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

There are several ways to cook tri-tip steak, and doing it properly will yield a juicy, mouthwatering result.
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Tri-tip steak is a lesser-known cut of beef that can be made to taste just as great as other steaks, even though it doesn't cost as much at the grocery store.

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You can cook tri-tip steak on a charcoal or propane grill, in a smoker or in the oven. Because it's leaner than other types of steak, you'll have to be careful not to overcook it, or the meat will come out dry.

The best way to cook tri-tip steak all depends on how you like your steak prepared. Check out some of your options below.

Tip

The USDA recommends that beef be cooked to a safe internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, which will result in a medium to medium-well tri-tip steak.

But, many chefs recommend cooking tri-tip to an internal temperature between 130 and 140 F for a medium-rare steak. Use a meat thermometer to check.

What Is Tri-Tip Steak?

Tri-tip steak is "one of the most flavorful cuts of meats, but one that usually goes unnoticed," says Chef Virgil Harper, owner of Toast on Lenox.

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Boneless tri-tip steak is a lean cut of beef. It comes from a triangular muscle at the base of the bottom sirloin section of the cow, according to the Cattlemen's Beef Board and National Cattlemen's Beef Association. It is positioned behind and just above the flank steak and is sometimes called triangle steak, bottom sirloin butt or Santa Maria steak.

"With its rich flavor, most people can enjoy tri-tip steak without marinade or rub," Harper says. "Tri-tip steak isn't fatty like the New York Strip and Ribeye steak. Most people compare it to the brisket because it slices like one, but it can be prepared in less time and is more affordable."

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Dietitian Maryann Walsh, RD, suggests that you select Choice-grade beef. Beef is categorized into Prime, Choice and Select. Prime is generally the most tender but also the highest in fat, while Select is on the tougher side. Choice is a happy medium.

Prepping the perfect steak starts with the choices you make at the grocery store. The quality and freshness of the meat you buy will affect your final product.

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Best Ways to Cook Tri-Tip Steak to Keep it Tender

For a tender, juicy result, tri-tip steak is best cooked medium rare with a pink center, as its dense fiber dries out easily and becomes stringy at higher temperatures, Harper says. While there's no one best way to cook tri-tip steak, smoking, grilling and oven roasting are good options.

"Tri-tip can be grilled, roasted or smoked," Harper says. "Cook the steak to medium-rare and make sure to let it rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving, which will help keep it tender."

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When you're done cooking tri-tip steak, slice the meat 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.

Tip

Whichever way you choose to cook tri-tip steak, remember that if it's frozen, you'll need to give it time to thaw. Remove the steak from the freezer but keep it in its original sealed packaging.

If the steak is not in its original sealed packaging, Harper says you can put it in a zip-close bag, submerge it in a large bowl of cold water and allow it to sit for an hour, changing the water periodically. Using cold water is the best way to thaw tri-tip steak, Harper says.

How to Smoke Tri-Tip Steak

Things You'll Need

  • Tri-tip steaks

  • Smoker

  • Salt and pepper, to taste

  • Other spices such as garlic, parsley, cilantro or paprika (optional)

If you want to make the most of your meat, you can smoke tri-tip steak to mouthwatering perfection. Many chefs say that smoking tri-tip steak is the best way to cook it, as it adds flavor and preserves moisture.

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Tri-tips can be tenderized by marinating them in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours or overnight. When they're ready to cook, here's how to do it.

1. Rub your tri-tip steaks with salt and pepper and other spices, if desired.

2. Place your steaks in the smoker on the top shelf in medium heat for about 45 minutes, turning once halfway through to brown both sides.

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3. Move the steaks to the bottom shelf of the smoker and sear for about 3 minutes on each side.

4. Remove the steaks from the smoker when the internal temperature reaches 130 to 140 F for medium-rare, and cover them immediately with aluminum foil. The meat keeps cooking after it is removed from the heat and covered.

5. Allow the steaks to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

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How to Cook Tri-Tip on a Grill

Things You'll Need

  • Tri-tip steaks

  • Charcoal or propane grill

  • Grilling tongs

Cooking tri-tip on a propane grill or charcoal grill is another great option. "The high heat of the grill is ideal for tri-tip, as it creates the perfect sear and keeps the steak juicy on the inside," Harper says. "Using a charcoal grill gives the meat more flavor, but a gas grill can work just as well." To grill tri-tip steak, follow the instructions below.

1. Heat up your grill.

2. Place your steaks on the grill and cook on one side for about 8 minutes before flipping with tongs. Cook the other side for 6 minutes.

3. Continue flipping until your steak's internal temperature reaches 130 to 140 F for medium-rare. "If your tri-tip is on the thinner side, make sure to reduce the cooking time," Harper says.

4. Let the steaks rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

How to Roast Tri-Tip Steak in the Oven

Things You'll Need

  • Tri-tip steaks

  • Oven

  • Roasting pan

  • Grill or frying pan, for searing

If you don't have a charcoal or propane grill, or you just want to prepare your meal indoors, cooking tri-tip steak in the oven is an alternate method.

Roasting tri-tip steak in the oven calls for low heat, which will help prevent the meat from drying out, Harper says. If desired, you can also marinate your steak before roasting for 2 to 3 hours (or overnight), which will add juiciness and flavor. Here's how to do it.

1. Preheat your oven to 250 or 275 F.

2. Arrange your tri-tip steaks on a large roasting pan.

3. Place the pan in the oven and allow the steaks to roast for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the steaks.

Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer to determine when the steaks are done. The temperature should read 130 to 140 F for medium-rare.

4. Place the steaks on the grill or in a pan on the stove for a final sear, which will add flavor to the meat.

5. After you remove the steaks from the grill or pan, allow them to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

See a related post about cooking tri-tip roast in the oven.

Grilled Tri-Tip Steak Recipe

If you want to cook tri-tip on a propane grill, here's one delicious recipe from Walsh that you can try.

Things You'll Need

  • Tri-tip steak

  • Grill

  • Zip-close bag

  • Grilling tongs

  • Serving platter

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice (optional)

1. Create Your Marinade

Marinating is always optional, but doing it can yield a juicier, more flavorful result.

For a tasty tri-tip steak marinade, Walsh says to combine lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a bowl.

You can also include pineapple juice to add a bit of sweetness to the marinade. Pineapple juice also has bromelain, which helps tenderize the meat, as does the lemon juice's acidity, Walsh says.

Marinate your steaks in a zip-close bag for 2 to 3 hours before cooking, or overnight.

2. Preheat Your Grill

As you preheat the grill, let the steaks sit out of the fridge for about 10 minutes to bring the meat to room temperature.

3. Cook the Meat

Place your steaks on the grill, allowing them to cook for about 5 minutes. Flip with tongs and then let the steaks cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cut.

This cook time should give you a medium-rare to medium steak with an internal temperature of 130 to 140 F. Cook them longer if you prefer your steak well-done. Use a meat thermometer to check.

4. Remove, Rest and Enjoy

Once the steaks are done cooking, remove them from the grill with your tongs and place them on a serving platter. Allow the steaks to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

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