Best Ways to Season Tri Tip Steak

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Photo by Jonathan Merchant licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Tri Tip is a unique cut of beef because it combines the best features of both a steak and a roast all in one. While this cut needs slow and low-temperature cooking to develop a tender texture and maximum flavor, it also responds well to aggressive seasoning approaches. It’s the perfect canvas for adding your favorite rubs, marinade, and other seasonings to highlight its beefy flavor. Get some new ideas for spicing up this particularly lean piece of beef with this guide on how to season Tri Tip steak.

Best Tri Tip Seasoning Variations

The most simple way to season Tri Tip before grilling or roasting is to use nothing more than salt and pepper. If you’re a fan of pure beef flavor, consider it as your first option. For a more complex seasoning process, consider expanding to a dry brining process or a seasoning mix that you apply the night before.

How to Make

Start your Tri Tip seasoning plans with Kosher salt. It absorbs best into the surface, especially when applied in advance for the brining process. If you’re going to use black pepper, use a grinder and make sure it’s freshly cracked rather than restoring to pre-ground. For dry brining, only apply the salt the night before and save the other dry seasonings for application right before cooking.

A popular basic seasoning mix for Tri Tip is:

  • ½ tablespoon of granulated garlic
  • ½ teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon of cracked black pepper.

How to Apply

To Dry Brine: Apply about ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt per pound of meat, rubbing it all over the sides and surfaces of the Tri Tip. Leave the salt on for 12 to 24 hours, refrigerating the meat the entire time.

To Season the Night Before: Most seasonings will have the best flavor if they’re applied right before cooking, but you can apply the pepper and other seasonings if you must the night before.

To Season Right Before Cooking: Let the meat warm up before trying to apply the seasonings. Pat the surface dry, even if it was dry brined, and pour a little oil on the surface before sprinkling on the seasonings and rubbing them into the surface.

Should You Wrap Meat That You’re Salting Overnight?

If you’re brining or seasoning the Tri Tip steak the night before, there’s no need to wrap the meat with plastic to protect it. The salt and seasonings will stay in place best if the meat is only covered loosely with a pot lid or other cover that won’t touch it. There’s no need for wrapping to encourage the salt to soak in.

Best Tri Tip Rub Variations

Rubs are combinations of spices with much more complexity than your basic seasoning. Dry rubs include only dry seasonings like granulated garlic and ground cumin, which butter rubs mix the spices with softened butter to help add flavor and moisture to the Tri Tip. Many rub mixes work equally well as dry or butter mixtures. Some of the most popular dry rubs for Flat Iron steak and Tri Tip include:

  • Barbecue rub blending brown sugar, smoked paprika, and cumin
  • Montreal steak seasoning with dill, red pepper flakes, and plenty of black pepper
  • Mediterranean rubs with tarragon, sage, and garlic.

How to Make

For dry rubs, simply mix your dry seasonings together in a plastic or glass dish. Store any leftover dry rubs in a tightly sealed container for up to 6 months. For a butter rub, follow the same steps, but mix the seasoning with softened butter before rubbing on the steak. Only mix up the butter rub right before you plan to apply it since it can’t be cooled and hardened again after mixing.

How to Apply

Apply to the Tri Tip with a clean hand so you don’t cross-contaminate the entire batch with bacteria from the raw meat. Keep one hand on the meat to rub the spices in and the other one only for touching the dry rub. Discard any leftover butter rub since it can’t be kept or used for other purposes.

Pairing a Rub with a Dry or Wet Brined Steak

It’s possible to add a dry rub to a brined steak, but only if it’s a salt-free mix. Try mixing up your own rubs so you can leave the salt out and apply them to Tri Tip steak that already has all the sodium it needs.

Best Tri Tip Marinade Variations

Marinating Tri Tip steak is a good idea because it’s one of the leaner cuts of meat that can get a little tough when cooked without extra moisture. It’s particularly good for steaks that will be grilled or smoked. Try marinades with any strong flavor that will pair well with beef. Some examples include:

  • Orange and lime juice blended with brown sugar and jalapenos for a spicy kick
  • Santa Maria marinade which relies on red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard for a refined flavor
  • Balsamic vinaigrette paired with strong herbs like oregano and thyme
  • Soy sauce and sesame oil mixed together with rice wine vinegar and green onions for an Asian infusion
  • Black coffee and Worcestershire sauce lightened by a little beef broth for an intense flavor boost
  • Pineapple juice, a splash of Bourbon, and some brown sugar for a sweet finish.

How to Make

Mix up the marinade with at least one acidic or enzymatic ingredient designed to soften the meat. Vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt, pineapple juice, and papaya extracts are all popular options. Balance out the flavors and make sure there’s enough liquid to completely cover the meat.

How to Apply

If you can, seal the Tri Tip in a plastic bag with the marinade so it’s completely surrounded. If you can only use a larger container and can’t submerge the meat, make sure to flip it a few times during the marinating process. Try poking the surface of the steak with a sharp knife or fork to help the mixture penetrate.

How Long Should You Marinade a Tri Tip Steak?

Don’t marinate this cut of meat for more than 48 hours. Even though it’s a hearty cut of beef, the Tri Tip can become gummy when marinated for too long rather than softer.


With so many seasoning options to choose from, you should never settle for the same old Tri Tip steak. Spice up your routine with a marinade or dry rub that pairs great with premium beef from the Chicago Steak Company.