Tri-tip beef is low on cost, but big on flavor. 

By Gillie Houston
Updated: January 17, 2019
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When it comes to making the most of your grocery budget, the tri-tip has always been a reliable way to get the biggest flavor for your buck. Despite being one of the more affordable cuts of beef, the tri-tip can be incredibly tender and flavorful when given the right treatment, and will wow a crowd even on a limited budget.

Simply enough, the tri-tip got its name from its shape—a uniquely triangular cut of meat taken from the bottom sirloin. While this portion of the cow was typically considered less desirable, and therefore more affordable, the tri-tip has made a name for itself in the culinary field over the years. Due to the unique placement of this piece of beef, the tri-tip is somewhat of a cross between a roast and a steak, and can sold as either. Because of this duality, the tri-tip has the benefits of cooking faster than a standard roast but being more affordable than a large quantity of steak. 

Watch: How to Cook Restaurant-Worthy Steak

 

The most common methods for cooking tri-tip—whether you’re working with a roast or steak—are grilling and roasting, either of which can result in the perfect combination of a crisp, caramelized surface and perfectly pink center. Read on for how to make the most of this deliciously budget-friendly cut. 

Marinating

The key to creating a perfectly tender and flavorful tri-tip roast is to give the meat ample time to marinate, allowing the muscle to soften and the flavors to seep in. Start by rubbing a spice mixture into the meat before placing it in a Ziploc bag with enough olive oil to properly coat your roast. Allow this mixture to marinate for a minimum of a few hours, or ideally overnight. The longer you give the roast to soak up the spices and oil, the deeper the final flavor will be. 

While this spice blend can vary widely, depending on your preferred flavor combinations, we’d recommend a mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried or fresh herbs as a good jumping off point for tri-tip beginners. 

If you’re running low on time and can’t spare a few hours to marinate, you can also opt to simply season the meat with salt and pepper before cooking, making sure to serve it with a flavorful sauce to compensate for the less bold flavor of the beef.

Roasting

Roasting is a wonderful option for cooking your tri-tip, particularly in colder months when grilling is off the table and you want to fill your home with some warm, savory aromas. First, you’ll want to make sure you have the right equipment, including a large, 2-3 inch deep roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack. You can also opt to place an oven rack into a standard 13x9-inch baking pan in a pinch. 

After removing your meat from the marinade, scrape off the excess oil while preheating the oven to 425 degrees. This higher temperature will allow the outside to brown and caramelize while keeping the inside moist and pink. Add your meat to the roasting rack, and cook uncovered for 30-40 minutes per 2-pound roast, until the internal temperature has reached 125 degrees for medium rare. Remove the roast and tent with foil, resting for 10 minutes and allowing the temperature to continue to rise to 135 degrees before slicing.

For another roasting option, you can opt for a pan roast—combining the browning powers of a pan with a lower roasting temperature. Begin by browning one side of your tri-tip in an ovenproof cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Then, flip the meat and add the pan to a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes, until it’s reached the proper internal temperature. 

After roasting, get creative with your sauces and toppings with a recipe like this Garlic-Rubbed Tri-Tip with Mint Caper Salsa.   

Grilling

 Grilling is a fantastic method for cooking your tri-tip, as it will result in a crispy blackened exterior and tender meat, with a hint of smoky flavor. However, depending on if you’re cooking a tri-tip roast or steaks, the method will vary significantly. 

While precut tri-tip steaks can be cooked like a standard steak, seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked over a medium-high grill for 9-10 minutes per side, grilling an entire roast takes more time and effort. 

Once your tri-tip roast is marinated and ready to cook, preheat your grill to medium-high heat and place a drip pan on the fire grate to create an indirect heat source. If grilling with a charcoal grill, check out these tips for prepping your charcoal for cooking.

Add your tri-tip directly to the grill grate over a medium-temperature area, and cover, cooking a 2-pound cut for 35-40 minutes until the meat has reached an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Remove the meat from the grill, cover in foil, and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.  

If you want to go the extra mile, you can also opt to smoke your tri-tip using wood chips to take your grill flavors to a whole new level. Keep your marinade and sauce flavors classic, like this Herbed Beef Tri-Tip Roast, or get a little more creative with a 

Grilled Tri-Tip Steak with Citrus-Chile Butter and Grilled Tri-Tip with Cuban Mojo Sauce

Pan Frying

While a tri-tip roast is too thick to be properly cooked solely in a pan—though it can be pan roasted in combination with the oven—tri-tip steaks can be cooked to perfection on your stove top. 

Start by patting your tri-tip steak with a paper towel until completely dry, before seasoning with salt, pepper, and the spices of your choice and allowing it to sit at room temperature for an hour. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat before adding your steak to the skillet and cooking each side for 5 minutes. Remove the steak from the heat, tent with aluminum foil, and allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Carving

One of the most important steps for perfecting a tri-tip roast is the slicing. Tri-tip should always be cut against the grain, perpendicularly to the lines you see running within the meat. However, given the unique positioning of the tri-tip, there will typically be two distinct sections of the meat with grain running in two separate directions. 

Make note of the divide between two sections before cooking the meat—when the marbling is most visible—so that when you’re carving you’ll easily be able to separate these sections and slice against the grain of each section properly. This extra attention to detail will result in perfectly cut, tender and flavorful tri-tip you’ll be making over and over for years to come. 

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