How to Cook a Tender Tri-Tip

by Irena Eaves

Tri-tip was popularized in the California central coast town of Santa Maria. This triangular cut of meat was previously only used as ground or stew meat, but cooks in the small town have forever changed the way people prepare it. You can season your tri-tip however you wish before cooking it using your favorite dry rub or marinade.

Cook your tri-tip over low heat. Because tri-tip is so thick, cooking it over high heat will only char the outside while leaving the inside raw. Lower temperatures allow the meat to cook slowly, releasing tenderizing enzymes in the process. If you're grilling the tri-tip, place it on the cooler side of the grill away from direct heat. Flip the steak every 20 minutes or so to prevent uneven cooking. When it's about 10 degrees away from your desired temperature, move it over to direct heat to sear a nicely browned crust. If you're cooking your tri-tip in the oven, first sear the meat in a large, oiled skillet, until nicely browned, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the browned tri-tip to a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven.

Cook tri-tip to medium rare to ensure it remains tender and doesn't become tough. For steak, medium-rare is about 130 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the steak to get an accurate reading. Because the steak's temperature will continue to rise after it's finished cooking, remove it from the heat when it's about 5 degrees below your desired temperature. Don't worry if some of your guests prefer their meat cooked a little longer; because of tri-tip's irregular shape, you can serve your guests medium-rare pieces and well-done pieces from the same steak.

Loosely cover the steak and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes after removing it from heat. If you cut into the steak too soon, all the tenderizing juices will wind up on your cutting board and you'll be left with a dry, tough mess.

Thinly slice the meat against the grain. The way you cut tri-tip is just as important as the way you cook it when it comes to creating a tender final product. The muscle fibers will be tough and chewy if you cut with the grain; cutting against the grain minimizes this effect.

Items you will need

  • Large skillet (optional)
  • Instant-read meat thermometer
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cutting board
  • Knife


  • The FDA recommends cooking steak to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit for safety.

About the Author

Irena Eaves began writing professionally in 2005. She has been published on several websites including RedPlum, and Eaves holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Boston University.

Photo Credits

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