Tri Tip Fat Side Up or Down (Or Does It Really Matter)?

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tri tip fat side up or down

When you put a tri tip roast on the grill, should you position it on the cooking grate with the fat side facing up or down? This is a question you should ask yourself whenever the meat includes a sizable fat cap. Read on to find out why. 

Tri Tip Fat Side Up or Down

When grilling a tri tip or roasting it in the oven, you should position it with the fat side facing up. For smoked meat, you want the fat side to be facing the heat source, which usually means it will be facing down. Tri tip isn’t a particularly fatty cut, but you might need to tri, the fat cap down to 1/4 inch before you begin. 

Should You Trim the Fat From Tri Tip? 

To trim or not to trim? The choice is yours, but we usually advocate trimming at least some of the fat before seasoning the meat. 

You should trim the fat cap so it measures no more than 1/4 inch thick. This isn’t always necessary, as sometimes the butcher will have done the job for you. But if there’s a great deal of fat on the meat, trimming is the way to go. 

Trimming the fat doesn’t require any special skills, just a sharp knife and a little bit of time. You can save any unused fat scraps to make beef tallow later on. 

About Cooking Tri Tip Fat Side Up 

Cooking the tri tip with the fat side facing up is preferable if you want to grill it over indirect heat. So if you prefer your steak rare to medium-rare, then you should plan on the fat-side-up method. 

This method will result in meat that’s flavorful and very juicy, with a crisp browned exterior. Broiling will yield a similar result, but grilling brings out tri tip’s best qualities. 

For best results, set up a two-zone cooking station in your grill. That means creating a direct, high-heat zone along with a cooler indirect heat zone on the other side. 

After seasoning the tri tip (see separate section below), sear the roast over high heat, turning it several times. This will ensure that each side is nicely browned before you start the longer cooking process. 

Position the meat on the indirect cooking surface with the fat side facing up. Close the lid and let the tri tip cook for about 20-30 minutes, or until it’s achieved your desired temperature. 

Remove the meat from the grill and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving. 

About Cooking Tri Tip Fat Side Down

This is the preferred method if you’re smoking the tri tip and want the meat to cook until it’s well done. The fat will serve as a barrier between the fire and the meat itself, allowing the fat to render and the beef to remain moist. 

Note that this only works if the heat source is coming from beneath the cooking grate, as in a pellet smoker. If the heat source is coming from above, then smoking the meat fat side up will yield better results. 

Smoking tri tip with the fat side facing down can lead to flare-ups, especially if the smoker temperature climbs too high. That’s another reason why you should trim any excess fat before you begin. 

When the tri tip has come within 5 degrees of your desired internal temperature, you can reverse sear it for 3 to 4 minutes per side to crisp up the exterior. This will create a nice contrast with the tender, juicy interior. 

As we mentioned, smoking the meat with the fat side facing down is a good way to go if you prefer the meat well done. But you can remove it from the heat earlier than that if you’d like. Just understand that the smoke flavor won’t be as pronounced. 

How To Season Tri Tip 

Tri tip is a delicious steak in its own right, so there’s no need to get too fancy with the seasonings. Kosher salt and black pepper will serve nicely. A dash of garlic or onion powder will boost the complexity without being overly distracting. 

tri tip fat side up or down

If you’re aiming for a stronger barbecue flavor, try this basic rub recipe. Remember that you might need to apply a light coating of oil or cooking spray to help the seasoning adhere to the meat. 

Basic Barbecue Rub

  • 1/4 cup smoked paprika 
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt 
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder 
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder 
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Best Wood to Flavor Tri Tip 

We think oak-grilled steak results in one of the best flavor combinations you’ll find. The oak provides a robust smoke flavor without overpowering the natural sweetness of the beef. 

If you’d like to play up that sweetness, select a mild wood such as pecan or apple instead. These are especially good choices when you’re smoking meat around the holidays, when there are often fruit-related side dishes and chutneys on the table. 

Beef can stand up to heartier-flavored woods such as hickory and mesquite, but you’ll need to use caution. Both of these woods can impart a bitter taste. Since tri tip doesn’t need to cook as long as a cut like brisket, though, this is less of a concern. 

Do You Need to Flip Tri Tip? 

When following the directions we’ve outlined above, there’s no need for flipping. The initial sear will ensure that the meat is browned on all sides. Since you’ll be cooking the roast over indirect heat, it should cook evenly even if you don’t turn it. 

Similarly, you don’t need to flip meat during the smoking process. Let it cook undisturbed to absorb the smoke flavor. You can always enlist the reverse-searing method if the exterior isn’t crisp enough for you. 

On the other hand, when searing thinner cuts over high heat, it’s a good idea to turn the meat about halfway through the estimated cooking process. Let it cook for a bit longer on the first side than the second, as this will allow it to develop a crust. 

Do You Wrap Tri Tip in Foil During the Smoke? 

Wrapping meat in foil midway through the smoking process is a technique known as the “Texas crutch.” It’s so named because wrapping the meat helps it cook through faster by trapping the heat and moisture inside. 

tri tip fat side up or down

Since tri tip isn’t as large as beef brisket or pork butt, this step is a waste of time. In fact, it will inhibit the smoke flavor and prevent the exterior from gaining a good solid crust. 

In truth, we don’t think it’s ever necessary to wrap meat during smoking. As long as you’ve allowed enough time for the meat to reach the optimum temperature, it’s preferable to let the smoker do its work without the aid of the Texas crutch. 

Tri tip fat side up or down—how you place your tri tip steak on the grill impacts taste and tenderness, essential for nailing those grilling recipes. This piece sheds light on the fat side debate, offering tips for how to cook the perfect steak and making your barbecue party a hit. Interested in elevating your summer grilling ideas? Hop on to the blog to learn more!

Final Thoughts

Do you cook tri tip fat side up or down? The answer should depend on your chosen cooking method. But if you’re grilling the meat over direct heat, it doesn’t really matter, since it will cook for roughly the same amount of time per side. 

Happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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