Tri-tip was typically only used as ground or stew meat, until this triangular sirloin cut of beef was popularized as a barbecue item in the California central coast town of Santa Maria. Cooks in the small town have forever changed the way people prepare tri-tip, permanently dispelling its reputation as a tough cut fit only for stewing. It's not as tender as traditional grilling steaks, so successfully cooking tri tip steaks in the oven or on your grill requires a bit of finesse.
It's always best to 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.
Don't Overcook it
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.
After It's Cooked
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, a lot of the juices will wind up on your cutting board and the tri-tip will feel relatively dry in your mouth even if it's perfectly cooked. 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. To serve the tri-tip, slice the meat thinly across the grain. The muscle fibers will be tough and chewy if you cut with the grain; cutting against the grain shortens those fibers and minimizes the effect.
The FDA recommends cooking steak to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit for safety.