How To BBQ Tri-Tip To Perfection On The Grill

Tara Williams

Food Writer & Editor For KitchenSanity

Tara Williams is a seasoned food writer and editor who's been with KitchenSanity since its beginning. With a knack for experimenting with food and creating delicious recipes, she's your go-to for straightforward kitchen advice and practical tips from personal experiences. As a mom of two, Tara understands the value of time. She crafts articles that enhance your cooking skills and free up time for what matters most—like family moments.

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The tri-tip is a flavorful and lean cut of beef. It’s got that beefy richness but with a different shape and texture that sets it apart from your standard steaks and roasts.

Tri-tip might not be the first cut you think of when firing up the grill. But trust me, once you’ve tasted a perfectly grilled tri-tip, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to discover it.

However, like all good things, there’s a bit of an art to grilling tri-tip just right.

And that’s where I come in. In this guide, you’ll get the lowdown on everything tri-tip, from selecting the perfect cut to grilling it to perfection.

1. Selecting The Perfect Tri-Tip

Freshness First

Freshness is key when you’re on the hunt for the perfect tri-tip.

raw tri-tip

Look for a vibrant red color, and avoid any cuts that have a dull or brownish hue.

A fresh tri-tip will also feel firm to the touch, not slimy or overly soft.


Typically, a tri-tip roast weighs between 2lb (907g) to 4lb (1.8kg).

It’s a triangular cut, about 2″ thick and anywhere from 6″ to 12″ long. You might find them called triangle steak or triangle roast.

It should feel dense and meaty when you pick it up, a sign of its rich flavor and lean profile.

The Fat Cap

The fat cap is where the magic happens. This layer of fat, often found on one side of the cut, does wonders during grilling.

As it melts, it showers the meat with added moisture and flavor.

But here’s the thing. Many butchers tend to remove this precious fat cap. It’s a move that leaves many BBQ enthusiasts scratching their heads.

So, next time you’re at the butcher’s, make a special request. Ask for a tri-tip with the fat cap attached.

Silver Skin

Alongside the fat cap, the silver skin is another aspect of the tri-tip to be aware of. This layer of tough connective tissue is found on one side of the cut and is impossible to eat even after being cooked.

tri-tip silver skin and fat

While it’s not a deal-breaker, removing it at home can be tricky without sacrificing some of that precious meat.

So, when you’re chatting with your butcher about keeping that fat cap, also ask them to do you a favor and remove the silver skin.

2. Tri-Tip Preparation

When it comes to tri-tip, seasoning is everything. Dry rubs, with their blend of spices, create a flavorful crust when grilled. They’re perfect if you’re after that smoky, charred finish.

On the other hand, marinades, with their mix of liquids and spices, penetrate deeper, infusing the meat with flavor and tenderness.

Both are delicious, so it’s all about what your taste buds are craving.


Giving your meat about 30 minutes to an hour to sit for dry rubs allows the flavors to meld.

Mix Kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and a hint of smoked paprika for a classic dry rub.

Want to kick it up a notch? Add some brown sugar for a sweet caramelized crust.


If you’re using a marinade, longer is better. Aim for at least 4 hours, but since you should never poke holes in your piece of meat, letting it soak overnight is much better.

Remember, the longer the tri-tip marinates, the deeper the flavors will penetrate, making every bite a flavor-packed experience.

Try an everyday blend of olive oil, soy sauce, minced garlic, and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

And for those special occasions, go for the signature blend of a mix of crushed rosemary, lemon zest, coarse salt, cracked black pepper, and a touch of chili flakes.

Grilling Essentials For Tri-Tip

Must-Have Equipment and Tools

Grilling tri-tip is an art, and like any artist, you need the right tools. Start with a good-quality grill, whether it’s charcoal or gas.

  • A grill brush for keeping those grill grates clean.
  • A reliable meat thermometer is a must to ensure your tri-tip is cooked to perfection. An instant-read thermometer is best.
  • Don’t forget a sturdy pair of tongs for flipping (never use a fork).
  • And if you’re a real BBQ enthusiast, consider investing in a grill basket for veggies or a smoker box for added flavor.
  • If your tongs are not good enough, a good pair of heat-resistant gloves for grilling can make things safer and easier.

Setting Up Your Grill

Getting your grill ready is half the battle.

For charcoal grills, light your favorite charcoal and let them burn until they’re covered with white ash.

Arrange them in a two-zone setup: one side with more charcoal for high direct heat and the other with fewer for indirect cooking.

If you’re using a gas grill, preheat it to medium heat. Aim for a temperature around 350°F (175°C) for tri-tip. A consistent temperature ensures even cooking, so keep that lid closed as much as possible.

Keep Those Flare-Ups in Check

Flare-ups can be your worst nightmare if you don’t deal with them immediately.

But with a few tricks up your sleeve, you can keep them at bay.

  • Trim any excessive fat from your tri-tip to reduce the chances of flare-ups. But remember, fat is flavor, so don’t overdo it.
  • If you see flames, move your meat to indirect heat or the cooler side of your grill.
  • Keep a spray bottle filled with water on hand. A quick spritz can tame those flames without affecting the flavor of your meat.

Grilling Tri-Tip Step-by-Step Grilling Guide

Detailed Instructions

Alright, let’s get that tri-tip on the grill!

  1. Start by taking your seasoned or marinated tri-tip from the fridge and letting it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This ensures even cooking.
  2. Once your grill is preheated to around 350°F (175°C), place the tri-tip on the hotter side for a nice sear. Give it about 4-5 minutes on each side.
  3. After that initial sear, move it to the cooler side for indirect cooking.
  4. Depending on its size and your desired level of doneness, it’ll need about 20-30 minutes.

Faced with a flare-up? Don’t panic. Simply move to indirect heat until the flames subside.

If your tri-tip ends up a bit too charred on the outside, you can gently trim the overly burnt parts without sacrificing the entire cut.

And if you’ve accidentally overcooked your meat, all is not lost. Thinly slice the tri-tip and serve it with a flavorful sauce or dressing to add moisture back.

Remember, grilling is as much about adapting and problem-solving as it is about following a recipe.

Know When It’s Ready

You’re looking for that beautiful, caramelized exterior and a juicy inside.

Always, always use a meat thermometer. Aim for an internal temperature of about 130°F (54°C) for medium-rare.

Your meat will start to release its juices on the surface when it’s nearing perfection.

When you give it a gentle press with your tongs, it should feel firm but with a slight give for medium-rare.

Crust Perfection

To achieve a tasty crust, make sure your grill is hot enough before placing the tri-tip on it.

The dry rub or marinade you’ve used will also play a role. This is especially true if it has sugar, as it’ll caramelize and form that sought-after crust.

Another trick? Resist the urge to move the meat around too much. Let it sear undisturbed on each side.

And remember, patience is key. Give it time, and you’ll be rewarded with a tri-tip that’s the talk of the BBQ.

Resting And Cutting Tri-Tip

Letting Your Meat Rest

After grilling your tri-tip to perfection, you might be tempted to dive right in. But hold on just a moment!

cooked tri-tip sliced juices

Letting your meat rest is crucial. As the meat cooks, its juices are pushed toward the surface. Resting your tri-tip allows these juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring every bite is juicy and flavorful.

So, wrap your grilled masterpiece in foil and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes. Trust me. It’s worth the wait.

Cutting Against The Grain

When it’s time to slice and serve, there’s a technique to keep in mind.

Tri-tip has a unique grain pattern that shifts about halfway through.

Start by finding the direction of the grain. Then, make your first cut perpendicular to it, cutting against the grain.

This method shortens the muscle fibers, making each slice tender and easy to chew. It’s a simple trick, but it makes all the difference.

Serving Suggestions

Alright, you’ve got this beautifully grilled and sliced tri-tip. What next?

Pair it with some garlic mashed potatoes or a fresh summer salad. A tangy chimichurri sauce or a classic BBQ sauce can add an extra layer of flavor.

And for those special occasions, pour a glass of a full-bodied red wine, like a Malbec or a Cabernet Sauvignon.

These pairings complement the rich flavors of the tri-tip, creating a delicious meal that’s truly memorable.

BBQ Tri-Tip FAQs

Do you cut the fat cap off tri-tip?

You don’t need to cut the fat cap off the tri-tip before grilling. That layer of fat adds flavor and keeps the meat moist during cooking. If you remove it, you risk having a drier roast or steak.

What to do with tri-tip fat?

Don’t toss the fat! Rendered beef fat, or tallow, can be used for cooking. It’s great for frying potatoes or even for sautéing veggies. It adds a rich, beefy flavor that’s hard to beat with oils.

Do you grill tri-tip fat side up or down?

Start with the fat side down. This allows the fat to render, become tender, and help create a delicious crust. After searing the fat side, flip the tri-tip over to finish cooking.

What are other names for tri-tip?

Tri-tip goes by a few different names, depending on where you are. It’s also known as culotte, California cut, Santa Maria, triangular roast, triangle-tip, bottom sirloin butt, and corner cut. If you’re unsure at a butcher shop, describe the cut or even show a picture, and they’ll point you in the right direction.

Written By Tara Williams

Tara Williams is a seasoned food writer and editor who's been with KitchenSanity since its beginning. With a knack for experimenting with food and creating delicious recipes, she's your go-to for straightforward kitchen advice and practical tips from personal experiences. As a mom of two, Tara understands the value of time. She crafts articles that enhance your cooking skills and free up time for what matters most—like family moments.

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