Chef Bob Loves To Grill Tri Tip Steak!

Bob's proven grilling method of cooking tri tip steak will secure your backyard barbecue fame! This little known sirloin cut is fast becoming popular because...

  • it's sirloin tender
  • it's sirloin flavorful
  • it's relatively inexpensive
  • it's sirloin!

Tri tip steak, or tri tip roast? Both terms are often used interchangeably to describe the small roast cut from the bottom of the sirloin. Here, we are talking about a tri tip roast cut cross grain into about five 1" steaks.

Can't get Tri Tip? Tell the butcher what you want. Look at our "Tri Tip Secrets" page for the information the butcher needs to cut/order your tri tip.

The stuff you'll need:

Meat  For the best steak, buy "Choice" grade of tri tip, and never use "Select" grade. Why? "Select" does not have the marbling (the white fat running through the muscle). Even Chef Bob can't grill a "select" grade steak! The more fat, the better it cooks and tastes! We buy the freshest, "choice" grade for maximum flavor, and reasonable cost.

If there are no steaks showing in the case, ask the butcher for a whole roast, and have it cut into 1" steaks, if you do not wish to do it yourself.

Gas Grill To barbecue tri tip steak on a gas grill you will need at least a good two burner model. You have to get the heat to at least 375°F/191°C, or better.

Charcoal Grill  A well made kettle type grill (our very favorite is the Weber) will work great.

Chimney Starter  For the charcoal smoker folks this is the best way to start, and maintain, the coals. If you've never used one of these ingenious tools, you're going to love the experience! Our favorite top performer is the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Lot of chimney starters out there, but this is the best we've found.

Tongs  The secret is long and strong. We like the Weber Style 6441 Professional-Grade Chef's Tongs, or the cushioned, non-slip Oxo Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs. Any sharp instrument, like that fork thing they often include in BBQ sets, will poke holes in the meat and let the juices escape!

Oven/Grill thermometer  We've learned not to rely on the "built in" one. Our favorites are the Admetior Kitchen Oven Thermometer or the CDN High Heat Oven Thermometer.

Instant-Read probe type thermometer  The only true way to know if your steaks are cooked to perfection. Our inexpensive favorite is the fast reading CDN Proaccurate Stainless Digital Thermometer because of its accuracy and stainless steel construction. Two that we know to be faster, and professional cooks use, are the Thermoworks Super Fast Water-Resistant Digital Pocket Thermometer and the more expensive Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen - Instant Read Thermometer .

Spices Our tri tip steak recipe includes a simple rub, and we love it. It consists of only salt (kosher or course sea salt), black pepper (freshly ground), and garlic (granular or powder), however...

Try putting together your own by adding one or more of these basic fresh ingredients:

  • Paprika (sweet)
  • Cayenne pepper (ground)
  • Oregano
  • Thyme (dried leaves, crushed)

A great tri tip steak recipe starts with a rub!

The tri tip steak is first "rubbed", with a simple, dry, spice accented rub. All for that unforgettably tender, perfectly seasoned, eating experience!

Let's start with a classic rub that will impart all of the flavors your drooling chops are hankerin' for. You can adjust the recipe (as the "pros" do) to make it "yours".

Santa Maria Style Rub Recipe

Mix together thoroughly the following:

  • 2 tblsp Kosher or coarse Sea Salt
  • 2 tblsp Black Pepper (we love peppercorns fresh ground!)
  • 1 tblsp granulated Garlic or 1/2 tblsp powdered Garlic

If time is the enemy, or you don't have a cupboard full of spices, one of our all time favorite rubs is Pappy's Choice Seasoning. It is a large bottle, but we use the heck out of this great product.

See our Dry Rub Recipes for more on rub preparation.

Let's prepare the meat...

NOTE: Tri tip steaks should always be kept in the refrigerator (below 40°F/4.4°C) prior to preparation. We have found that for best cooking results, we remove the steaks from the refrigerator, and let them come to room temperature.

  • We leave any fat present to ensure more flavorful, moist steaks. If your tri tip steaks have a full fat layer, cut the fat strip (not into the meat) at 1" intervals to prevent curling.
  • Sprinkle the rub liberally on the meat and set aside.

Get the Grill Ready

  1. For the gas grill folks, fire-up all burners and put the lid down.
  2. After about 10-15 minutes, clean the rack thoroughly with your wire brush.
  3. Oil the grate with a folded paper towel, held with your tongs, and soaked with vegetable or peanut oil. Be careful! Oil may ignite if towel is over soaked.
  4. Keep all burners lit (for a uniform heat) and maintain a medium to high heat. Here is an old tried and true technique for knowing when your grill is hot enough:
  • Very hot: You can hold your hand at grill level only 1 to 2 seconds.
  • Hot: You can hold your hand at grill level only 2 to 3 seconds.
  • Medium-hot: You can hold your hand at grill level only 3 to 4 seconds.
  • Medium: You can hold your hand at grill level only 4 to 5 seconds.
  • Medium-low: You can hold your hand at grill level only 5 to 6 seconds.
  • Low: You can hold your hand at grill level only 6 to 7 seconds.

For the charcoal grill folks...

NOTE: Please, if you use a charcoal lighter fluid, be sure to allow the coals to burn to a grey/white ash coating (30-45 minutes) to be rid of the noxious smell/taste. There are several good "fire-starters" on the market that will not taint the meat, or impart potentially dangerous chemicals to the food. We highly recommend a good quality chimney charcoal starter because it's the quickest (and easiest) way to start the coals. Do not bother with self-lighting charcoal. It never burns "clean" and always taints the meat with that nasty petroleum flavor.

  1. Fire-up the charcoal.
    • Start with enough briquettes to cover the bottom of your cooker.
    • Let them get a to white/gray color, replace the cover and...
  1. After about 10 minutes, clean the racks thoroughly with your wire brush.

  2. Oil the grate with an oil soaked (vegetable or peanut oil) piece of folded paper towel held by tongs. Be careful! Oil will ignite if towel is over soaked.

Cook 'Em

NOTE: Grilling tri tip steak is an art. Practice will make you an expert. Our suggested cooking times in minutes are:

  • Rare 8-10
  • Medium 12-14

Divide time in half for each side, and watch carefully. Tri tip steak will be tough if over cooked!

Use your tongs and place the steaks on the grill.

If you are using a charcoal grill, there is sufficient heat to "sear" the steaks, ie; let them cook on one side just long enough get those grill marks, and quickly brown the meat, then flip them over. Cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side and be careful not to over cook.

On a propane grill, go 2-3 minutes on each side, and watch carefully to prevent over cooking.

To know when they are done we use the pressure test, or a great instant read thermometer. With your tongs, press the meat looking for ...

  • Rare - soft to the touch (120-125°F/49-52°C)
  • Medium - firmer than rare, but yields (130-135°F/54-57°C)
  • Well - firm, not yielding (160°F/71°C, and above)

Now remove the steaks and place on a warm platter to "rest" for about 5 minutes. Resting tri tip steak is important, as this allows the juices and spices to return to the meat's center.

...for the Cookin' Cousins" taste, we eat 'em just as they are, but many folks like a "finishing sauce". This is nothing more than a barbecue sauce, of your choice, served as a side dish (or two).

Serve Em!...

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