. Let rest for 10-15 minutes.
  • Slice against the grain and serve (see photos). Try this tri tip with it’s traditional side dish, Santa Maria Pinquito Beans!

To make a pan sauce:

  • Save all meat drippings* and excess marinade. Add to a small saucepan with 2 cups beef broth.* Bring to a boil. In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup cold water and 3 tablespoons flour. Whisk until smooth, and then slowly pour into the boiling broth. Continue simmering for 5-10 minutes until thickened. Add 2 tablespoons butter, season with salt and pepper, and serve with meat.

Notes

*How much liquid you get as drippings from the meat is going to vary widely. If you roast in the oven you will have a lot more drippings. Use your best judgment and adjust broth and flour amounts accordingly.  

Nutrition

Serving: 1 slice, Calories: 458 kcal, Carbohydrates: 2 g, Protein: 47 g, Fat: 28 g, Saturated Fat: 8 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 17 g, Cholesterol: 147 mg, Sodium: 2912 mg, Potassium: 753 mg, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 1 g, Vitamin A: 70 IU, Vitamin C: 1 mg, Calcium: 60 mg, Iron: 4 mg