If you’re looking for a cut of meat that’s well-suited for grilling, broiling, braising, or even just tossing in the skillet, look no further than the tri-tip. This triangular cut from the bottom of the sirloin originated in California and is steadily gaining popularity. It’s a lean cut of beef that you can grill like steak, cut like brisket. It’s a lot more forgiving than other steaks in terms of grilling time. Known by some as “the poor man’s prime rib,” it packs the rich flavor of a prime cut of meat.
How to cook a tri-tip
In our opinion, you’ve got endless options when it comes down to the best way to cook a tri-tip. But today, we’re looking at three of our favorites: smoking, roasting, and reverse-searing.
As a leaner cut of meat that toes the line between steak and roast, the tri-tip undergoes a special kind of magic during smoking. The tri-tip works well with a variety of seasoning flavor profiles. Whether you prefer to keep it simple with salt, pepper, and garlic powder or want to experiment with a coffee or smoked chile rub.
The traditional Santa Maria tri-tip is smoked or barbecued over red oak wood. You can smoke tri-tip in any type of smoker you have available. However, we recommend keeping the temperature at a consistent 225 degrees and smoking for at least two hours to an internal temperature of 135 degrees.
For a simple, flavorful smoked tri-tip, check out these pointers from Hey Grill Hey.
Don’t have the ability to smoke or barbecue your tri-tip? Don’t worry. Oven-roasted tri-tip is just as easy (and just as sure to be a family favorite).
The day before your tri-tip goes in the oven, you’ll want to liberally season with your favorite spice blend. Like we said, this flavorful cut of meat is delicious, whether you season it with a simple salt-pepper-garlic rub or the secret steak rub your family has used for generations.
If you’re oven roasting your tri-tip, you’ll also want to take the time to sear the meat. Just heat two tablespoons of oil in a pan or skillet to medium-high heat and brown all sides of the roast to a rich, caramelized crust. After that, it’s time to sit back and let the oven work its magic. Preheat to 350 degrees and cook your tri-tip for 10-15 minutes per pound of meat, depending on your preferred level of doneness.
Searing is a technique where you brown every side of your uncooked meat over high heat. It’s an effective way to seal in the meat’s flavorful juices while giving it a tasty, browned crust.
But what is reverse searing? Well, instead of searing a piece of uncooked meat, you’re searing meat that’s already gone through a low-and-slow cooking process (like smoking or roasting).
As a lean cut of meat, tri-tip tends to be tougher when it’s rare. That’s why we recommend cooking to medium-rare (or even medium) for the perfect, tender tri-tip. And when it comes to medium-rare meat, nothing beats a reverse sear. This results in a rich, brown crust and tender pink center.
The good news? This is one step that can be added to finish either of the low-and-slow options we’ve got listed already: smoking and oven-roasting.