Ultimate Tri Tip Tacos Guide: Marinate, Cook & Serve Like a Pro

We’re diving into a culinary adventure that brings the robust flavors of the grill right to your plate with our tri-tip tacos recipe. This dish is a celebration of simple ingredients coming together to create a symphony of flavors, all wrapped up in a soft tortilla. Originating from the beautiful coast of California, tri-tip tacos have quickly made their way into the hearts and kitchens of food enthusiasts everywhere.

Our journey into this recipe isn’t just about cooking; it’s about embracing the art of grilling and the joy of sharing good food with loved ones. Whether you’re a seasoned grill master or just starting out, we’ve got tips and tricks up our sleeves to help you nail this dish. So grab your aprons, and let’s get ready to transform this humble cut of meat into a taco night masterpiece that’ll have everyone asking for seconds.

Ingredients for Tri Tip Tacos

Stepping into the heart of our culinary adventure, let’s gather the ingredients needed to transform the tri-tip into tantalizing tacos. Ensuring we have everything on hand will make the cooking process as enjoyable as the feast itself.

For the Tri Tip

  • 2 lbs tri-tip roast, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional for a spicy kick)

For the Tacos

  • 12 small corn tortillas, warmed
  • 1 cup red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 large lime, cut into wedths for serving
  • 1 medium avocado, sliced

For the Garnishing

  • Sour cream
  • Salsa or pico de gallo
  • Grated cheese (cheddar or cotija)
  • Pickled red onions

Required Tools and Equipment

To bring our tri-tip tacos to life, we’ll need a few key tools and equipment. Having the right gear will not only make the grilling process smoother but also ensure that each component of the taco comes out perfectly cooked and ready to impress. Let’s walk through what we’ll be using:

  • Grill: Essential for achieving that unmistakable charred flavor on the tri-tip. Whether it’s gas or charcoal, make sure it’s ready for a medium-high heat setup.
  • Meat Thermometer: This is non-negotiable for ensuring our tri-tip is roasted to perfection, hitting the right internal temperature for your desired level of doneness.
  • Cutting Board: A sizable one will give you plenty of room to slice the roasted tri-tip against the grain into thin, tender strips.
  • Sharp Knife: A must-have for slicing the tri-tip and chopping up fresh toppings like cilantro and cabbage.
  • Mixing Bowls: We’ll need a few, both for marinating the tri-tip and for preparing the garnishes and sauces to go with our tacos.
  • Measuring Spoons and Cups: Precision is key for the marinade and setting up our taco toppings, ensuring each bite is bursting with flavor.
  • Skillet or Grill Pan (Optional): If you’re warming up your tortillas directly on the grill isn’t an option, a skillet or grill pan on your stove top works wonders.
  • Tongs: Essential for safely flipping the tri-tip on the grill and also great for serving.

Make-Ahead Instructions

To ensure a seamless cooking experience, some components of our tri-tip tacos can be prepared ahead of time. This approach not only enhances flavors but also streamlines the cooking process.


  • 1 (2-3 lb) tri-tip roast
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper


  1. Combine the Marinade: In a mixing bowl, whisk together olive oil, soy sauce, minced garlic, brown sugar, smoked paprika, ground cumin, and black pepper until the sugar dissolves and the spices are well incorporated.
  2. Prepare the Tri-Tip: If the tri-tip has any excess fat or silver skin, trim it off with a sharp knife to ensure even marinating.
  3. Marinate: Place the tri-tip in a large, resealable plastic bag. Pour the marinade over the tri-tip, ensuring it’s completely coated. Press out as much air as possible from the bag and seal it.
  4. Refrigerate: For optimal flavor, allow the tri-tip to marinate in the refrigerator. For a quick marinade, 2 hours is sufficient, but for deeper flavor, marinating overnight is ideal.
  5. Flip Occasionally: If possible, flip the bag occasionally to ensure the tri-tip marinates evenly.

Marinating the tri-tip ahead of time not only saves you preparation time on the day of cooking but also ensures the meat is flavorful and tender. Once marinated, the tri-tip is ready to be grilled to perfection and sliced for your taco assembly.

Prep Work

With our essential tools in place and our tri-tip marinating, let’s dive into the prep work that’ll make assembling our tacos a breeze.

Prepping the Tri Tip

First up, let’s tackle the tri-tip. After marinating for at least 4 hours (though overnight is best for maximum flavor), preheat your grill to a medium-high heat, aiming for around 400°F (204°C). We want to sear the outside quickly, locking in those juices.

  1. Remove the tri-tip from the marinade, letting any excess drip off. Don’t discard the marinade just yet; we can use it to baste the meat while grilling.
  2. Place the tri-tip on the hot grill. Grill each side for about 5 to 7 minutes, achieving those coveted grill marks and a crusty exterior.
  3. After searing, move the tri-tip to a cooler part of the grill or lower the heat to medium. Continue cooking, basting occasionally with the reserved marinade, until the internal temperature reaches your desired doneness: 135°F (57°C) for medium rare, 145°F (63°C) for medium. Use a meat thermometer to ensure accuracy.
  4. Once cooked, transfer the tri-tip to a cutting board. Let it rest for 10 minutes; this allows the juices to redistribute, ensuring every slice is moist and flavorful.
  5. Slice the tri-tip against the grain into thin strips or small cubes, perfect for stuffing into tacos.

Preparing the Toppings

While the tri-tip rests, let’s get our toppings ready. Fresh toppings not only add a crunch but elevate the overall flavor profile.

  1. Shred some cabbage thinly; its crisp texture contrasts beautifully with the tender tri-tip.
  2. Dice tomatoes and onions for a burst of freshness in every bite.
  3. Chop a handful of cilantro finely, adding a pop of color and a touch of earthiness.
  4. Grate some cheese—cheddar or pepper jack are excellent choices, adding creaminess and a slight spicy kick.
  5. If you’re a fan of heat, slice some jalapeños or prepare a quick guacamole by mashing ripe avocados and mixing them with lime juice, salt, and chopped onions.
  6. Have lime wedges ready; a squeeze of lime juice right before serving enhances flavors and adds a zesty note.

With our tri-tip prepped and a rainbow of toppings laid out, assembling our tri-tip tacos will not only be straightforward but also a delicious way to customize each bite to personal tastes.

Cooking the Tri Tip

After marinating the tri tip, it’s time to bring out its flavors by cooking it. You have two primary methods to choose from: grilling or oven baking. Each method provides a unique flavor profile and texture to the meat, ensuring that your tri-tip tacos will be delicious.

Grilling Instructions

  1. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. You’re aiming for a temperature around 375°F to 400°F. This optimal heat level ensures a nice sear while keeping the inside juicy.
  2. Remove the tri tip from the marinade, letting any excess drip off. Discard the leftover marinade.
  3. Place the tri tip directly on the grill grates. Grill for about 10 to 15 minutes per side. The goal is to achieve a beautiful char on the outside while keeping the inside tender.
  4. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. For medium-rare, aim for an internal temperature of 135°F. For medium, aim for 140°F. Remember, the meat will continue to cook slightly after it’s removed from the grill.
  5. Once cooked to your liking, transfer the tri tip to a cutting board. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes. This resting period allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, making it moist and flavorful.
  6. Slice the tri tip against the grain into thin strips. This ensures the meat is tender and easy to bite into when assembled in the tacos.

Baking Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F. This temperature allows the tri tip to cook evenly, developing a nice crust without overcooking the interior.
  2. Place the marinated tri tip on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. You can also use a wire rack on top of the baking sheet to ensure even cooking on all sides.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the desired doneness is reached. Use a meat thermometer to accurately gauge the temperature. For medium-rare, aim for 135°F; for medium, 140°F.
  4. Similar to grilling, let the tri tip rest for at least 10 minutes after baking. This step is crucial for a juicy outcome.
  5. Slice against the grain into thin strips, preparing the tri tip to be the star of your tacos.

Both cooking methods produce a wonderfully flavored tri tip, perfect for stuffing into tacos along with your prepared toppings. Whether you choose to grill or bake, the key is to monitor the meat for the perfect temperature and allow it to rest to ensure every bite is succulent and satisfying.

Assembling the Tacos

After your tri tip has been perfectly cooked and rested, it’s time to bring everything together into a taco that’s bursting with flavor and texture. Assembling tacos is an art, allowing for personal customization and creativity. Let’s dive into the essential steps to build the ultimate tri-tip taco.

Warming the Tortillas

  1. Choose Your Tortillas: Whether you prefer the softness of flour tortillas or the traditional taste of corn, select high-quality tortillas for the best experience.
  2. Heat on a Griddle or Pan: Place your tortillas on a hot griddle or skillet over medium heat. Warm them for about 30 seconds on each side or until they show slight char marks. This process adds a toasty flavor and makes them pliable.
  3. Microwave Method: If you’re short on time, you can also warm your tortillas in the microwave. Wrap a stack in damp paper towels and microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute. This method keeps them soft and warm for assembly.
  4. Keep Warm: Once warmed, wrap the tortillas in a clean kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft until you’re ready to build your tacos.

Garnishing and Serving

  1. Slice the Tri Tip: Cut the rested tri tip against the grain into thin slices or chop it into bite-sized pieces, depending on your preference. This ensures every bite is tender and easy to eat.
  2. Layer the Base: Start with a warm tortilla and lay a foundation of tri tip slices. Aim for a balance of meat that allows for additional toppings without overwhelming the tortilla.
  3. Add Toppings: Here’s where you can get creative. Layer on your favorite toppings like diced onions, fresh cilantro, sliced avocado, and a good squeeze of lime. For a creamy element, a dollop of sour cream or guacamole adds richness. Sprinkle with shredded cheese if desired.
  4. Drizzle with Sauce: Finish off your taco with a drizzle of salsa or any other preferred sauce. Whether you like it spicy or mild, the sauce ties all the flavors together.
  5. Garnish and Serve: Add a final garnish of chopped cilantro or a wedge of lime on the side for that extra zest. Serve immediately and enjoy the mix of flavors and textures in your homemade tri tip taco.

Serving Suggestions

After assembling your tri-tip tacos with precision and care, the next step we dive into is presenting these delectable creations in a way that elevates the entire meal experience. It’s all about complementing flavors and textures to make every bite more enjoyable. Here are some serving suggestions to round off your tri-tip taco feast:

  • Fresh Side Dishes: A vibrant, fresh salad works wonders alongside rich tacos. Think a simple avocado salad or a light coleslaw to add a crunchy texture and a refreshing contrast to the savory tri-tip.
  • Rice and Beans: Offering a side of Mexican rice and beans not only adds substance to your meal but also embraces the theme of a traditional taco night. These sides are hearty, flavorful, and can be customized with spices to match the profile of your tacos.
  • Grilled Vegetables: Nothing complements the smoky flavor of grilled tri-tip like a platter of assorted grilled vegetables. Bell peppers, onions, and zucchini charred to perfection enhance the rich taste of the tacos and add a beautiful splash of color to your table.
  • Dips and Sauces: Don’t forget to put out a variety of dips and sauces. Salsa verde, guacamole, and sour cream allow everyone to customize their taco to their liking, adding layers of flavor and creaminess.
  • Refreshing Beverages: Pair your tri-tip tacos with some refreshing beverages. Ice-cold beer, sangria, or a pitcher of citrusy margaritas can turn your taco night into a festive occasion. For a non-alcoholic option, consider homemade lemonade or iced tea infused with herbs.
  • Dessert: Cap off the meal with something sweet, but keep it light. Churros, flan, or even a simple fruit salad with a sprinkle of chili and lime can pleasantly contrast the savory meal without overwhelming the palate.

These serving suggestions aim to enhance the overall dining experience of enjoying tri-tip tacos, making it memorable and satisfying. Feel free to mix and match these ideas to suit your tastes and dietary preferences, ensuring every guest finds something to love.


We’ve walked through every step of creating mouthwatering tri-tip tacos, from the crucial marination process to the final assembly with your favorite toppings and sauces. We’ve also shared our top picks for side dishes and drinks to round out your meal, making sure it’s as enjoyable as it is delicious. Now it’s your turn to bring these ideas to life in your kitchen. Gather your ingredients, invite some friends over, and get ready to impress them with your culinary skills. Here’s to a taco night that’s sure to be remembered!

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