3 Ways to Cook a Tri-Tip Roast for Tender, Flavorful Meat

Master how to cook tri-tip in ovens, on grills, and in smokers for supremely tender and juicy (yet lean) results.

Beef is one of our favorite dinner showstoppers. We're not just talking about your common ground beef (although that totally hits the spot and beats the clock on time-crunched nights for us!)—we're talking tri-tip roast. Compared to ground beef or a beef pot roast, cooking tri-tip roast can seem intimidating because most home cooks don't do so quite as often. But fear not: Our Test Kitchen experts are here to guide you along and teach you how to cook tri-tip in ovens, how to grill tri-tip, and even the secrets to the best smoked tri-tip roast.

Southwestern Tri-Tip Roast
Jason Donnelly

What Is Beef Tri-Tip Roast?

Before we dive into the basics of cooking a tri-tip roast, here's what to know about the cut. Tri-tip roast is a tender, lean beef cut that gets its name from its triangular shape. (It's also called bottom sirloin roast and triangle roast, so keep an eye out for these synonyms for tri-tip roast.) It's sold as a small roast from the bottom sirloin or it's cut into a steak with three tips. What makes tri-tip roast stand out from other cuts is the full flavor it promises for an affordable price.

A boneless tri-tip roast weighs around 1½ to 2 pounds and is around 2 inches thick, which typically makes 6 to 8 servings. It can also be cut into steaks or cubed for kabobs. Tri-tip meat should be nicely marbled even though it is considered a lean, tender cut. It is especially prized for its rich flavor. Whether you make smoked, grilled, or oven-roasted tri-tip, you can score tender meat with a just-pink-enough center and a caramelized crust, all in less time than most larger roast beef cuts.

How to Cook a Tri-Tip Roast

No matter your cooking method, you'll start the prep process for cooking your tri-tip roast the same way.

Step 1: Season Tri-Tip Roast

For added flavor, consider seasoning your tri-tip roast with a barbecue rub. If you have the time, cover the seasoned roast with foil and chill 6 to 24 hours. This will allow the flavors to penetrate the meat more deeply. Or marinate the roast in your favorite meat marinade for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

You can also simply sprinkle the meat with salt and ground black pepper before cooking, then serve with a sauce or a topping, such as barbecue sauce, herb pesto, or your favorite salsa recipe.

Step 2: Choose Your Cooking Method

If you own a charcoal grill or gas grill, going that route for cooking a tri-tip roast can be grate (ahem, great). Otherwise, smoked tri-tip roast or oven-roasted tri-tip can also result in pitmaster-quality meat.

Here's how to cook tri-tip using any of these methods.

How to Cook Tri-Tip in the Oven

Oven-roasted tri-tip is the best way to cook tri-tip in colder months when you can stay cozy and enjoy the mouthwatering aromas indoors. To roast tri-tip, start by choosing a roasting pan that's the right size for the job. It should be a large shallow pan with a rack inside. The pan sides should be 2 to 3 inches tall. If you don't have a roasting pan, you can use a 13x9-inch baking pan with an oven-safe wire rack set inside.

These instructions for cooking tri-tip roast are for how long to cook tri-tip in the oven at 425°F, which allows for a nice medium-cooked middle and browned exterior. As this cut is fairly lean, we don't recommend cooking it beyond medium doneness.

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Place the roast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert an oven-going meat thermometer into the thickest part of the roast. Do not add water or liquid and do not cover.
  3. Roast in the preheated oven. For a 1½- to 2-pound roast, roast 30 to 55 minutes for medium rare (135°F) or 40 to 45 minutes for medium (150°F). Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness.
  4. Remove the roast from the oven, tent with foil, and let stand 15 minutes before slicing. This standing time not only brings up the temperature, but it also allows the juices to be absorbed back into the meat so they don't spill out onto the cutting board.

How to Grill Tri-Tip Roasts

Cooking tri-tip roasts on the grill is a nice way to infuse more flavor while keeping your kitchen cool.

  1. Prepare gas or charcoal grill for indirect heat using a drip pan. Place the tri-tip roast on the grill over the drip pan.
  2. Cover and grill to desired doneness. For a 1½- to 2-pound tri-tip roast: Grill 35 to 40 minutes for medium rare (135°F) and 40 to 45 minutes for medium (150°F). Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness.
  3. Remove meat from the grill. Cover meat with foil; let stand for 15 minutes.

How to Smoke Tri-Tip Roasts

Smoked tri-tip roast is doable on any smoker, including a grill transformed into a DIY smoker. The only requirement is that the smoker can maintain a steady 225°F temperature.

  1. Preheat the smoker to 225°F. If possible, opt for hickory or oak wood chips for a stronger smoked flavor.
  2. Place the tri-tip roast in the smoker, close the lid, and smoke until the internal temperature of the tri-tip roast reaches 125°F or so (medium rare is 135°F and medium 150°F. The internal temperature will rise during searing and standing time). Remove the meat from the smoker.
  3. To create a caramelized crust and lock in the juices, heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat.
  4. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the skillet and sear the tri-tip roast for 2 minutes per side, basting the meat by spooning the butter over the meat as it cooks.
  5. Remove meat from the skillet. Cover meat with foil; let stand for 15 minutes.
Grilled Chili-Garlic Tri-Tip
Blaine Moats

Step 3: How to Cut a Tri-Tip Roast

When your meat is done cooking, transfer the tri-tip roast to a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes under foil. With a carving knife, thinly slice the meat across the grain. Slicing fibrous cuts of beef such as brisket, flank steaks, and tri-tip across the grain helps make them fork tender.

Now that you're well-versed in three options for cooking a tri-tip roast, you can slice and share this crave-able cut of meat any night of the week. Just add a fresh salad to start and some red wine to sip alongside and a restaurant-quality dinner can be yours—for a fraction of the price.

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