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Tri tip is a great cut of beef that can be prepared in many different ways. A whole tri tip roast cut can weigh anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 lbs, so it’s often cut into smaller steaks by butchers.
This can get confusing for some people as the term “tri tip” can be used in reference to both the whole tri tip roast as well as the smaller tri tip steaks.
There’s no need to worry though, you can cook whole tri tip roasts and smaller tri tip steaks to the same internal temperature.
Tri tip roasts and steaks are at their juiciest at a final internal temperature of between 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit as measured by an instant-read meat thermometer. That is considered medium to medium-rare (for tri tip) and is a great temperature to serve them at.
You can also serve tri tip at a lower internal temperature depending on your own personal taste preferences.
Although it is traditionally prepared with a dry rub, tri tip absorbs a marinade quite well.
Becasue of its size, the best way to cook a whole tri tip is to sear the outside first on both sides and then finish cooking it with indirect heat. A fully trimmed, 1.5 pound tri tip will take 20 to 25 minutes depending on your cooking method.
In this post, I will show you how to cook both whole tri tip roasts and smaller tri tip steaks using the stovetop, oven, grill, as well as the sous vide method.
Not only that, but I’ll also show you how long it actually takes for tri tip to reach an internal temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit using each cooking method.
Before we get started let’s look at what beef cut tri tip is and why it’s best served at an internal temperature of between 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
What is Tri Tip?
The cut of beef known as tri tip is part of the larger bottom sirloin butt. The bottom sirloin butt consists of three parts, the tri tip, the ball tip, and the flap.
The tri tip is separated from the ball tip and the flap through the natural seam, and all three sections are sold commercially as separate cuts. Their NAMP (North American Meat Processors Association) item numbers are 185A (flap), 185B (ball tip), and 185C (tri tip).
According to the NAMP or NAMI Meat Buyer’s Guide, the weight range for a tri tip is between 1.5 to 3 pounds.
A lot of people want to know how tri tip compares to brisket or flank steak. Both the brisket and the flank are located on the underside, or breast, of the steer.
The brisket is closer to the front legs of a steer and consists of a lot of interconnective tissue and collagen that can only be broken down after long cooking over lower heat.
The flank, towards the back and near the abdominal region of a steer, has very long muscle fibers but with little connective tissue and can be cooked quickly like any other steak. You just need to remember to cut it across the muscle grain when carving.
The tri tip is located directly above the flank in the bottom sirloin. Tri tip has little interconnective tissue.
When it’s trimmed of its fat, tri tip is as lean as flank steak without the long prominent muscle fibers.
It was discovered that if you cook this particular cut of beef on a rotisserie spit and cut it across the grain, you get a very tender piece of meat.
The name itself is due to its triangular shape and location at the very tip of the bottom sirloin.
Other Names For Tri Tip
Tri Tip also goes by many other names depending on where you’re located, here are just a few of the other names for Tri Tip:
- Triangle Roast
- Cut into smaller pieces referred to as “steak tips”
- Santa Maria Cut
- Newport Steak
- Bottom Sirloin Tip
- The California Cut
Tri Tip is very popular in the western part of the United States, particularly in California, where tri tip is synonymous with bbq.
It can be said that tri tip started in California , with Santa Maria laying some claim to its popularity.
Santa Maria Tri Tip
If you’ve spent any time in California or are familiar with the world of grilling, you may have heard of Santa Maria tri tip. The tri tip roast got its start in Santa Maria, California in a Safeway grocery store back in 1952. Back in those days, the triangular tip of the top block sirloin was trimmed away and used for ground beef or stew meat.
As the story goes, one day the meat department already had enough hamburgers and stew meat to sell, so they decided to rotisserie cook the excess tip parts of the top block sirloins, or, tri tip roast. It turned out to be a stroke of genius as the rotisserie was a great way to cook this cut of beef. Cutting it across the grain made it even more tender. The rest is bbq history. It gradually spread its way across central California and is synonymous with bbq in that area.
The traditional way to cook tri-tip Santa Maria style is on a Santa Maria grill with a dry rub. These are open-air grills with heavy gauge gates that are raised and lowered by pulley to adjust the distance your meat is from the heat.
Traditional Santa Maria Style Tri Tip is served with pinquito beans, Santa Maria Style salsa, and crusty bread.
Tri Tip Preparation: Trimming a Tri Tip
Before you cook your tri tip, you need to get rid of some of the outer fat. Some people like to some fat on, I just find it impedes even cooking of your tri tip.
Tri Tips cook relatively fast so there isn’t sufficient time for any fat to break down and baste the meat.
The thick membrane of fat on the outside of a tri tip will shield that side from the heat. To cook a tri tip evenly all the way around, you need to get rid of most of its fat.
Most tri tip roasts that you buy at the store will have quite a bit of fat left on them. If you have a good butcher they should be able to trim it up for you.
For the rest of us purchasing our tri tip roasts packaged on a tray, you can almost guarantee there will be a nice thick layer of fat on the underside of the roast.
As you can see I ended up trimming 9 ounces of fat off of my tri tip. That’s $5.61 worth of fat. Get to know your butcher people.
Once you’ve got it trimmed you can apply your spice rubs or marinades.
Tri Tips? Try This Tip, Use a Probe Meat Thermometer
Unless you have x-ray vision, the only way you can tell that your tri tip is at your preferred internal temperature is to track it with an oven or grill meat thermometer.
The internal temperature of anything you cook is the most valuable piece of information you need to know during the cooking process.
Estimated cooking times are just that, estimates. Recipes and guidelines don’t know your oven or your grill or smoker, but you do.
It takes just a few minutes for your tri tip to go from something people rave about at parties to something they talk about to their spouse on the way home in the car after asking them if they have any toothpicks to get the shoe leather out of their teeth.
Being the “pitmaster” that eyeballs things with a preternatural ability to judge doneness has kept many toothpick manufacturers in business.
The best type of thermometer you can use to track your tri tip is an oven or grill safe probe that you stick into the thickest part of the meat and track it from outside the cooking chamber.
A instant-read meat thermometer will work as well, you just need to be very mindful of time. After searing, a 1.5 pound tri tip will only need 15 minutes or so to reach an internal temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit in a 400 degree oven or grill.
After It’s Done: How to Cut a Tri Tip
I want to quickly mention before you start cooking, that tri tip has a distinctive muscle fiber pattern that goes in two separate directions
If you take a good look at a tri tip roast you’ll notice that some of its muscle fibers run horizontally and some run vertically.
When you cut meat for serving you want to slice it across the grain with your knife at a 45-degree angle to break up the muscle fibers. This will result in a more tender piece of meat.
You will need to cut your tri tip across the grain in these two different directions. Notice the direction of the knife in the picture below.
Taking your knife you’ll want to cut your tri tip in the direction of the arrow at a 45-degree angle. The red lines signify the angle of your knife blade in accordance with the grain of the meat.
You can even cut your tri tip in two parts right where the two different muscle fiber patterns meet if that will make it easier for you to carve.
Cutting your tri tip in this way will ensure tender slices.
Ok, let’s look at some of the different ways you can prepare tri tip.
Tri Tip Recipes
A whole tri tip roast can weigh anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. Because of its size, you need to be careful not to overcook the outer portion before you reach an internal tri tip temp of between 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best method is to sear the outside first then finish it indirectly to prevent dry meat.
I’ve found that searing your trip tip over high heat for 3 minutes on each side and then finishing it over indirect heat for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on size) is a great way to ensure you’re not left with dry meat.
You get nice grill marks on the outside without overcooking the inside this way.
Here’s a tri tip recipe that utilizes a traditional Santa Maria-style rub.
For reference purposes, the tri tip in the picture is a fully-trimmed 1 pound 6 ounce tri tip (2 pounds with the fat attached).
I grilled it for 3 minutes a side over high heat on a gas grill and then transferred it to the cool side to continue cooking at chamber temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Six minutes for searing and 15 minutes for indirect cooking equals a total cook time of 21 minutes.
Santa Maria Grilled Tri Tip Recipe
- 1 Tri Tip Roast 1.5 to 2.5 lbs
- 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Black Pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
- Or you can use any bbq rub you prefer for flavor preferences.
The traditional way of cooking tri tip Santa Maria style is over red oak, so if you have any wood chips feel free to add some to your charcoal or a foil packet on a burner.
- Preheat your propane gas grill with all of the burners on medium-high for 10 minutes. If you’re using a charcoal grill, prepare a chimney full of briquettes and when the tops start to turn gray pour them onto one side of the grill, leaving the other side free of coals, a two-zone fire.
- Once your grill is nice and hot make sure your grill grates are clean and well-oiled.
- Place your tri tip directly on the hot side of your grill and leave it be for 3 to 5 minutes. I like to flip my tri tip at 3 minutes so that it doesn’t cook too much on one side.
- Flip and continue to cook it over the hot side of the grill 3 to 5 more minutes. Again, I prefer just three minutes.
- After searing the tri tip on both sides, move it to the cooler side of the grill. For a gas grill, turn the burners off on one side and move the tri tip there. For a charcoal grill, move your tri tip to the side without coals.
- If you have a probe meat thermometer now is the time to insert it into the thickest part to track your tri tip’s internal temperature. Cover the grill and cook for 12 to 15 minutes.
- If you have a tri tip that’s around 1.5lbs or less start checking the internal temperature at the 12-minute mark if you aren’t already tracking it with a probe thermometer. If you have a larger tri tip closer to 2.5 lbs you’ll have to wait a while longer.
- I like to pull my tri tip off the grill in the 125 to 130-degree range.
- Let it rest for about ten minutes and slice it across the grain as detailed in the section above.
- Serve with pinquito beans, crusty bread, and Santa Maria-style salsa. Recipes for both are below.
Oven-Roasted Tri Tip Recipes
The best preparation for cooking tri tip steaks and roasts indoors is searing them in a hot skillet, then transferring them to the oven to finish. The sear gives you a nice caramelized crust on the outside.
There are two ways to do this: Either cooking the tri tip roast whole or using the butterfly technique. Because most trip tip roasts are quite large at 1.5 to 2.5 pounds, a good way to cut down the cooking time is the butterfly technique.
You can also portion your tri tips into individual smaller steaks.
To butterfly the tri tip roast you will need to cut into the long side of the tri-tip, basically cutting into the side of it.
Put the tri tip on a cutting board and carefully cut the steak in half horizontally stopping short of the other side.
You can then open the steak up flat like a book.
If you decide to cook the tri tip whole, it will just take a little more time.
Ok, now that we have some different techniques, butterflied and whole Tri tip roast, on to the recipes!
Tri-Tip in the Oven Recipe (Butterfly Technique)
What is a good tri tip oven temperature? An oven temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit works well for a tri tip that’s been butterflied or left whole.
- 1 whole tri-tip roast (1.5 to 2.5 lbs) butterflied (see technique above) or tri tip steaks
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat on the stovetop with a tablespoon of olive oil.
Saute the tri-tip for 4 minutes on each side, then transfer to the oven.
If I’m busy doing other things I’ll take a few extra seconds and stick my SmokeBloq probe in the Tri-tip and set it for 123 degrees Fahrenheit.
This frees me up to prepare side dishes or entertain guests. Read my review here.
When the tri-tip reaches 120-125 degrees Fahrenheit, pull it out of the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes.
The carryover heat will raise the temperature to a nice medium rare around 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature that tri-tip steak is at its best.
If you like your tri tip a little more done, simply leave it in the oven a little longer.
Slice against the grain of the meat and serve! These go great with mashed potatoes.
Whole Tri Tip Roasts in the Oven Recipe
- 1 whole tri tip or tri tip steaks
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
While the oven is heating, heat a large heavy skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil, over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering. Rub the trip tip steaks with the rub ingredients of salt, pepper, garlic powder.
Brown the tri tip on all sides in the skillet.
Transfer the tri tip, in the skillet, into the oven to finish.
Start checking the temperature for doneness at around the 10-minute mark with an instant-read digital meat thermometer.
For medium-rare, pull the tri tip out of the oven between 120 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit You can also leave it a little longer depending on your own personal flavor and desired doneness preferences.
Let the tri-tip rest for about 10 minutes, the carryover heat will raise the meat’s internal temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slice against the grain and serve!
Tri tip steaks in a cast iron skillet measuring 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chili- Rubbed Tri Tip in the Oven
You can apply many different dry rub variations to tri tip, this rub is great for making tri tip tacos. This rub also works great for flank steak.
- 1 whole tri tip roast (1.5 to 2.5lbs) or tri tip steaks
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1/2 tablespoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Follow the recipe above for cooking a whole tri tip steak in the oven.
Thinly-sliced tri tip for tacos.
This recipe is great when the tri tip is sliced into thin slices, then served with warm tortillas and pico de gallo salsa.
Sous Vide Tri Tip Steak and Roast
If you have a sous vide machine you can also prepare your tri tip first by using the sous vide cooking technique and then finishing on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet or on a propane or charcoal grill.
- Preheat your water bath to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place your tri tip roast in a gallon-size freezer bag with any marinade or dry rub you wish.
- When the water is ready, submerge your tri tip in the freezer bag in the sous vide water for 2 hours.
- Ten minutes before the tri tip is ready to leave the bath, prepare a cast iron skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.
- When the tri tip is ready, pat it dry and then sear it on every side for a minute or two.
- Slice into thin slices and serve.
Traditional Santa Maria Tri Tip Side Dishes
If you want to serve an authentic Santa Maria-style tri tip, you need to include pinquito beans, Santa Maria-style salsa and crusty bread.
Any rustic bread like a french bread or sourdough round will suffice. Cut them into slices and char them on the grill for a few minutes to bring out their flavor.
Here’s how you make authentic Santa Maria pinquito beans.
Santa Maria Pinquito Beans Recipe
What’s a pinquito bean? They’re a little pink bean grown around the central coast of California. They are very similar to other small chili beans such as pinto and pink beans.
If you can’t find pinquito beans, you can substitute pinto or pink beans in their place.
Here’s the authentic recipe from the side of my S&W can of pinquito beans:
- 2 -15 ounce cans of Pinquito Beans
- 4 Strips of Bacon
- 1 -10 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
- 2 Tablespoons chili sauce
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon paprik
- 1/2 cup smoked ham diced
- In a heavy skillet cook bacon until crispy, remove bacon.
- Cook garlic in bacon fat for 1 minute.
- Add the rest of the ingredients except the bacon and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add bacon at the end and serve.
Santa Maria Salsa Recipe
- 1 pound red tomatoes or 4 or 5 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped with juices.
- 2 stalks of celery finely chopped
- 3 green onions or scallions if you prefer a fancier name for your green onions.
- 2 Anaheim chiles
- 1/2 bunch of Cilantro
- Juice of 1 lime
- Dash of white vinegar
- Dash of Worcestershire sauce
- Dash of Tabasco Sauce
- Garlic Salt and pepper to taste.
Tri tip is becoming more familiar to the rest of the world outside of California. This is good because it’s a very underrated cut of meat.
With increased demand, the price will also inevitably increase as well. There are only two tri tips to a steer so that also will also factor in how much you pay.
However, tri tip is still very reasonably-priced in comparison to the more widely known beef cuts.
By cooking your tri tip properly by searing it first over high direct heat and then moving it to lower indirect heat you will achieve a nice flavorful browned exterior with a juicy interior.
An internal temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit for tri tip results in a juicy piece of meat with a nice browned exterior.
The number one tool that will help you achieve great results like this is having a probe meat thermometer that will let you know the internal temperature of your tri tip while it cooks.
By monitoring your tri tip internal temperature you will know when to remove it from heat so it doesn’t become dry.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer your best way to know if your tri tip is done is to use time and temperature estimations, but these can go only so far to help you.
If you’re cooking tri tip over moderate heat on your grill, anything over 25 to 30 minutes will probably result in medium to well-done meat.