Grilled Tri Tip Sandwich & Horseradish Aioli

Cheesy tri tip sandwich with horseradish aioli.

Grab a hold of this juicy grilled Tri Tip Sandwich, topped with creamy Havarti cheese, zesty horseradish aioli, and tangy pickled red onions. This bold combination of flavors is held together with a toasty bun, the perfect vehicle to go full speed toward your mouth. All you’ll need is an ice-cold beer to wash it down.

The key to this tri-tip sandwich lies in the preparation of tri-tip roast, slowly smoked with indirect heat before searing directly over the coals. Thin slices of beef are piled onto toasty bread, soaking up the savory juices, ready for any combination of toppings you can throw at it.

Reverse Seared tri tip is ready for a sandwich.

Reverse-Seared Tri Tip

You can’t have a tri-tip steak sandwich without the beef!

Grilling tri-tip involves two steps: cooking indirectly and searing to finish. This process is called reverse-searing, and it’s extremely common in the grilling world for any thick cut of beef. It allows you to cook a steak to near-perfect internal temperature, and still have a smoky flavor with a crispy crust.

Tri-tip sandwiches are extremely popular on the West Coast, of course, made famous by the Santa Maria Tri-Tip Steak recipes. There is even a Santa Maria salsa specifically to pair with it.

For a comprehensive guide on Reverse Seared Tri-Tip Steaks, please read this article which has all of the details and tips you’ll need!

Use any combination of toppings for your tri tip sandwich, you can't go wrong.

Key Ingredients

  • GRILLED TRI-TIP. Obviously, this is the start. You can use other smoked meats to make a similar sandwich such as sliced flank steak, smoked brisket, or even smoked pulled beef. While it won’t be a tri tip sandwich, they will still be very delicious sandwiches.
  • DRY RUB. Thick cuts of beef need big flavors, and tri-tip can take it. Stick with coarse black pepper and Kosher salt, or try out the coarse Canyon Crust Beef Seasoning which kicks up the flavor quite a bit.
  • MELTY CHEESE. Havarti cheese or provolone cheese are highly recommended. Don’t be afraid of beef and cheese, you love cheeseburgers and you know it!
  • HORSERADISH AIOLI. Oh yeah, this tangy sauce brings it home. One bite and you’ll understand. We’ve got a recipe for it, don’t worry.
  • ONIONS. Pickled red onions bring a bright, tangy bite to the sandwich.
  • SANDWICH BREAD. Hoagie rolls are recommended, but ciabatta rolls are a close second. Thick, spongy bread with a nice toasted crust works best.
It's highly recommended to use a charcoal grill for Santa Maria style tri tip.

Recommended Equipment

  • CHARCOAL GRILL. Cooking over the coals will provide the most smoky flavor while also building a bold, crispy crust on the outside. You can use wood chunks or wood chips to add more smoke during the first phase of cooking.
  • PELLET GRILL. This is another option which works well. Instead of searing directly over the coals, turn up the heat to 450°F for searing and place the tri-tip steak over the hottest spot where the firebox is located. Flip and sear as desired.
  • MEAT THERMOMETER. Having an instant-read meat thermometer is helpful, as is with most grilling recipes.
  • WOOD CHUNKS OR CHIPS. These will add more smoky flavors to the meat while the tri-tip is smoking. Place them over the hot coals while the steak is smoking.

Season the tri tip roast with Canyon Crust Beef Seasoning.

Cooking the Tri Tip Steak

  1. Season the beef. Generously sprinkle on your rub on all sides, giving it a good pat. Allow the spices to sit on the tri tip for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight in the fridge.
  2. Prepare the grill for indirect heat. Warm up your charcoal grill for a medium-low heat, roughly 250°F. Bank the coals to one side of the grill. Place your wood chunks on the coals a few minutes before the meat.
  3. Smoke the tri-tip. Cook it until it’s about 15 degrees from the target internal temperature. If you’re looking for medium-rare, shoot for about 115°F for this phase. Take it off the grill and let it rest briefly as the grill heats up for searing.

  1. Sear the tri-tip steak. Make sure the coals are at a medium-high heat, around 450°F. Place the tri tip on the grill grates directly over the coals and keep flipping every couple of minutes, building the outside crust. Take it off when it’s near the target temperature, around 130°F for medium-rare.
  2. Rest before slicing. This step is just as important as grilling. Tri tip steaks are known to be juice bombs, so allow it to rest for at least 15-20 minutes at room temperature before slicing.
Pile the toppings high on your tri tip steak sandwich.

Assemble the Tri Tip Sandwich

Here’s where the fun happens, making the sandwich. Make sure you have plenty of thin slices ready to pile into the sandwiches.

  • GRILL THE BREAD. Don’t let those hot coals go to waste! Butter the bread and slap them on the grill grates for a quick toasty char. Crusty bread makes for a good sandwich.
  • SPREAD THE AIOLI. Mix up the horseradish aioli recipe, and slather it on each side of the toasted bread. Be generous.
  • MELT THE CHEESE. Take a few slices of the tri tip and layer on one slice of the bread. Place the cheese on top and throw it into the grill, using the indirect heat to melt the cheese. Plus, you get more smoky flavor. Feel free to place the sandwich halves with cheese on a baking sheet and pop them under the broiler for a few minutes.
  • ADD YOUR TOPPINGS. Pickled onions or even sweet and spicy pickles work really well to balance out the rich flavors.

Assemble the grilled tri tip sandwich, it's ready to eat.

Variations

This tri tip sandwich recipe uses Havarti cheese, pickled red onions, and the creamy horseradish sauce, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Here are some of our other favorite toppings:

  • Sauce it up with some hot sauce, or homemade bbq sauce. Try the Smoky Sweet Heat Sauce if you like the classic flavors.
  • Add a handful of arugula, spinach, or mixed greens.
  • Spread garlic butter on the bread before it’s toasted, making a garlic bread sandwich.
  • Sweet caramelized onions bring a deeper, rich flavor.
  • Sliced marinated bell pepper brightens the sandwich quite a bit.
  • Use different flavors of aioli, such as garlic aioli.
  • Sharp white cheddar or blue cheese changes the dynamic of the sandwich completely. So good!
  • Pickled jalapenos give the sandwich a nice spicy kick.

What do You Eat With Tri-Tip Sandwiches?

Here are some of our favorite side dishes with grilled tri tip sandwiches:

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Cheesy tri tip sandwich with horseradish aioli.

Grilled Tri Tip Sandwich & Horseradish Aioli

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Grab a hold of this juicy grilled Tri Tip Sandwich, topped with creamy Havarti cheese, zesty horseradish aioli, and tangy pickled red onions. This bold combination of flavors is held together with a toasty bun, the perfect vehicle to go full speed toward your mouth. All you’ll need is an ice-cold beer to wash it down.

  • Total Time: About 90 minutes
  • Yield: About 6-8 1x

Ingredients

Scale

Instructions

  1. Season the tri-tip steak. Season all sides of the steak generously and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes prior to grilling. 
  2. Prepare the grill for 2-zone cooking at around 250°F. Light the coals and set them on one side of the grill, leaving the other side without direct heat. Add chunks of hardwood if using to the coals.
  3. Smoke the tri-tip steak. Place the steak on the cool side of the grill away from the coals. Make sure the thickest part is the closest to the fire so that the thinner side doesn’t overcook. Allow the steak to cook with the lid closed for about 40-60 minutes until it reaches around 115-118°F (for medium-rare).
  4. Lift the lid and sear the steak. Allow the coals to start burning hotter by lifting the lid off the grill. Move the steak to the hot side of the grill and allow it to sear for 1 minute. Flip the steak and continue to repeat this process until the steak reaches your target temperature, about 128-130°F for medium rare. NOTE: If the steak is searing too quickly, move it to the cooler side for a minute to slow down the cooking. It’s best to take your time rather than burn the outside. Move it back over the heat and continue searing when ready.
  5. Allow the steak to rest before slicing. Give it about 10-15 minutes to rest at room temperature. This will allow the juices to be redistributed. Slice against the grain.
  6. Toast the bread on the grill. Butter up the slices of bread and grill them for 2-3 minutes, until it’s lightly toasted.
  7. Assemble the sandwich. Slather the horseradish aioli on each side of the bread and pile on the tri-tip to one half of the sandwich. Melt the cheese by placing the sandwich half with cheese on the cooler side of the grill, or use an oven broiler with a baking sheet. Top with onions and assemble the sandwich. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 60 minutes
  • Category: Burgers & Sandwiches
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: Beef Sandwich
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