I have a confession. The truth is that the oven is not the best way to cook tri-tip. But keep reading anyway. I have a very good reason for sharing my techniques on how to cook tri-tip in the oven.
I think it’s fair to say, and perhaps you agree– the best way to cook tri-tip is to BBQ it over the smoky embers of red oak logs in Santa Maria, California… in an earthen pit dug into the ground… while drinking Santa Barbara Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or even a rich, oaky SB County Chardonnay… with a group of friends… at sunset.
But I can see how these ideals might prove difficult to attain on any given Sunday. So I’m here to humbly present how I cook tri-tip in the oven… at home… without a shovel.
It’s easy too. Almost too easy. That’s partly because a good tri-tip is consistently the same piece of meat. It’s not big and it’s not too thick. So with proper handling it’s easy to cook. In fact I don’t even use my trusty thermometer when I cook 2‑pound tri-tip in the oven.
That’s because I tie my tri-tip like a classic roast. I’ve never seen this done when I’ve witnessed tri-tip cooked over live fire. To me however, it just makes sense. Tri-tip is a wedge-shaped triangle (hence the name). It’s thicker on one end and tapers to a narrow point. Which means it won’t cook evenly if left as is. This can be a good thing when lots of people are gathered around the BBQ demanding meat anywhere between rare and (dare I say it?) overdone.
However, at my house we don’t serve meat past medium-rare except in the rarest of circumstances. So I use cotton butcher’s string to tie my tri-tip into a neat and consistently-sized bundle.
2010 Zaca Mesa Estate Syrah
Pairs well with barbecue, cheese, duck, mushrooms, steak, pork, sausage.
Which means that a properly tied 2‑pound tri-tip cooked in the oven, reaches the perfect pink after 30 minutes at 425 degrees– pretty much every single time.
How to Cook Tri-Tip in the Oven
Still, I realize this leaves a few questions unanswered. So let me elaborate. When you cook tri-tip in the oven you can use all those little tricks that make any roast taste better.
The first rule I swear by is to season my meat well with salt and pepper before I tie it into a bundle. I try to do this several days in advance. Then wrap it in plastic and refrigerate. It really works.
Second, I use salt and pepper, and only salt and pepper (well, maybe garlic). Rubs are fine and can certainly add flavor. But it just doesn’t feel authentic to the Santa Maria style tri-tip I first encountered in college. To me (traditional beans and relish aside) true tri-tip gets properly flavored by the red oak smoke. It’s true that there’s no red oak smoke when you cook tri-tip in the oven, but still I resist too many strong flavors on the meat itself.
Lastly, I rarely bother to sear the meat before I cook it. If you’ve got a big wine with lots of tannins to serve with your tri-tip, a little pre-searing will help achieve a bitter char that will work well with the wine. However, for me, 30 minutes at 425 degrees produces a nice brown crust that doesn’t overwhelm the meat.
Oh, and go ahead and use a thermometer if you want to. I’m just showing off. GREG