How to Cook Tri-Tip Steak

To learn how to cook tri-tip steak, start with a quick-cooking method like a grill, cast-iron skillet or oven broiler. The results are sure to impress!

Want to wow friends at your next backyard gathering? Serve them a type of steak they’ve probably never heard of: tri-tip steak. This lean, tender steak is usually more affordable than other steaks, but it has a full-flavored characteristic that’s missing from other cuts. It tastes great even if you don’t use a fancy dry rub or marinade!

It’s easy to learn how to cook tri-tip steak, too, because it tastes best when cooked over high heat. That means it was basically made for the grill!

What Is a Tri-Tip Steak?

Tri-tip steak is steak from a tri-tip roast, a triangular-shaped cut from the bottom sirloin. It may be called bottom sirloin steak or Santa Maria steak because it was popularized in California. The boneless roast is usually cut into one-inch-thick steaks, a perfect size for grilling or searing in a cast-iron pan.

Like other sirloin cuts, tri-tip steak is lean, so you won’t find the same fat cap that’s on a ribeye or New York strip. Tri-tip is well-marbled, though, so it should have plenty of white flecks of intramuscular fat. Put it all together and the result is a steak with a rich, beef-forward flavor you won’t find in other cuts.

If you can’t find tri-tip steak at the grocery store, use the opportunity to visit your local butcher. They can usually special-order cuts like tri-tip upon request.

How to Grill Tri-Tip Steak

The grill’s high heat is ideal for cooking tri-tip steak. Tri-tip doesn’t have as much fat as other beef steaks, so there’s nothing to render out with low cooking temperatures. The grill flash-cooks the meat, creating a nice sear on the outside while preserving the juices inside.

Start by preheating the grill to high heat. A charcoal grill will impart the most flavor into the meat, but a gas grill works just fine. Add the steaks and cook them for about 6 to 7 minutes. Flip the steaks and cook for another five to six minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 135°F. If your steaks are thinner than one inch thick, reduce the cooking time by a few minutes.

How to Broil Tri-Tip Steak

If you don’t have a grill or the weather isn’t cooperating, cook your tri-tip steak inside under the broiler. The broiler works the same way as the grill except the heat comes from above.

Preheat the broiler using the High setting on your oven. Position an oven rack three to four inches below the heat. Place the steak on a broiler pan and slide it onto the oven rack. Cook for four to five minutes per side, reducing the cooking time if your steaks are thinner than one inch thick.

How to Pan Sear Tri-Tip Steak

One of the most convenient ways to cook a tri-tip steak is in a cast-iron skillet or carbon-steel pan. You’ll want to be sure the pan is large enough to hold the steaks without overcrowding, which can cause the steak to steam instead of getting a nice sear.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a splash of neutral oil until it’s shimmering and almost smoking. Add the steak, reducing the heat to medium. Cook for five to six minutes per side for one-inch-thick steaks. If the steaks become too charred on the outside before they reach a medium-rare temperature, transfer the pan to a 350° oven. Continue cooking until the steaks reach an internal temperature of 135°.

How to Oven Roast Tri-Tip Steak

We don’t recommend oven-roasting tri-tip steaks. Home ovens don’t get hot enough, so this cooking method just isn’t quick enough to cook the steak properly. The steak will become dry on the inside without a proper sear on the outside, so we suggest looking to other cooking methods.

If you find yourself with a whole tri-tip roast, that’s another story. The whole roast tastes fantastic when it’s cooked in a 400° oven for about 35 to 45 minutes. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to determine when the roast reaches 135°.

Tips for Cooking Tri-Tip Steak

What temperature should tri-tip be cooked to?

Tri-tip steak is well-marbled, but it’s leaner than most steaks. We suggest cooking it to medium-rare (135°F) and letting it rest for five minutes before slicing. If you like your steak more well done, you can take it as far as medium (145°), but cooking it further can cause it to become dry and tough.

How do you keep tri-tip from drying out?

To ensure your tri-tip turns out juicy and delicious, be sure to cook it over very high heat but be careful to prevent the meat from overcooking. It’s really best to probe it with an instant-read meat thermometer and pull it from the grill when it reaches 135°. If you want to cook your tri-tip steak further, we suggest marinating it first. The marinade will infuse the meat with extra flavor, building in a little overcooking protection.

Finally, do not skip the resting step. That’s one of the mistakes most people make that turns a perfect steak into a dry steak! Let your steak rest for five to ten minutes before slicing it to allow the juices a chance to redistribute within the meat.

How do you tenderize tri-tip?

Tri-tip doesn’t need to be tenderized because it’s already a naturally tender cut. If you want to enhance its flavor, you can marinate it for two to three hours before cooking it. Adding acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar to the marinade will help break down the muscle fibers, making the steak more tender.

Instead of trying to tenderize tri-tip, the best way to ensure your steak tastes tender is to slice it against the grain before serving. Slicing meat against the grain shortens the muscle fibers, making each bite easier to chew.

How to Serve Tri-Tip Steak

Tri-tip steak takes on seasonings, rubs and marinades exceptionally well, so you have your choice when serving it. It tastes incredible when seasoned simply with salt and pepper and served with your favorite steakhouse side dishes. You can also fancy it up by using Southwest spices, slicing the cooked steak into long strips and serving it on a bed of lettuce with corn, tomatoes and avocado for a filling salad. You can’t go wrong by marinating it in beer and lime juice, either, using the medium-rare steak to make grilled onion and steak tacos.

One of our favorite ways to enjoy tri-tip steak is to turn it into sandwiches. The lean, flavor-forward beef tastes fantastic on a crusty ciabatta roll with mushrooms, peppers and onions.

Menu Inspiration for Your Tri-Tip Steak
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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.