Tri Tip is one of my all-time favorite cuts of meat to barbeque on the grill. Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge of a perfectly smoked rack of ribs. Slow smoking a beef brisket is right up my alley. I love que’ing anything I can get my hands on when it comes right down to it.
There’s just something about a beefy, char-crusted, juice dripping tri-tip that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And with my simple reverse seared tri-tip technique and recipe, I know you will fall in love with them too.
I grew up eating Tri-Tip so my love affair with it started when I was a young boy. My dad would often cook them on his Gas grill for family dinners in the summertime. I will never forget the crusty, charred, juicy, beefy bliss.
Over time and many trials and errors, I have come to perfect the art of cooking a Tri-Tip and take much pride in it. It is a mercifully forgiving cut of meat when it comes to grilling, but there are ways to make a Tri-Tip really shine.
To many a Californian, especially a Northern Californian, Tri-Tip is what backyard BBQ is all about!
Spoiler Alert: This beefy tri-tip recipe sent me to carnivore heaven!
Let’s jump into it shall we.
Table of Contents
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Understanding the Tri Tip Cut
The Tri-Tip is a large, tender and triangular (hence the name Tri-Tip) muscle cut from the bottom sirloin of a steer. The cut is from the muscle group that controls the steer’s back legs.
It’s a mouthwatering combination of a steak and a roast that’s perfect for grilling. I’ve heard it called the “poor man’s prime rib” due to its excellent full beefy flavor and comparatively lower cost.
Tri-tips are a leaner cut of meat. They texturally resemble a flat cut brisket although they don’t have nearly as much of a fat cap. They are also smaller and generally only run from 1.5 to 5 pounds.
It has a fat cap on one side that can be left on the cut to enhance flavor when grilling. Many butchers trim back the fat side for aesthetic purposes. My butcher sells both trimmed and untrimmed versions. I usually go with the later and trim down some of the fat myself while leaving a thin layer for flavor.
The Tri-Tip cut was made famous as a local favorite in Santa Maria, California in the late 1950’s. It used to only be available on the West Coast but has grown in popularity over the last several years. It is now frequently found in a lot of membership stores across the U.S.
Tri-tip is called by many different names across the country. If you are having a hard time finding it, chances are your butcher refers to it by something else. Any butcher worth his salt should know this cut but just in case, check out “12 Other Names for Tri Tip.”
Why Use a Beef Base Rub?
While searching for a new recipe for brisket a while back, I ran into a very interesting article from Robyn Lindars from GrillGirl.com. (Great Website for Grillers by the way.) She has a recipe she calls “Better Than Sex Brisket”, and let me tell you, it was truly the “bomb” as she says.
What was interesting about this recipe was that it calls for “Beef Base” to be rubbed over the entire brisket before applying your dry rub. Now I have applied several different things to meat prior to adding a dry rub to help it stick, but I have never tried beef base.
Most recipes I find will call for a coating of cooking oil, mustard, or Worcestershire sauce to be added before applying your spices. So, I was intrigued to try something new to me.
As I mentioned above, I wasn’t disappointed. The brisket came out amazing. Using Robyn Lindars Better Than Sex Recipe and I could really taste the added beefy flavor enhancement from using the beef base.
This got me to thinking that I should give it a try on a Tri-Tip and the rest is history.
What Exactly Is Beef Base?
Beef Base is a darkly colored, thick, goopy paste made from Roast Beef and Concentrated Beef Stock. It is salty so I don’t pre- salt the meat or add salt to my rubs when using it.
It’s found in the same section as soup/bouillon cubes/stock/broth. You don’t want to get carried away with this stuff. A thin layer rubbed throughout is all that is needed.
My Reversed Seared Tri Tip With a Beef Base Rub Recipe
Because of its triangular and tapered shape, this is a perfect cut of meat if you have a family that likes their meat cooked to different amounts of doneness. The narrow and often thinner tip will cook quicker than the fatter butt-end, giving them a range of temperature doneness to choose from.
Serves 3-4 with leftovers or more if you wish to make sandwiches.
- 5 to 5-Pound Tri-Tip
- Beef Base
- Your Favorite Go to Rub (could be homemade)
- Grill Set Up for Indirect Heat
Your Favorite Beef Rub of Choice. I used Plowboys BBQ brand Bovine Bold. This is one of my favorites for brisket and tri-tip and the one I use most often. You can find it on Amazon Here.
I also enjoy Jess Pryles Hardcore Carnivore Black.
A traditional Santa Maria-style Tri-Tip calls for a black pepper, salt, and garlic salt rub. I have also used or added smoked paprika, cumin, a bit of brown sugar and cayenne at times as well.
Meat: Trim or remove the fat cap if not already pre-trimmed. Using a paper towel, wipe of any remaining moisture on the surface so it is dry as you can get it.
Rub in a thin layer of the beef base onto the surface of the Tri-Tip, coating all sides. Don’t overdo it. You don’t want globs showing. Just enough to darken the meat. Generously coat your seasoning of choice on to the meat, again covering all sides.
A typical sear for Tri-Tip, I season very generously as some of the spice will fall or burn off during the initial sear. The reverse sear, you will be searing at the end, so the spices have had a good chance to absorb in. I still season generously, just a little bit less.
Grill: Whether using a Charcoal or Gas grill, set it up for indirect heat by creating a direct/indirect zone.
The Reverse Sear
Light your grill and when it’s at the right temperature, add your meat off the fire over the cooler side of the grill. Place your meat probe in the thickest part of the meat to monitor the temperature.
Close the lid and continue adjusting your vents until you are maintaining a temperature between 325 – 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Let the Tri-Tip cook until the internal temp reaches 115 degrees for a medium-rare finish. Add 5 degrees for each level of doneness you prefer. Pull it off the grill and immediately cover it loosely with foil on a platter and let it rest for 15 minutes.
My four keys to a great reverse sear:
- Start low and work your way up to temp. Add your meat a little before you reach your optimal temperature. Use your air vents to bring the temp slowly up to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. The slow heating process really adds to the smokey flavor and helps keep your meat moist.
- I highly suggest using a wireless probe thermometer to monitor the temperature at this stage. You really want to nail the temps on this one or you can overcook or undercook the tri-tip.
- At about 20 degrees from your target temperature, remove the meat, loosely cover it and let it rest for 15 minutes. (More on This later.) While resting, the meat will continue to cook.
- After the rest period is over, finish hot and fast! I can’t stress this one enough. You want your grill’s cooking surface to be around 500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit for the final sear. This way you will get a quick, charred crust on the outside without letting the heat penetrate the meat too much. You don’t want the center to cook much more.
Finishing It off With a Hot and Fast Sear
While the meat is resting, it’s time to get your fire blazing. If you are using a charcoal grill, add more coals if needed using a charcoal chimney starter. If you are using a gas grill, kick it up to its hottest setting with the lid closed. Make sure you give it the time it needs to get up to temp.
When grilling using my Big Green Egg, I open the vents wide in the last three to four minutes of the rest period. This makes a screaming hot fire.
Put the tri-tip back on the grill and sear directly over the flames for about one to two minutes per side. If your fire is not hot enough, it may need more than a minute for the initial sear. Continue flipping and searing every minute or less until you have the look and texture you want.
Immediately transfer the meat to a warm plate and start carving thin slices against the grain with a sharp knife. There is no need to let it rest again. Remember, you already did that before the sear. Don’t let it cool off and lose its wonderful, charred crustiness.
At this point, you should have a platter of warm beefy juices which you can spoon back over the meat. The only thing left to do is to experience Tri-Tip Ecstasy.
If you try this technique and recipe- please let me know what you think!
Now It’s Your Turn
I want to hear from you:
Have you ever barbequed up a tri-tip before?
Do you have any tri-tip grilling or smoking tips to share? How about a favorite recipe?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment below.
If you still have questions, please feel free to send me a message.
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A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, self-proclaimed grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!
I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!