Tri Tip 101: Gauging the Heat

When cooking tri tip and your other favorites, you need to remember that the lid of your grill is your friend. Keeping that heat and smoke inside will bring your tri tip to levels of perfection. However, we love to look and check – and look and check some more. The main reason we do this is because we want the heat to be just right for whatever method we are using. The best thing is to check the heat ONCE WITH THE LID OPEN and let the grill do the job. The less you open the lid, the better.

If your grill did not come with a built-in thermometer (or if you just don’t trust it), use this tried and true method: THE HAND TEST. After you grill has warmed up or the coals are burning nice and hot, follow this simple 2-step process:

1)      Hold your open palm about 4 inches (about the height of a beer can) over the grill grate.

2)      Count how many seconds you can keep it there before pulling away – before you start screaming in pain or cussing.   Relax, you’ll instinctively retract your hand before you let it burn.  Use the chart below:

High Heat (450° to 550°F): 1 to 2 seconds

Medium Heat (350° to 450°F): 3 to 6 seconds

Low Heat (250° to 350°F): 7 to 9 seconds


PERSONAL NOTE: When grilling, I prefer to have my grill at 350°, which means I have my grill on medium-low heat. I put two of the burners on and lay the tri tip roast between the burners. For more on our method, see our video How to Grill a Tri Tip Roast here.   When BBQing (or smoking), the coals are at low heat and stay that way through the process. Indirect heat is the key – well…SLOW AND LOW is the key. Our video How to Smoke Tri Tip Using Wood Chips demonstrates this method.