How To Cook A Tri-Tip On A Charcoal Grill

How To Cook A Tri-Tip On A Charcoal Grill

Are you ready to take your grilling game to the next level? Look no further than the mouthwatering and flavorful tri-tip steak. 

Cooking a tri-tip on a charcoal grill is not only delicious but also surprisingly simple. 

In this blog post, we will guide you through everything you need to know to perfectly cook a tri-tip on a charcoal grill, from seasoning to searing. 

Get ready to impress your friends and family with this crowd-pleasing dish!

Choosing the Right Cut of Meat

Choosing the right cut of meat is crucial when it comes to cooking a tri-tip on a charcoal grill. 

This popular cut of beef, also known as bottom sirloin or triangle roast, can be found in most supermarkets and butcher shops. However, not all tri-tips are created equal.

Firstly, you want to ensure you purchase a good quality piece of meat. Look for tri-tips that have a bright red color with marbling throughout. 

Marbling refers to the small flecks of fat within the muscle fibers which will help keep the meat moist and add flavor during cooking. Avoid any cuts that are discolored or have excessive amounts of fat on the outside.

Next, consider whether you want to cook your tri-tip with or without the fat cap intact. The fat cap is a layer of fat that covers one side of the tri-tip. 

Some people prefer to leave it on while others choose to trim it off before cooking. If left on, the fat cap will melt and baste the meat as it cooks, adding flavor and moisture.

However, if trimmed off, it allows for more even seasoning and creates a crispier exterior.

Another factor to consider is how thick your tri tip is. For grilling purposes, aim for a thickness between 1-2 inches. 

Anything thinner may overcook quickly and become tough while anything thicker may require longer cooking times resulting in an unevenly cooked piece of meat.

When selecting your tri-tip, pay attention to which direction the grain runs through the meat. The grain refers to the lines running through the muscle fibers in one direction – similar to wood grain patterns. 

For optimal tenderness and juiciness, it’s best to slice against (perpendicular) this grain after cooking rather than parallel with it.

Preparing the Tri Tip for Grilling

Before you start grilling your tri-tip, there are a few important steps you should take to ensure that it turns out perfectly cooked and full of flavor. 

These steps include trimming the excess fat, seasoning the meat, and bringing it to room temperature.

Firstly, it is important to trim off any excess fat from the tri tip. Leaving too much fat on can cause flare-ups while grilling

B and can also result in a greasier finished product. Using a sharp knife, carefully trim off any large chunks of fat around the edges. You can leave a thin layer of fat on top of the tri-tip as this will help keep the meat moist during cooking.

Next, it’s time to season your tri-tip. There are numerous ways to season this cut of beef, but one simple and delicious method is using a dry rub. 

You can either make your dry rub by combining spices such as garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and brown sugar or use a pre-made rub from your local grocery store. 

Generously coat both sides of the tri-tip with the dry rub and press it into the meat to ensure it sticks.

After seasoning the tri-tip, let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before grilling. This allows the meat to absorb some of the flavors from the rub while also helping it cook more evenly on the grill.

While waiting for your tri-tip to come up to room temperature, now is also a good time to prep your charcoal grill for cooking. 

Start by lighting your charcoal briquettes in a chimney starter until they are glowing red hot. 

Then spread them out evenly across one side of your grill’s charcoal grate leaving an area without coals for indirect heat cooking.

Setting Up the Charcoal Grill

Setting up the Charcoal Grill for cooking a tri tip is an essential step in ensuring a delicious and perfectly cooked meal. Follow these steps to set up your grill properly.

Step 1: Choose the Right Location

The first step in setting up your charcoal grill is to choose the right location. It is essential to place your grill on a level surface, away from any flammable objects or structures. Make sure there is enough space around the grill for easy movement and ventilation.

Step 2: Prepare Your Charcoal

Before lighting up your charcoal, ensure that you have enough briquettes or lump charcoal to cover the bottom of your grill. The amount of charcoal needed will depend on the size of your grill and how long you plan on cooking. For cooking a tri tip, we recommend using about 25-30 briquettes or a few handfuls of lump charcoal.

Step 3: Arrange the Charcoal

Once you have prepared enough charcoal, arrange them in a pyramid shape at the bottom of your grill. This design allows for even distribution of heat throughout the grilling process.

Step 4: Add Lighter Fluid (Optional)

If you are using traditional briquettes, you may consider adding lighter fluid to help ignite them quickly. However, this step is entirely optional as lighter fluid can affect the taste of your food if not burned off completely before cooking.

Step 5: Light Up Your Charcoal

Using either matches or a chimney starter, light up your charcoal at various points around the pyramid shape. Leave about ten minutes for the coals to burn and turn into an ashy gray color before spreading them evenly across the bottom of the grill.

Step 6: Adjust Air Vents

After lighting up your coals, adjust any air vents present on your grill’s lid and base according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This step helps control oxygen flow and maintain consistent heat during grilling.

Step 7: Preheat Your Grill

Before placing your tri-tip on the grill, allow it to preheat for about 10-15 minutes. This step ensures that your grill is at the desired temperature and ready for cooking.

Cooking Techniques for a Juicy and Flavorful Tri Tip

1. Seasoning

The first step to achieving a juicy and flavorful tri tip is to season it well. Since tri tip is a lean cut of meat, it is important to use bold flavors that will not only enhance the taste but also help in tenderizing the meat. A simple yet effective seasoning mix can be made by combining salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika.

2. Marinating

Marinating the tri tip before grilling can add an extra layer of flavor and moisture to the meat. For a classic Santa Maria-style tri tip, marinate the meat in red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme for at least 4 hours or overnight.

3. Indirect Grilling

To achieve a perfectly cooked tri tip with a juicy interior and crispy exterior, it is important to cook it using indirect heat on a charcoal grill. This method involves placing coals on one side of the grill while leaving the other side empty. Place the seasoned tri tip on the side without any coals directly under it.

4. Temperature Control

To ensure even cooking of the tri tip, make sure to regulate the temperature inside your grill by adjusting air vents and adding or removing coals as needed. The ideal temperature for cooking tri tip is between 250-275 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Searing

Once your tri tip has been cooking indirectly for about 30 minutes per pound (for medium-rare), move it over direct heat to sear both sides for about 2-3 minutes each. This will give your tri tip a beautifully charred crust while locking in all its juices.

6. Resting

After removing your perfectly grilled tri tip from the heat source, let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing. This allows the juices to redistribute evenly throughout the meat, resulting in a moist and tender tri tip.

7. Slicing

When it comes to slicing tri tip, it is important to cut against the grain for maximum tenderness. The grain of the tri tip runs diagonally across the meat, so make sure to slice it perpendicular to it in thin slices.

Tips and Tricks for Flipping and Rotating the Meat

Flipping and rotating the meat is an essential part of cooking a tri tip on a charcoal grill. It helps to evenly cook the meat, prevent burning or charring, and achieve that perfect charred crust on the outside while keeping the inside juicy and tender. 

In this section, we will discuss some useful tips and tricks for flipping and rotating your tri tip to ensure a deliciously cooked meal.

1. Invest in long-handled tongs:

The first rule of flipping meat on a charcoal grill is safety. A pair of long-handled tongs will keep your hands safe from the flames as you rotate or flip the meat. It also gives you better control over the meat without risking burns.

2. Start with high heat:

Before placing your tri tip on the grill, make sure it’s preheated to high heat. This initial burst of high heat will sear the meat and lock in its juices, preventing it from drying out during cooking.

3. Don’t flip too often:

One common mistake people make when grilling is constantly flipping or turning their meat. Resist this temptation! Flipping too often can cause uneven cooking and result in dry, tough tri tip. Aim for one flip halfway through cooking time.

4. Use indirect heat for larger cuts:

If you are grilling a larger cut of tri tip (more than 2 pounds), it’s crucial to use indirect heat to avoid burning or charring on the outside while leaving it undercooked inside. To do this, place coals on one side of the grill and cook your meat on the other side.

5. Rotate instead of flipping:

Instead of flipping your tri tip over completely, try rotating it about 45 degrees after each flip (if using direct heat). This technique creates beautiful grill marks while ensuring even cooking and preventing sticking to the grates.

6. Keep an eye out for flare-ups:

Charcoal grills tend to produce flare-ups, especially when grilling fatty cuts of meat like tri tip. These flames can quickly char your meat and ruin the flavor. To avoid this, keep a spray bottle filled with water handy to douse any flare-ups that may occur.

7. Let it rest:

Once your tri tip is done cooking, resist the urge to slice into it immediately. Letting it rest for about 10 minutes allows the juices to redistribute and results in a juicier and more flavorful piece of meat.

Checking for Doneness and Resting the Tri Tip

When cooking a tri tip on a charcoal grill, it is important to properly check for doneness and allow the meat to rest before serving. This ensures that the tri tip is cooked to perfection and remains juicy and tender.

To check for doneness, you can use either a meat thermometer or the touch test method. For the thermometer method, insert the probe into the thickest part of the tri tip without touching any bones or fat. 

The internal temperature should read between 135-140°F for medium-rare, 145-150°F for medium, and 155-160°F for well-done. Keep in mind that the temperature will rise a few degrees while resting, so it is best to take the tri tip off the grill when it is about 5 degrees lower than your desired doneness.

If you prefer using the touch test method, gently press down on different areas of the tri tip with your finger. 

For medium-rare, it should feel like pressing on your forehead; medium should feel like pressing on your chin; and well-done should feel like pressing on your nose. 

It is important to note that this method takes practice and may not be as accurate as using a thermometer.

Once you have determined that your tri tip is cooked to your liking, remove it from the heat and place it on a cutting board. It is crucial to let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing into it. This allows time for the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more flavorful and tender end product.

Serving Suggestions and Toppings

Once your tri tip is perfectly cooked on the charcoal grill, it’s time to think about how you want to serve it. Tri tip pairs well with a variety of sides, sauces, and toppings that can elevate its flavor and make it even more delicious.

1. Side Dishes:

One of the most popular side dishes for tri tip is grilled vegetables. You can use any kind of vegetables such as bell peppers, zucchini, onions, or mushrooms. Simply brush them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before grilling them alongside the tri tip. The smoky char from the grill will add an extra layer of flavor to the vegetables.

Other great side dish options include roasted potatoes or a fresh salad with a vinaigrette dressing. The acidity from the vinaigrette will balance out the richness of the tri tip.

2. Sauces:

While tri tip is flavorful on its own, adding a sauce can take it to another level. A classic option is chimichurri sauce which is made from herbs, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil. This tangy sauce pairs perfectly with grilled meats and adds a bright freshness to every bite.

Another popular choice is barbecue sauce which complements the smokiness of the charcoal-grilled tri tip. You can use store-bought BBQ sauce or make your own by combining ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and spices.

3. Toppings:

Adding toppings to your tri tip can add texture and depth to each bite. One easy option is crumbled blue cheese which adds a tangy creaminess that pairs well with beef.

For some heat and crunchiness, you can top your tri tip with pickled jalapenos or crispy fried onions.

4: Serving Style:

Tri tip can be served in various ways depending on your preference or occasion. For a casual backyard BBQ, you can slice it and serve it on a platter with all the sides and toppings for your guests to create their own sandwiches.

For a more formal dinner party, you can thinly slice the tri tip and serve it on a bed of arugula or mixed greens. Top it with some balsamic glaze or drizzle some chimichurri sauce over the top for an elegant presentation.

Serving suggestions and toppings are crucial in enhancing the flavor of your charcoal-grilled tri tip. From side dishes to sauces and toppings, there are endless options to choose from. Get creative and experiment to find your favorite combinations that will make your tri tip truly irresistible.

Common Mistakes to Avoid While Cooking

When it comes to cooking a tri tip on a charcoal grill, there are some common mistakes that many people tend to make. 

These mistakes can affect the flavor and texture of your meat, resulting in a disappointing meal. To ensure that your tri tip turns out perfectly juicy and flavorful, here are some common mistakes to avoid while cooking:

1. Not properly preparing the charcoal

One of the most important steps in grilling is preparing the charcoal correctly. Many people make the mistake of not allowing enough time for their coals to heat up properly before placing their meat on the grill. This results in uneven cooking and can leave your meat undercooked or burnt on one side.

2. Using too much seasoning

Tri tip is a flavorful cut of meat, so it doesn’t need a lot of extra seasoning. Adding too much salt or other spices can overpower the natural taste of the beef and make it too salty or spicy. It’s best to use a simple rub with just a few key ingredients to enhance the natural flavors of the tri tip.

3. Opening the lid too often

When you’re grilling, it can be tempting to constantly check on your food by opening and closing the lid frequently. However, this interrupts the cooking process as it lets out heat and smoke, resulting in longer cooking times and potentially drying out your meat.

4. Not resting the meat after grilling

Resting allows juices within the meat to redistribute throughout for maximum tenderness and flavor. Many people make the mistake of cutting into their tri tip immediately after taking it off from heat, but this leads to dry meat as all its juices will run out.

5. Overcooking or undercooking

The key to perfectly cooked tri tip is knowing when it’s done by using an instant-read thermometer instead of relying solely on visual cues like color or texture. Overcooking will result in tough and dry meat while undercooking can lead to foodborne illnesses.

6. Not properly trimming the fat

Tri tip usually has a layer of fat on top, and while some of it is necessary for flavor, too much can result in flare-ups or burnt meat. Make sure to trim the excess fat before grilling to avoid these issues.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure that your tri tip turns out perfectly juicy, tender and flavorful every time you cook it on a charcoal grill. Remember to take your time, be patient, and follow proper grilling techniques for the best results. Happy grilling!


Grilling a tri-tip on a charcoal grill is a fantastic way to elevate your outdoor cooking skills and impress your friends and family with a delicious, flavorful meal. By carefully selecting your meat, properly preparing and seasoning it, and mastering the grilling techniques, you can achieve a perfectly cooked tri-tip with a juicy interior and a beautifully charred exterior. Remember to check for doneness, let the meat rest, and experiment with various serving suggestions and toppings to enhance the overall experience. Avoid common mistakes by following the outlined steps, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a tri-tip grilling master. Happy grilling and enjoy your mouthwatering tri-tip!

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