The Best Ways to Cook Tri-Tip Steaks So They Are Tender

Once relegated to become ground beef, tri-tips have gained favor with cooks who use smokers to produce flavorful barbecue from marginally tender cuts of beef. This cut is best cooked medium rare with a pink center; its dense fiber dries out easily and becomes stringy at higher temperatures. Smoke, grill or roast tri-tip steaks.

Sliced steaks on the grill. (Image: Calman Lugo/iStock/Getty Images)

The Steak

The tri-tip is a triangular shaped muscle at the base of the bottom sirloin section. It is positioned behind and just above the flank steak and is sometimes called triangle steak, bottom sirloin butt or Santa Maria steak. This frequently used muscle is marginally tender; but, like the flank, is very lean and flavorful. The whole tri-tip weighs from 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. and is about 2 inches thick in its center. Trim the steak of fat, if present, until no more than 1/4 inch remains on the top of the steak.


Rub a steak destined for the smoker with salt and pepper and other spices including garlic, parsley, coriander, cilantro or paprika. Tri-tips can be tenderized by marinating them in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. Steaks smoke on the top shelf of the smoker in medium heat for approximately 45 minutes until their internal temperature measures no more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit. They should be turned only once to brown both sides and then moved to the bottom shelf near the coals and seared for about 3 minutes on each side. Remove the steak from the smoker and cover it with aluminum foil for 10 minutes to rest.


Bring the tri-tip to room temperature and season or rub just before grilling. Sear the steak on a medium-hot grill at 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit just until charred, no more than 4 minutes to a side. Spritz the coals with water or adjust gas controls to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and cook, turning once, until the interior temperature reads 130 degrees for rare or 145 for medium rare. Remove the steak from the grill and cover it with aluminum foil for 10 minutes before serving.

Searing and Oven Roasting

Season the room temperature steak with salt and pepper or a rub and sear it in a hot iron pan on both sides. Roast it in a hot oven at 375 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 30 minutes until the interior temperature reads 130 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare.


The meat keeps cooking after it is removed from the heat and covered; a piece that begins resting at 130 degrees Fahrenheit will cook as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit more while it rests. Slice the tri-tip across the grain to serve as you would a London broil from a flank steak; you will need to turn the steak as you cut because the grain shifts. Use pan drippings and juices that drip as the tri-tip rests to make pan gravy or a rich red wine sauce or just serve with Dijon mustard.

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