Reverse searing is THE best way to cook tri tip, and in this post I’ll teach you how to reverse sear tri tip in both an oven and on a Traeger grill or pellet smoker.
Using a Santa Maria style seasoned tri tip makes this perfect for slicing and combining with onions and peppers to make tacos, California burritos, and more. Let’s dive in and talk about marinades, roasting, searing, and serving.
Santa Maria Tri Tip Marinade
My recipe calls for pre-marinated Trader Joe’s Santa Maria tri-tip roast. If you’re unfamiliar with “Santa Maria” tri tip, it references Santa Maria, California. Supposedly this is where tri tip rose to prominence.
The actual flavor profile of Santa Maria tri tip is a blend of garlic, chiles, cumin, and herbs. According to Trader Joe’s packaging, their seasoning blend also includes black pepper, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and salt.
Don’t have access to Trader Joe’s? No worries. I’ve linked to a couple options for marinating and seasoning your own tri tip in the recipe card’s notes section below.
I will mention that if you go this route, using a prime tri tip and trimming before marinating will produce the best results.
How to Reverse Sear a Tri Tip in an Oven
Regardless of the method you use to slow roast your tri tip, I highly recommend using a constant read food thermometer like a Meater or the Traeger’s probe. Every oven and grill may cook differently, and every tri tip will vary in size and thickness.
Be sure to insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the roast.
A 2 to 2.5 pound tri tip roast should reach an internal temperature of 115ºF in about an hour inside a 250ºF oven on a sheet pan with a wire rack.
Reverse searing will continue increasing the temperature slightly. For a medium-rare tri tip using a reverse sear method, shoot for 115ºF. And for a medium finish, aim for an internal temperature of 125ºF.
For a better breakdown of temperature, time, and reverse searing as a whole, I recommend Kenji’s guide to reverse searing steak. Note: A tri tip will be a bit thicker than the 1.5″ thick steaks he uses in his example.
Searing in a Hot Pan
Once your tri tip reaches your desired doneness in the oven, it’s time to sear. Make sure to use a pan that’s large enough to fit your tri tip.
You want a HOT pan before adding a bit of oil or fat. I used beef tallow, but any high heat oil works fine.
Searing shouldn’t take long. Part of the beauty of reverse searing is that the oven or grill will dry the exterior, creating a perfect environment for browning via the Maillard reaction.
30-60 second per side should do the trick. I like to use tongs to sear every possible contact point and develop crusty goodness.
How to Reverse Sear a Tri Tip on a Traeger Grill or Pellet Smoker
Reverse searing a tri tip on a Traeger is essentially the same method as the oven above. You want to cook low and slow until you reach the 115ºF to 125ºF internal temperature range.
Setting the Traeger to 225ºF should do the trick in about an hour and a half. To pick up more smoke, you can cook at 200ºF with Super Smoke (if your Traeger has the option) like my reverse seared ribeyes.
For a faster cook, you could increase the temperature by 25-50 degrees. Your tri tip will pick up a little less smoky flavor, but it will be perfect otherwise.
Once your tri tip comes up to temperature on the grill, you’ll sear it in a hot pan just like the oven version above.
Authentic Santa Maria style tri-tip is traditionally smoked with red oak. In the Traeger pellets lineup, your best bet would probably be the brisket blend with oak.
Searing on the Grill
If you want to sear on the grill, tent the tri tip with foil and set aside while you heat your Traeger to 500ºF. Once hot, rub the grates with oil and sear away. Like I mentioned in my Traeger Kalbi and beef fajitas recipes, using the hot spots around the front and back of the Traeger is key for searing.
You can also throw a cast iron skillet on the grill and sear in the pan. Since the tacos call for veggies, this would be my preferred method.
Side note: If you’re cranking up the grill temperature, you might as well throw on some corn and make my Traeger street corn salad.
How to Slice a Tri Tip
It’s important to slice “against the grain” when slicing steak and beef roasts to create tender slices. The “grain” or muscle fibers in tri tip, however, can be tricky to cut against since they run in two different directions.
I pulled the following image from our brisket style tri tip recipe, and it’s a good example of tri tip grain direction. A great tip is to take a picture of your tri tip before cooking since the direction of muscle fibers will be much easier to spot.
When sliced, you should be able to see individual fibers that have been sliced through, as opposed to long strands.
If that’s intimidating, take solace in the fact you’ll be slicing this reverse seared tri tip into even smaller pieces for tacos and burritos. Speaking of.
Making Tri Tip Tacos and California Burritos
While your reverse seared tri tip is ready to slice and serve exactly how it is, this recipe takes it the extra mile by slicing into strips and adding onions and peppers.
Even if you don’t intend to make tri tip burritos or tacos, I would highly recommend throwing some kind of veggies in the pan after searing the tri tip. All the rendered fat and fond in the skillet from searing is too flavorful to waste!
The recipe calls for poblano peppers, but bell peppers or any pepper will work fine.
To Sear Again or Serve Right Away?
You’ll notice the recipe gives an option to add more beef tallow or oil to the skillet and sear the peppers and onions a second time. This allows the tri tip slices to pick up a bit more color and crispy bits, but it will cook them a bit more.
Unless you have a large grill pan with lots of surface area or undershot the doneness of your tri tip and would like it a bit closer to medium, I’d recommend serving straight away.
Tri Tip Burritos
Since we’re making Santa Maria style tri tip, it only makes sense to make California burritos. Traditionally made with carne asada, California burritos are stuffed with French fries, guacamole, pico de gallo, and cheese.
I went rogue and added some of our smoked charro beans in some and pickled onions and sour cream in others. In my opinion, there’s no wrong way to fill a burrito. I’m sure the internet will tell me differently.
A great option worth mentioning is throwing finished burritos on the grill or into a pan to seal and add another layer of flavor to the dish.
Tri Tip Tacos
If you’re a fan of simplicity, tacos make a lot of sense. The serving sizes in the recipe card are for four-ounce portions that make 10 perfectly meaty tacos. Garnish with your favorite fixin’s and you’ll have a crowd pleasing meal on your hands.
Something worth doing is throwing some cheese on tortillas and popping them on the grill to melt. Check out my Traeger shredded beef tacos for an example.
I’ll also throw in the possibility of making something like my Traeger smoked enchiladas with leftovers.
The Whole Picture (Recipe Video)
And that’s the way the cookie crumbles. If you still have a question about how to reverse sear tri tip or how to make tri tip tacos and burritos, ask away in the comments below. We always appreciate recipe reviews as well!
- 2.25 pound Trader Joe's Santa Maria Tri Tip (or a marinated tri tip - recipe below)*
- 2 Poblano Peppers, cut into thin 2" long strips
- 1 medium White Onion, cut into thin 2" long strips
- 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce or Worcestershire Sauce
- 1-2 Tablespoons Oil or Beef Tallow
- Preheat a Traeger grill or pellet smoker to 225ºF or an oven to 250ºF.
- Remove the tri tip from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Place directly on the grill grates or on a sheet pan with a wire rack in the oven. Pro tip: Insert a probe or wireless meat thermometer into the thickest part of the tri tip for constant internal temperature monitoring.
- Cook until the tri tip reaches an internal temperature of 115ºF (for medium-rare) or 125ºF (for medium). On the Traeger, this will take 75-90 minutes. In the oven, it will take around 50-60 minutes. Note: If you're using a larger tri tip you've seasoned yourself, cook times will vary.
- Once the tri tip has reached your desired temperature, heat a large skillet or griddle over high heat with a tablespoon of beef tallow or oil. Add the tri tip and sear all sides well, about 30-60 seconds per side.
- Transfer the tri tip to a cutting board to rest and add the onion, peppers, and soy sauce. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies have softened and picked up a bit of color. Transfer the veggies to a large bowl and set aside.
- After the tri tip has rested for 10-15 minutes, slice it thinly against the grain and cut the slices into 3-4 smaller strips. Add the sliced tri tip to the bowl with veggies, tossing everything together.
- Optional: Add another tablespoon of beef tallow or oil to the skillet and sear the tri tip and veggie mix one final time before serving.
*This recipe was inspired by Chef Tom of All Things Barbecue's tri tip tacos recipe. In his recipe, you'll find an alternative marinade and seasoning option if you wanted to use a prime tri tip instead of marinated from Trader Joe's. You could also use a homemade Santa Maria rub.
For California burritos, I used air fried French fries, smoked charro beans, guacamole, and grated pepper jack cheese inside flour tortillas. If you're using a Traeger to reverse sear your tri tip, you can increase the temperature to 500ºF and grill the burritos for about 5 minutes. A grill pan on the stovetop would also work.
For tacos, serve on your choice of tortillas and garnish with diced onion and chopped cilantro, cotija cheese or queso fresco, diced avocado, salsa macha, lime wedges, or your choice of fixin's.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: about 4 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 190Total Fat: 10gCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 19g