Tri-Tip Grilled & Smoked 4 Ways...

Dear BBQ Friend:

There seems to be many different schools of thought on how to properly cook a tri-tip steak. From injecting to marinating to grilling to smoking and may variations inbetween, you'll find tri-tip recipes from A to Z. So, I thought I would give some of them a test and cook 4 tri-tips different ways ranging from grilling to slow smoking one like I would a brisket (to a high internal temperature to tenderize the meat). I tried to keep everything else the same except for the cooking methods so I could accurately test the cooking methods only. For instance, I didn't inject one and not the other. But, feel free to experiment with injecting, foiling, saucing/glazing, marinating, inserting garlic cloves and pepper slices, etc. I personally think injecting a tri-tip with my brisket injection the night before, foiling after a couple of hours of smoking, and smoking it like a brisket (internal 195 deg) would work like a champ.

Here's the video - I highly suggest you give tri-tip a "tri"...

Here are some responses from readers...

Hey Bill,

Watched your video on Tri-Tip, since I have always wanted to smoke a tri-tip but I cant get away from doing it the way I have always done it.  I live in Nipomo, California just 5 miles from Santa Maria, California, home of Santa Maria style BBQ.

I cringed when I saw you cook that tri-tip over coals on a weber, I think there is a law against doing that here, ;)  Next time you cook tri-tip try our method.  How we cook it here is:  It's grilled over an open fire of Red-Oak wood in a metal pit with an adjustable grill to control the temperature,the meat is exposed to, by lowering or raising the grill (Santa Maria style pit).  We simply use Garlic Salt and ground black pepper and coat the meat liberally with the seasoning.  We will cook the meat for 45-60 minutes slowly, I will cook each side for about 10-12 minutes then begin flipping the meat every 5-7 minutes, while drinking beer (must do activity).  I have adopted using a spray bottle with water or beer and spray the meat every time I flip it to keep it moist.  I don't use a temperature gauge, I just know that when I poke the meat with the tongs and it gets firm, that is the time to take off the grill - should be slightly pink inside, between medium and medium rare, of course you can cook it anyway you like.  I then will let it stand for 10-15 minutes then slice across grain in 1/4"-5/8" thickness.  We like to serve it covered in real salsa, the good stuff you buy in the cold deli department, never the bottled stuff.  Viola, awesome eating.  Yes it is a little more tough than an actual steak, but Tri-tip for us is like $3/lb. vs. much more expensive steaks, so its a great value.

Traditional Santa Maria Style BBQ is: Tri-tip cooked over red oak, Piquinto beans, Salad with ranch dressing and garlic bread (simply butter and a little garlic salt). 

Two other ways to eat tri tip:  Tri-Tip sandwich: brown a sandwich roll or bun over the fire with butter and garlic salt(like garlic bread) then layer about 6-7 slices of tri tip on the roll, add salsa or BBQ sauce if you like.  OR, put a tortilla on your grill and heat up when small brown spots appear, put 3-4 slices on tortilla, add salsa and shredded cheese.  We eat these like little snacks around the pit when guests are over.

See this link for what a Santa Maria Style BBQ looks like.  This is a great pit to grill anything, much better than a weber!!  Could be a great addition to your grill collection

Love the videos, keep up the good work.


I have been cooking tri-tips for years. Since the video was your first attempt, I suppose you can be forgiven for not knowing how to cook them to get the most tenderness. It is ludicrous to think that the tri-tip can be as melt-in-your-mouth tender as rib eyes or filets. As you know, tenderness comes from fat. The more marbling, the more tender the meat. Tri-tip has little fat or marbling. Therefore, to get the most tenderness, you need to substitute for fat. I never cook tri-tip without marinading nor would any self-respecting California restaurant, which is where tri-tips first became popular. Before marinading, however, I hit it hard with my Jaccard meat tenderizer. This makes it easier for the marinade to penetrate the meat. After marinading for an hour or so, I then apply a good rub, hitting it again with the Jaccard to drive the rub well into the meat. I then usually grill the meat, although I sometimes will smoke it. I like it best at medium rare so I will pull it off about 135 and let it rest for 15 minutes or so. The result has always been very tender and extremely flavorful. Makes great sandwiches, also good thinly sliced on a dinner salad. Sometimes I serve it sliced with a chimichanga sauce. Final note - Have had no problem finding tri-tips at Costco both here in the Kansas City area or at our winter home in south Texas.

Final, final note - I am a KCBS Master CBJ and have judged more than 60 contests. Most, of course, have been in the KC area although occasionally I get as far south as Oklahoma or north as Omaha. I also judge IBCA contests each winter in Texas. Haven't seen your team yet but hope to do some southern contests next year.


Hey Bill-

California Native here... third generation BBQ/Smoker guy.

I can guarantee you a few things about tri-tip- if you are gonna rub it, you need to tone down the amount of sugar in the rub a LOT if you're going to open grill it... and you should rub, wrap, and refrigerate it over night. then bring to room temp before grilling. We grill them to about 145-150 internal, two turns while cooking, and then wrap or place in a pan and cover with foil when done, allowing them to rest 20-30mins before slicing.

When you slice, slice thin...(think sandwich slices, 3 or 4 to make a decent French Dip) and not directly across the grain, but at a 40-45 degree angle. The tips pieces/ends are great for cutting up and adding to a pot of beans.

I add smoker chunks *IF* I'm going to cook on a covered grill, but if I cook it open, the most I add is a couple of hand fulls of soaked chips, and I do this when I first put the meat on so the flavor goes in before it begins to crust.

I will occasionally smoke tri-tips, but not very often... and if I do, I'll pull them at 150, wrap them, place the wrapped 'roasts' in a large foil pan, and put them back in to cook for another hour or so on the cool end of the smoker. This helps hold in the moisture, but allows the internal temp to rise up to 180-190. Then I remove these and allow them to sit 2-30 minutes before slicing and slice the same as above.

Tri-tips are actually a roast, they are nothing like brisket... they never reach the same tenderness, because there is way too little fat running through the meat. Our markets DO sell tri-tip 'steaks' which are cut from the tip end of the roast, sliced to about 2" thick and are about 2" wide and 6" long. These are much better for open grilling and nope, they're nowhere NEAR as tender as a rib eye, but they're less than half the price too. We get Tri-tips for anywhere between $3-4 a pound most of the summer =)

One of the principal applications for the past 10 years for me has been open grilling these bad boys for our High School Marching Band picnics.... now mind you, bands here aren't like there- we have about 50-65 kids in Band, along with their parents and on our trailer BBQ grill wagon, we would cook 20-25 3# tri tips.

Rub the night before (my custom low salt, low sugar rub), 2 per gallon ziploc bag, refrigerate over night, heat grill, lower to 18" above coals, toss roasts on, one more coat of rub sprinkled on, then flip 3x, pull and put in big foil pans, covered with heavy duty foil and let em sit for 30mins, then slice. We serve it with sour french rolls, some people add mustard or bbq sauce, others understand how painful cooks find that and eat it plain =)

It's a good cut of meat, but it's no brisket... but it cooks up a lot quicker and if sliced properly, you don't need a knife to cut it when eating it in a sandwich.



Bill Anderson