When you’ve invested in a great steak, you want to cook it to the ideal internal temperature. In this guide, we’ll take you on a tour of the wonderful world of tri tip steak to help you cook it to perfection.
Tri Tip Internal Temp
Tri tip, a tender and flavorful steak cut from the bottom sirloin, is at its best when cooked to medium rare. That means taking it off the heat when it hits 125 to 130 degrees and letting it rest for a few minutes. At this temperature, the steak should be nice and juicy.
About Tri Tip Steak
You might never have heard of tri tip, especially if you live in a rural area along the East Coast. That’s because this steak is far more common out west. In fact, it’s sometimes referred to as the “California cut,” because it’s so popular in that state.
Tri tip is a vaguely triangular-shaped cut that’s taken from the bottom sirloin. Though it has some of the qualities of a roast (namely its large size), most butchers refer to it as a steak.
This is one of those steaks that combines an intensely beefy flavor with a lean texture. It’s not quite as tender as a filet mignon, but it contains similar buttery notes. That makes it a superb choice if you prefer a slightly chewier steak.
A Guide To Internal Temps
Before you can determine the ideal tri tip internal temp, you should have a basic understanding of the various terms. Here’s a guide to help you get started.
When steak is cooked “blue-rare,” it’s seared lightly on each side to bring out the juices. That’s it. The interior will still be dark red—nearly purple, in fact—and cool to the touch. It should measure 115 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer.
When a steak is seared briefly over very high heat until it’s nicely charred yet still very rare, it’s sometimes called a “Pittsburgh-style” steak. If you come across this term, know that it refers to the preparation, not an individual cut.
When the steak is allowed to cook to 120-130 degrees, it should have a red center with pinkish-red edges surrounded by a charred exterior. Steaks cooked to this temp are referred to as rare.
A rare steak should be soft to the touch and very moist, with a cool center. You might balk at the red liquid that it leaves behind on the plate, but those are natural juices consisting of water and a protein known as myoglobin, not blood.
Many steak aficionados prefer their steak cooked medium-rare, as this temperature brings out the flavor without overcooking the meat.
A medium-rare steak should have a warm, pink center and a firm exterior. The thermometer will read 130-135 degrees, at which point the fats have just begun to melt into the meat.
Once the steak has cooked to medium—that is, between 135 and 155 degrees—the meat has turned brown nearly all the way through, with just a thin line of pink running through the middle. The texture is firmer than that of a medium-rare steak and not quite as juicy.
The term “medium-well” is reserved for steak that’s cooked until nearly all the pink has disappeared from the center. The internal temperature should measure between 155 and 164 degrees. Depending on the cut, it might still taste decent, but you can expect the meat to be dry.
The center of a well-done steak will be brown and dry to the touch, without any traces of pink remaining. The meat reaches this threshold at around the 170-degree mark.
We don’t recommend allowing any steak to cook to well-done. For one thing, the meat will have lost nearly all of the qualities that make eating steak such a pleasure in the first place. Also, as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form at high temperatures, the steak will be less healthy to consume.
Tri Tip Internal Temp: Which is Best?
So, what’s the perfect internal temperature for tri tip steak? As with all steaks, it comes down to a matter of preference in the end.
That said, we would recommend cooking tri tip to 125-130 degrees, then letting it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. The internal temperature should rise to 130-135 during that time, making it a perfect medium-rare.
If you prefer your steak cooked to medium, feel free to wait a few more minutes before you stop cooking. Try to take it off the heat when it hits the 140-degree mark, though. If it’s allowed to cook past 145, it will start to lose its superb texture.
Don’t neglect the resting period, as this is an important step for two reasons. First of all, the steak continues to cook during that time, though only slightly. This allows the meat to come to the ideal internal temperature without drying out.
Second, and even more critically, the muscle fibers need time to reabsorb the liquid. When you cut into a steak that’s just come off the heat, the natural juices will spill out, so the meat won’t be nearly as moist.
How To Grill a Tri Tip Steak
We like to douse the tri tip in a simple marinade before firing up the grill. This recipe is made up of pantry staples, and it comes together quickly.
You’ll notice that we’ve used a blend of olive and canola oil. That’s because we like the balance between the robust olive oil and the neutral one. If you’d prefer to use 1/2 cup of one or the other, feel free to do so.
- 3 pounds tri tip steak
- For the Marinade:
- 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1. Make the marinade. In a medium-sized nonreactive bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, until the mixture emulsifies.
2. Pour the marinade mixture into a large zip-top plastic bag. Set the filled and sealed bag on a rimmed plate to ensure there are no leaks. If you notice any, transfer the mixture to another bag.
3. Trim the tri tip, if desired, and pat dry with paper towels. Add the steak to the bag and turn it to make sure that it’s well coated. Seal the bag and set it back on the plate.
4. Put the steak in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 to 6 hours. You can let the steak marinate overnight if you’ve planned that far ahead. Just don’t let it sit in the marinade for longer than a day, or the cooked meat might have a mushy texture.
5. Build a medium-hot fire on a charcoal grill, or set a gas grill to medium. Clean the cooking grates and coat them with a thin layer of neutral oil.
6. Remove the steak from the marinade and pat it dry. Discard the marinade, as it’s come into contact with raw meat and can no longer be reused.
7. Place the steak on the cooking grate and grill for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the side facing the heat has acquired a nice sear. Turn and cook for another 6 to 7 minutes.
Pro Tip: Since tri tip has an irregular shape, you might have to use the tongs to hold the edges of the steak against the cooking grate for a minute or two, just to make sure the meat is well-seared on all sides.
8. When the tri tip has cooked to an internal temp of 125 to 130 degrees, remove it from the heat.
9. Set the steak on a clean platter and tent it with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
10. Carve the tri tip into thin slices against the grain and serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours.
Uses for Leftover Tri Tip Steak
One of the reasons we prefer to use a basic marinade is that leftover tri tip can be used in a number of recipes. As a bonus, if it’s cooked just to medium-rare, it’s easy to reheat the steak without overcooking it.
Try stuffing sliced tri tip in a corn tortilla and topping it with diced onion, chopped cilantro, and a dash of your favorite salsa. Add a squeeze of fresh lime, and you have an authentic Mexican street taco.
Or you can cut the meat into strips and add it to a pan of sauteed onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Use this mixture to fill a toasted hoagie roll, then top with shredded Monterey jack cheese and broil until the cheese is melted.
You can also use leftover tri tip to add a boost of protein to a green salad. We think it makes an especially good addition to a Caesar with homemade dressing.
The Bottom Line
Though we believe that the best tri tip internal temp is medium-rare, you can cook it however you’d like. As every grilling aficionado knows, sometimes there’s no accounting for taste.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!