How to BBQ Tri Tip – A Detailed Tutorial

Tri-tip, also known as Santa Maria roast, triangle steak or California cut, is one of the most popular dishes known for a steak-like flavor profile and texture. But just like any other dish, learning how to BBQ tri tip is the first thing to get the best smoky flavors. 

Along with it, choosing the perfect meat, preparing it for barbecuing, and maintaining the right temperature is equally important. Scroll down to know this all and a lot more related to an aromatic, tender tri-tip! 

Choosing the Right Meat 

The meat for tri tip is taken from the tip of the sirloin and has a triangular shape, this is why it is called a “tri-tip”. It can vary from being very lean to rich in fats.

For barbecuing, choose a cut that is well-marbled and has a fat cap. The fat will keep the final dish moist and flavorful as compared to a lean cut that has increased chances of drying out while cooking.

However, a thick fat cap is of no use as it will only melt and drip on the grate hence, making the cleaning task tedious for you. So, keep the thickness of the fat cap nearly 1/4″ and trim the rest. 

On the contrary, if there’s very little fat in the meat, drizzle some olive oil over it during cooking to prevent drying out. 

Does Tri-Tip Require Marination or Rubbing? 

Both methods can impart the flavors of your choice to the meat. But their ingredients and application differ. The marinades are best to infuse herbs and spices flavors inside the meat. Whereas, if you love to have a tasty crust on your tri-tip, using a dry rub would be best.  

Here’s how you should prepare your tri tips before popping them on a grill: 

Marinade for Tri Tips 

A marinade comprises acid or enzymes, oil and aromatics that are combined together to form a wet mixture. The acids generally used for marination are vinegar, red or white wine, citrus etc. Whereas papaya or pineapple are the common enzymes. For infusing the marinade flavors throughout the meat, it is best to carve it into thinner pieces. 

Do not think that leaving your marinated tri tips for long hours will ensure better penetration of flavors. The marination period shouldn’t last for more than a couple of hours, or the acids/enzymes present in the mixture will start making the meat mushy. 

Also, avoid using stainless steel or aluminum dishes for marination, the acids can react with them. Use glass dishes instead.   

Dry Rub for Tri Tips 

The dry rub is a mixture of ingredients like salt, pepper and herbs. Note that with dry rubbing, it is the salt only that will infuse into the meat (in around 40 minutes) while the other ingredients remain mostly on the surface. 

So, you should apply a dry rub at least before 40 minutes of barbecuing. However, seasoning a day before cooking is ideal. As for the quantity, 1 tablespoon of dry rub for every pound of meat is sufficient. 

How to BBQ Tri Tips – Important Tips

  • The tri-tips resemble a steak both in flavor and texture. So, barbecue them the same way you like cooking your steaks i.e., medium-rare.
  • The shape of tri tips is such that the center is thicker while the ends are tapered. To prevent overcooking the corners until the rest of the tri tip is cooked completely, place the meaty portion near the direct heat source.
  • Arrange two-zone heating in the grill. In a charcoal grill, move the burnt charcoal toward one half of the base while leaving the other half empty. Similarly, in a gas grill, turn off the burners at one end and try maintaining consistent heat.
  • If you want to BBQ tri tips as soon as possible, cut the roast piece against the grain. But be careful with carving, the steak slices should not be thinner than 1 inch.
  • Using an instant thermometer is crucial to determine the doneness of tri tip or other barbecue foods. For tri tip, continue cooking until the temperature of the thickest part of the meat is medium-rare (130-135°F).

How to BBQ Tri Tips – Step-by-Step Guide 

What You’ll Need  

  • Tri-tip roast (2 pounds) 

Dry Rub Ingredients 

  • Hickory smoked kosher salt (3 tablespoons)
  • Brown sugar (2 1/2 tablespoons)
  • Grounded black pepper (1 tablespoon) 
  • Smoked paprika (1 tablespoon) 
  • Garlic powder (1 tablespoon)
  • Onion powder (1 tablespoon) 
  • Cumin powder (1 teaspoon) 
  • Chile powder (1/2 teaspoon) 

Marinade ingredients 

  • Apple juice (1/4 cup) 
  • Lime juice (2 tablespoons) 
  • Liquid smoke (1 tablespoon)
  • Sea salt (2 teaspoons) 
  • Grounded black pepper (1 teaspoon) 
  • Onion powder (2 teaspoons) 
  • Smoked paprika (1 teaspoon) 
  • Garlic cloves (5) 

Step 1: Prepare the Meat 

You need to marinate or season the meat before cooking. For marinating, mix the garlic cloves and all ingredients together in mortar & pestle or a bowl. Keep the consistency of your marinade thick so that it can be easily spread over the meat. Next, apply the marinade on the tri tip and wait for 1 or 2 hours. 

To season, add all dry rub ingredients in a bowl and mix them thoroughly. Taste the mixture, it should have a balance of salt, sweet and spices. If not, adjust the quantity of ingredients to taste. Now, rub the dry mixture over the meat and let it sit for at least 40 minutes or 24 hours. 

Step 2: Light Up the Grill 

If you are using a gas grill, start by heating it up to 400-425°F. Usually, a propane grill takes around 10-15 minutes to reach this temperature. Check if there’s any stuck-on food or debris on the grills. Clean using a wire brush. Turn off the burners at one side while keeping the burners on the other end at medium-high heat. 

For a charcoal grill, start by burning the charcoal until most of them are glowing hot. In ideal conditions, burning for about 15 minutes is enough to start cooking. Next, shift the burnt coals at one side of the grill’s base and place the grate. Clean using a wire brush if required. 

Step 3: Place the Tri Tips on the Grate

Start by searing the tri tip on direct heat for 5-7 minutes with the fat side up. After that, flip the meat and sear the other side for another 5-7 minutes. Now, shift the tri tip toward the indirect cooking zone and barbecue until the thermometer reads 130-135°F for the thickest part of the meat. 

Do not flip the tri tip too much, turning once or twice will suffice for cooking the meat completely. Also, for even cooking, try placing the tri tip such that the meaty part is directed toward the heat source while the thinner ends are at a fair distance from it. 

There is no specific time limit for the doneness of the meat. Generally, it takes 25-30 minutes, but depending upon the type of meat, grill and surrounding conditions, the time may vary. So, it is better to buy a thermometer for detecting doneness rather than depending on other indicators like the time and color of the tri tip. 

Step 4: Pull Out the Roast, Carve and Enjoy! 

Once the tri tip is cooked to medium-rare, take it out of the grill and place it on a cutting board. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and wait for 10 minutes. This rest period is necessary to let the meat attain the final temperature and the flavors to infuse back evenly. Take a sharp knife, slice across the grain and serve with herbed compound butter. 

Serving BBQ Tri Tip

Adding a side dish or sauce that complements your tri tip not only intensifies the flavors but also represents your garnishing and cooking skills. Here are some serving ideas you should definitely try out with BBQ tri tip: 


The simplest condiment you can add alongside BBQ tri tip is gremolata. Just mince 2 garlic cloves and some parsley leaves. Mix them with a tablespoon of grated lemon zest. Season your tri tip with this mixture to add a slightly bitter taste note to it. 

Chimichurri Sauce 

This green sauce will take around 5 minutes of yours and delivers a vibrant taste to tri tip. Just toss 1/2 cup of flat-leaf parsley, 4 garlic cloves, a shallot and a red chili in a blender. Next, add 3 tablespoons of red/white wine vinegar, salt & black pepper to taste. Blend until finely minced. 

Shift this mixture to a bowl and pour 2/3 cup of olive oil over it. Mix until combined. Your chimichurri sauce is ready to drizzle over tri tip. 

Sweet Potatoes 

This side dish goes along very well with several dishes. To prepare, you will need to scrub and cut 3 sweet potatoes into cubes. Coat the potato cubes with some coconut oil, and sprinkle salt & pepper along with herbs like oregano, rosemary and thyme. 

Now, bake the potatoes for 30 minutes at 425°F. Top them with fried bacon and blue cheese. Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Serve and enjoy!

Wrapping Up 

Whether you want to serve tri tip roast as a stand-alone dish or slice it to add in fajitas or sliders, the tri tip cooked from this tutorial goes well with various dishes. Just follow the guide scrupulously, and you are all good to cook the perfect BBQ tri tips within a short span.