This tri-tip dry rub is the best rub for smoking or grilling! With brown sugar, garlic, onion, paprika, chili powder, and a hint of spice, it’s sweet, smoky, and savory. Make a big batch and use it for BBQ-ing all summer long!

A metal tray with seasoned tri-tip on a pink counter next to a metal canister, white bowl of tri-tip dry rub, pepper grinder, and white bowl of paprika.

On my journey into becoming more of a BBQ-er, I have discovered my true passion on the matter: seasoning. I don’t get too nerdy on temperature vs. time or charcoal vs. pellet, but I will tweak a seasoning mix to great lengths.

Since tri-tip is perfect for beginner BBQ-ers, I’ve spent quite a bit of time grilling steak and testing this rub. I mean, I love tri-tip but let’s be real, there’s nothing all that exciting about a hunk of meat until you add some spices and throw it over a flame.

And while this seasoning was originally made to go on tri-tip, it would honestly be great on blue cheese burgers or even a reverse-seared steak. Give it a try next time you BBQ and let me know what you think!

Why you’ll love this seasoning

I have had a lot of tri-tips in my life, and I have discovered two things to be true. First, it’s one of the best cuts of steak whether it’s smoked, grilled, or roasted. Truly you can’t go wrong. And second, it’s best to keep the seasonings basic and let the flavor shine through. In this recipe, I used just a few of my favorite BBQ spices to add some lovely smoky flavor but not overpower the taste of the tri-tip. Here’s why you’ll love it too!

  • This rub is smoky, salty, savory, sweet, and just a bit spicy.
  • You can make this rub in about 5 minutes. So easy!
  • Make this seasoning in big batches so you have rub on hand all summer long.
  • It’s versatile so you can use it on any tri-tip recipe you like.

What is tri-tip?

Tri-tip is a little triangle-shaped cut of beef from the bottom of the sirloin. It’s kind of a west coast thing, so if you’ve never heard of it, that’s probably why. But, if you ever come across tri-tip, definitely make sure to grab one. It’s super tender, crazy flavorful, and perfect for grilling or smoking!

The ingredients

A white bowl with brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chili powder, and cayenne on a pink counter.

In culinary school, they taught us that the secret to great tri-tip is to keep things simple when it comes to the seasonings. You want to add a nice flavor but not so much that it overpowers the meat!

  • Brown sugar – for a touch of sweetness. I typically use dark brown sugar because I like the deep molasses flavor, but light brown sugar will work too!
  • Garlic & onion powder – these will add a roasted flavor and depth to the rub. Powdered is best (instead of fresh or dried) because they don’t burn during cooking.
  • Paprika – a bit of paprika will add sweetness and that gorgeous red color. If you want an extra smoky flavor, try smoked paprika.
  • Chili powder – this will add a bold, smoky flavor to the seasoning. Use mild or hot chili powder depending on your tastes and the recipe you’re making.
  • Cayenne – for a touch of heat. If you’re not a fan of spice, you can just leave this out.
  • Kosher salt – my go-to is Morton’s Kosher salt.
  • Black pepper – use freshly-ground black pepper for the best flavor!

Variations

If you want to switch up this rub, try adding some of these spices to the mix! You can add or replace spices and herbs depending on whatever recipe you’re making. This dry rub is super forgiving.

  • Rosemary, thyme, or oregano
  • Cumin or coriander
  • Dried mustard
  • Ginger

How to make this dry rub

  1. Making this seasoning truly couldn’t be easier. First, place all of the ingredients into a jar.
  2. Stir everything together until it’s well combined. Give it a taste and adjust the spices if necessary.
  3. Use the rub or cover the jar and save it for later.

Quick tip!

To keep the dry rub from clumping, use fresh fresh brown sugar. Then, use clean hands or a fork to break it apart before mixing it in with the spices.

How to season a tri-tip

A woman in a black and white gingham jumpsuit sprinkling tri-tip dry rub over steak on a metal tray. The tray is on a pink counter next to a metal canister, white bowl of dry rub, and white bowl of paprika.
  1. First, trim any fat off of the tri-tip. Then, sprinkle a very generous amount of rub on top of the steak.
  2. Using clean hands, pat the rub onto the tri-tip to make sure it sticks. Flip the steak and repeat on the other side.
  3. Place the tri-tip in a zipper bag or airtight container. Refrigerate for at least two hours, or up to 24 hours.
  4. Let the tri-tip come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. Then, cook however you like!

Storing & make-ahead

To store the dry rub, pour it into a sealed jar. Store it in the pantry or cupboard for up to 6 months. For the best flavor, use it within 2 months.

This rub can also be made in advance! I like to make a big batch and keep it in my pantry for BBQing and grilling. You can make the rub and store it for up to 6 months.

Tri-tip cooking methods

  • Smoke – I love to use this tri-tip rub for smoking! If you like a nice sweet and smoky flavor, tri-tip is the perfect beginner smoker recipe.
  • Grill – since the smoker can take a couple of hours, grilling is my go-to when I’m on a time crunch. You’ll get tender, smoky steak with a gorgeous charred crust.
  • Roast – oven-roasted is the way to go in the colder months when you want to stay nice and cozy.

Other cuts of steak

Since tri-tip can be a regional thing (hey, west coast!), you can use other cuts of steak with this rub. Try:

  • Sirloin – since tri-tip comes from the bottom of the sirloin, other cuts of sirloin would make a good replacement in a pinch.
  • Flank steak – if you want to grill the steak, flank steak is a good alternative because it has a ton of flavor! Just be sure not to overcook it. Since flank steak has low fat, it can become tough if it’s overcooked.
  • Brisket – for the smoker. Brisket is probably the most similar to tri-tip in terms of flavor and texture. Keep in mind that briskets can be large and may take longer to smoke than tri-tip.
A metal tray with tri-tip on a pink counter next to a metal canister, jar of rub, beige linen, and white bowl of tri-tip dry rub.

More ways to use this rub

Even though this recipe was originally developed for tri-tip and steak, I honestly sprinkle it on everything grill-able. These are just some of my favorite ways to use it!

  • Chicken – sprinkle it on chicken thighs, breasts, or wings.
  • Pork – use it on pork chops, ribs, or tenderloin.
  • Veggies – this rub is delicious on grilled veggies like zucchini, peppers, and eggplant.
  • BBQ – try this rub on brisket, pulled pork, or smoked sausages.

Tips & tricks

  • This recipe will make enough rub for about 4-4 1/2 pounds of tri-tip. Double or halve the recipe depending on how much tri-tip you’re making.
  • Use more seasoning than you think you need. You want to get a nice, thick layer of the rub on the steak to get that nice crust. I use about 3-4 Tablespoons per side!
  • If you’re not a fan of spice, leave out the cayenne. Or, if you’re a big fan of spice, try adding more!
  • Let the tri-tip marinate in the rub for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. This will add tons of flavor and help seal in all of the juices.
  • Use fresh spices for the best flavor. Jarred spices lose their flavor over time, so I recommend using new spices when possible!

Recipe FAQs

Is it better to use marinade or rub on tri-tip?

Honestly, it’s totally up to you! Marinade uses a combination of acid, liquid, and seasonings to help tenderize the meat and add flavor. Rub, on the other hand, only adds flavor. But, it also gives you that signature ‘crust’ that you find in BBQ!

When should you season tri-tip?

You want to give the tri-tip time to soak in all of the flavors in the seasoning. Let it marinate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours, before cooking.

Do you use oil to season tri-tip?

I personally don’t. I’ve never had an issue with the seasoning sticking to the tri-tip. But, if you’re having trouble, brushing the tri-tip with just a bit of oil can help the rub stick!

How do I keep the dry rub from clumping?

To keep the rub from clumping together, make sure to store it properly! Place it in a sealed jar or airtight container to keep any moisture from getting into the rub and clumping everything together. Then, place the jar or container in a dark, cool place like a cupboard or pantry. You don’t want it near anything hot, because the heat could melt the sugar a bit and make it stick together.

A white bowl of tri-tip dry rub with a wood measuring spoon on a pink counter.

My favorite beef recipes

Smoked Tri-Tip | Smoker or Grill
Beef Wellington Bites with Dijon Sauce
Beef Stroganoff with Shallots & Brandy
Pot Roast with Red Wine & Shallots

If you make this recipe, I would love it if you left a star rating and review! I read every single comment and love hearing what you think about my recipes. Thank you for supporting Sunday Table!


5 from 5 votes

Tri-Tip Dry Rub for Smoking or Grilling

Yield: 0.75 cups
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
This tri-tip dry rub is the best rub for smoking or grilling! With brown sugar, garlic, onion, paprika, chili powder, and a hint of spice, it's sweet, smoky, and savory. Make a big batch and use it for BBQ-ing all summer long!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed (dark or light)
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 Tablespoons onion powder
  • 4 teaspoons paprika
  • 4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper

Equipment

  • Sealed jar or airtight container

Instructions 

Make the rub

  • Place the brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper into a jar or airtight container.
  • Mix everything together until the spices are well combined.
  • Seal the jar or airtight container. Store in a dark, cool place (like a pantry or cupboard) for up to 6 months.

Use the rub

  • To use the rub, pat the tri-tip dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle a very generous amount of rub (at least 3-4 Tablespoons) on one side of the tri-tip. It may seem like a lot, but that's a good thing!
  • Using clean hands, pat the rub onto the tri-tip. Flip the steak and repeat on the other side.
  • Place the tri-tip into a zipper bag or airtight container. Seal and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.
  • When you're ready to cook the tri-tip, let it come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. Grill, smoke, or roast according to recipe directions. (See my recipe for smoked tri-tip on a smoker or gas grill!)

Notes

This rub will make about 3/4 cup. Double or triple the recipe to use it for up to 6 months.
This recipe will make enough rub for about 4-4 1/2 pounds of tri-tip. Double or halve depending on how much tri-tip you’re making.
Use 3-4 Tablespoons of rub per side depending on the size of your tri-tip. You want to get a nice, thick layer of the rub on the steak to get that nice crust.
If you’re not a fan of spice, reduce or leave out the cayenne. Or, if you’re a big fan of spice, add a bit more!
Let the tri-tip marinate in the rub for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. This will add tons of flavor and help seal in all of the juices in the tri-tip.
Use fresh spices for the best flavor. Jarred spices lose their flavor over time, so I recommend using new spices if possible.
Cuisine: American
Course: Spices
Serving: 0.75cups, Calories: 315kcal, Carbohydrates: 73g, Protein: 7.5g, Fat: 3.6g, Saturated Fat: 0.6g, Sodium: 3012mg, Potassium: 849mg, Fiber: 10.8g, Sugar: 46g, Calcium: 158mg, Iron: 6mg
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xo Sara Lynn

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