how to bbq tri tip on charcoal grill | Family Cuisine

Tri tip is a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin. It's a thicker cut of meat that can be cooked on the grill or in an oven.

Steak lovers rejoice! Grilled Tri-Tip Roast satisfies everyone from the “I like it rare” to the “no pink for me” people all in one cut of beef. This roast has a steak-like texture that makes grilling steak for the whole family a cinch.

We’ll show you how easy it is to select, prep, grill and serve this lesser-known cut that brings the wow factor.

Sliced grilled tri-tip on a white platter with grilled young leeks
Grilled Tri-Tip Roast sliced with grilled baby leeks.

A local specialty in Santa Maria in the 1950s, tri-tip has continued to grow in popularity with its amazing steak-like texture and flavor.

Also known as California cut, Santa Maria roast, Newport steak, and triangle steak or roast, it’s routinely sliced for fajitas, grilled as a whole roast or steak, and even replaces ground beef in gourmet tri-tip chili recipes.

In addition to a spectacular Grilled Tri-Tip Recipe, here’s a table of contents to help you find so much more.

Two tri-tip roasts on a wood table.
raw beef tri-tip steak for BBQ on wooden background, top view

Selecting the Perfect Tri-Tip Roast

Depending on regional availability, tri-tip can be an economical cut of steak for weekend grilling or entertaining—grilled as a whole roast or sliced into steaks.

It’s a triangular muscle located on each side of the cow just under the bottom sirloin (this description can help when requesting one from your butcher). If unavailable in your area, U.S. Wellness Meats is a quality source.

Tri-tip ranges from very lean (not ideal) to overly fatty (okay, because fat can be trimmed).

  • Look for roasts or steaks with visible streaks of fat running through the meat indicating a well-marbled, flavorful cut. If the roast is closely trimmed, you can see the white streaks across the muscle within the grain of the meat.
  • Some roasts are sold untrimmed, which means a fairly thick layer of fat is left on the muscle on one side. If this exterior fat cap is thicker than 1/4 inch, trim to a little less than 1/4″ thick.

NOTE: Exterior fat does little to flavor the meat, it is the interior fat, referred to as marbling, in the meat that enhances the flavor.

TIP: Trimming the exterior fat will help minimize flare-ups yet retain enough fat to protect the meat from drying out on the grill. Visit Virtual Weber Bullet to see a trimmed and untrimmed photo.

Tri-Tip roast sliced and fanned out on a white platter with grilled baby leeks.
Grilled Tri-Tip Roast garnished with tomatoes and served with grilled baby leeks.

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Should you use Marinade or a Dry Rub on Tri-Tip?

Yes, however, HOW you use them matters.

Marinate for Specific Flavors

A marinade is a wet mixture of acid (vinegar, citrus, white wine) or enzymes with aromatics such as garlic, herbs, and a little oil to add specific flavors. These are ideal for imparting citrus or herb flavors that dry rubs can’t match, but work best on thinner cuts since it doesn’t penetrate deeply and the flavor is mostly at the surface.

  • Marinades with acids or enzymes (think papaya or pineapple) should only be on the meat for a couple of hours, otherwise, these ingredients toughen the meat or make it mushy.

TIP: Always use a glass dish with an acid-based marinade—aluminum and stainless steel can react with the acid and affect the meat.

Dry Rub for Flavor and Crust

A dry mixture of salt, pepper, dried herbs, or spices used to add flavor and texture—the seasoning works to form a crust. It is the salt in the dry rub that truly penetrates the meat beyond the surface. Other seasonings in the rub will flavor the outer edges.

  • Salt needs 40 minutes to penetrate and flavor the meat, so dry rubs should be allowed to rest on the meat for at least 40 minutes (up to 24 hours) before grilling. Otherwise, apply just before placing it on the grill.

Dry Rub TIP: A good rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of rub per pound of meat, depending on how salty the rub tastes raw. If you taste it straight from the package and you only taste salt, go with a little less. If the salt is pleasant and savory enhancing other flavors, the 1 tablespoon rule works.

Tri-Tip Roast with dry rub on a cutting board.
Tri-Tip Roast with Smoked Chile Steak Rub ready for the grill.

Grilling a Tri-Tip Roast

The flavor and texture of Tri-Tip Roast are more like steak than a traditional Sunday roast so it is best when cooked medium-rare. The uneven thickness—thicker in the middle, thinner at the tapered ends—means it will be more done on the ends than in the middle.

Set up two-zone heat; direct and indirect

  • Gas grill: Once the grill is heated, leave the burners on one side of the grill on high and leave the other side off to create a direct and indirect source of heat. If the grill ordinarily runs hot or cold, you’ll have to adjust the settings to maintain a temperature around 375 degrees when the lid is closed.
  • Charcoal grill: Build your fire in a chimney starter and once the coals are hot and ready, spread them out over one side of the bottom of the grill.
  • To help the roast cook more evenly once it is moved to the indirect heat side, position the thicker part of the meat toward the direct heat side to finish cooking.

Temperature Trumps Time on the Grill

If you’re grilling without an instant-read thermometer, it’s time to elevate your grilling game and stop guessing about doneness. Great grilling or barbecue relies more on temperature than time. There are so many variables, any grilling recipe depending on time alone will always be a shot in the dark.

  • When the thicker, middle portion reaches medium-rare, the thinner ends will be closer to medium.

As you can see in the photo below, the temperature of the tapered ends is almost 10 degrees higher than the middle, taken at the same time.

photo collage showing different temperatures when grilling tri-tip

Step by Step Grilling

  • Set up the grill for two-zone heat—direct and indirect.
  • Start tri-tip fat side up and sear the meat over direct heat for 5-7 minutes. Turn and sear the other side for 5-7 minutes.
  • Move the meat to the cooler side, over indirect heat, and continue to cook for about 15 minutes (turn as needed) until the thickest part is medium-rare (130-135ºF). The exact time will depend on the thickness of the meat.
  • Transfer to a cutting board and tent loosely with aluminum foil; allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Carve by slicing against or across the grain — this is especially important to ensure a tender texture when serving the finished roast.

ThermoPop by ThermoWorks is the instant-read thermometer I use in my own kitchen and at the grill.

How to Carve a Tri-Tip Roast

  • Once the roast has had a chance to rest after grilling, it’s time to slice and serve.
  • In the photo, the fork is positioned in the same direction the long strands of the meat form to easily identify where to position the knife and begin slicing.
  • Cut against the grain and on a slight bias—this shortens the long strands of the muscle making it more tender to chew.

TIP: Keep in mind, tri-tip has three points and the grain may change direction while cutting (each roast is different). Simply turn the roast to keep the knife slicing across the grain.

A large fork and knife positioned on a tri-tip roast to show the direction for slicing.

Finishing Sauces for Tri-Tip and Grilled Meats

A finishing sauce or condiment not only adds fresh flavor with every bite, and it creates an eye-catching contrast to the browned meat when served. In the photo, I have added a simple tomato, garlic, and basil garnish, but there are so many ways to complement this dish.

  • Mushroom & Blue Cheese Ragout—Fresh thyme accents the meaty flavor of crimini mushrooms and Blue cheese brings umami to the luxurious sauce.
  • Chimichurri Sauce—A vibrant mix of fresh parsley, vinegar, and spices-very simple and quick to make with a blender, food processor, or mortar and pestle.
  • Tomato-Basil Compound Butter—A compound butter is simple to make yet enhances lean grilled proteins with big flavor.
  • Gremolata—Just as you are easing into a savory, meaty bite, the slightly bitter tang of the gremolata will wake up your senses.
  • Santa Maria Salsa—Unexpected ingredients like celery, dried oregano, and Worcestershire transform ordinary salsa into a delicious barbecue partner.
  • Fresh Basil Pesto—It’s not just for pasta, my friends. It’s like spreading summer on a steak.

TIP: When serving a savory condiment or sauce, reduce the amount of seasonings on the meat before grilling so the sauce or condiment doesn’t overdo it.

A photo collage showing the steps for grilling tri-tip roast
Six easy steps to grilling tri-tip roast on charcoal or propane grill.

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