How to Cook Tri Tip Steak

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Prime Tri Tip & Garlic Noodle by prayitnophotography licensed under CC BY 2.0

Here at Steak University, we provide in-depth guides to help steak lovers just like you learn more about each cut of steak, what its best for, and how to cook it. If you’re a frequent reader of Steak University articles, you’ve probably discovered that there are numerous types of steak to choose from.

One that people don’t talk about much is tri tip steak, one we think is somewhat underrated. This steak is not as common to find as others because only a small portion is available from each cow. But if you can get your hands on one, we suggest trying it out.

What Is a Tri Tip Steak?

A tri tip steak is cut from the tri tip area of a cow’s body. Usually, the tri tip is cut in one whole piece that’s an average of about two pounds, so you can typically get about 2-4 steaks from it, depending on your preferred serving size. This cut can be grilled, baked in the oven, pan-seared, and cooked with just about any other steak cooking method you prefer. One of the most popular ways to serve it is sliced against the grain along with a side of mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables.

What Part of the Cow is Tri Tip From? 

Tri tip steak comes from the bottom sirloin area of the cow, which is in the lower stomach area. Because of its location, some people simply refer to it as bottom sirloin steak. However, the tri tip itself is just a small section of the bottom sirloin cut from the triangular tip of that section. This area is not an overly exercised muscle, so the tri tip is usually quite tender when cooked properly.

Different Methods of Cooking tri tip Steak

tri tip steak is versatile, so you can cook it just about any way you like best. The trick is knowing how to use each method properly to cook a successful tri tip every time. 

Oven-Cooked Tri Tip Steak

  • Season the steak with salt on all sides and leave it at room temperature for 45 minutes. Near the end of that time, preheat the broiler to 500 degrees.
  • Brush a thin layer of olive oil on the steak. Add pepper and whatever other seasonings you’d like.
  • Place the tri tip on a baking sheet and put it directly under the broiler. Cook for 2 minutes until browned. Flip the steak and cook it for another 2 minutes.
  • Reduce the temperature to 400 degrees, and move the steak to the middle rack. Continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes or until it reaches your preferred doneness.
  • Rest for 5-10 minutes on a plate tented with foil before slicing and serving. 

Grilled Tri Tip Steak

  • Season the steak with salt on all sides and leave it at room temperature for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the grill to 450-500 degrees.
  • Brush olive oil on both sides of the steak and season it with salt and pepper.
  • Add the steak to the hottest area of the grill, searing on each side for 2-3 minutes. Then, move the steak to a low-heat area of the grill to continue cooking for 10-15 minutes.
  • Rest on a foil-tented plate for 5-10 minutes.

Smoked Tri Tip Steak

  • Prepare the smoker by heating it to 225 degrees and adding your preferred wood chips.
  • Season the steak with salt, pepper, and your other desired seasonings.
  • Add the steak to the grates, close the lid, and smoke for about two hours or until it reaches your desired temperature.
  • Sear the steak in a preheated skillet with olive oil, if desired.
  • Rest at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

Slow Cooked Tri Tip Steak

  • Season the meat with salt and pepper and place it in the slow cooker.
  • Add 2-3 cups of beef broth and 3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce over the steak.
  • Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. 
  • Remove from the slow cooker and slice or shred the steak, if desired. Optional: Drizzle juice from the slow cooker over the meat just before serving. 

Reverse Seared Tri Tip Steak

  • Season the steak with salt on all sides and leave it at room temperature for 45 minutes. 
  • Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Brush the steak with olive oil and season it with pepper on both sides.
  • Place the steak on a baking sheet and into the oven. Cook for 30-45 minutes, or until it reaches 115 degrees for medium rare (keep the steak in the oven longer for higher doneness levels).
  • Meanwhile, heat a skillet over high heat with a drizzle of oil or one tablespoon of butter. Add the steak, and sear for 1-2 minutes on each side.
  • Rest the tri tip on a foil-tented plate for 5-10 minutes.

Sous Vide Tri Tip Steak

  • Heat a pot of water to 130 degrees (if cooking above medium-rare, raise the temperature 5-10 degrees). Check the temperature with a candy thermometer, or set your sous vide cooker to 130 degrees.
  • Season the steak with salt and pepper on both sides. Transfer the steak to a heat-safe bag, removing as much air as possible before sealing.
  • Clip the bag to the side of the pot, ensuring that the steak is fully submerged under the water first. 
  • Cook for 1-2 hours or until the meat reads 125 degrees.
  • Preheat a skillet with oil or butter, and sear the meat on each side for 1-2 minutes.
  • Rest at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Cooking Times for Tri Tip

Cooking times for tri tip steak vary significantly by cooking method, which we explain more in detail above. However, a general rule of thumb is about 10-12 minutes per pound for medium-rare. Of course, you’ll cook it longer in the slow cooker or smoker, and it might not take quite as long if you’re grilling or pan-searing your steak. 

Also, when planning your meal, don’t forget to consider that your steak needs about 45 minutes of resting time at room temperature before cooking it on the grill, in the oven, or in a pan. Also, remember to add another 5-10 minutes of after-cooking resting time to your overall cooking time.

Measuring Doneness

Knowing cooking times for tri tip steak can help you plan out your meal, but they should only be used as general guidelines rather than a strict gauge of whether your steak is done. Instead, use a meat thermometer to determine doneness. Place the thermometer’s probe inside the thickest part of the meat and let it read the temperature for 5-10 seconds. Compare the temperature with our steak temperature guide to determine whether your tri tip steak is ready to remove from the heat. For instance, a medium-rare tri tip steak is ready to rest at room temperature when it reaches 125 degrees.

How Do You Keep tri tip From Drying Out?

Tri tip steak usually cooks best when cooked in low heat over a long period of time, so roasting it in the oven or smoking it are excellent methods for moist tri tip. Sous vide and slow cooking also work well, as these methods lock moisture into the meat. However, you can absolutely use a grill or pan for cooking tender tri tip that isn’t dry.

For these methods, marinating can help hold in some moisture and tenderize the meat, especially if you marinate the steak overnight. Also, sear the meat quickly over high heat, finishing it off over lower heat until it reaches your desired doneness level.

Conclusion: Your Guide to Tri Tip Steak

Tri tip steak is just one of many cuts of steak you can add to your plate. If you’re looking for more steak tips and cooking inspiration, head over to Steak University for guides, recipes, videos, and more. Then, check out our selection of mail-order steaks shipped directly to your home.