Tri-Tip is making the rounds in the BBQ world recently, and with good reason. It’s a cheaper, yet tasty alternative to brisket or sirloin.
With its robust, beefy flavor, tri-tip is a good intermediary between sirloin and brisket. It has more intramuscular fat than sirloin, but less than brisket. This makeup makes tri-tip a perfect candidate for reverse searing.
In this article, we’ll show you one of our go-to recipes for perfectly cooked tri-tip, and how to execute the reverse sear with ease.
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The Reverse Sear Method
Lean cuts of beef are great for reverse searing because it lets the meat cook evenly on the inside while allowing the outside to form a good crust without drying out or overcooking the meat.
Tri-tip is no exception. The Tri-tip cut comes from the lower sirloin, where three separate areas of muscle meet, giving it its distinct, three-pointed shape. It’s lean and full of beefy flavor, but we’ll add another layer of flavor by marinating before it goes onto the smoker.
By letting the marinade penetrate the meat for 1 – 2 hours, we’re letting the tough, heavily worked muscle fibers in the meat break down resulting in a tender bite at medium rare.
Don’t marinate for too long or the meat will become mushy.
Smoking the meat before searing also works on those fibers by allowing them to cook evenly and slowly. Muscle fibers tense and toughen up at high temperatures, which will cause the meat to be tough and chewy.
Prepare the tri-tip for smoking
Pull your tri-tip out of the refrigerator and trim off any surface fat and silver skin. Excess fat and silver skin on the surface of the meat inhibits smoke, marinade and rub penetration.
Our tri-tip was sourced from Porter Road online butchery. Porter Road is based in Nashville, TN and offers high quality, humane and pasture-raised meat from local farms.
They were kind enough to send us a tri-tip for free to try out. It exceeded expectations! Check out our review of their meat and service here.
Porter Road hand trims their meat, and this tri-tip was no exception. It was clean of visible silver skin and surface fat. You should be able to run your hand over the meat without feeling any change in texture.
You typically won’t find a tri-tip as clean and trim from a grocer, and unless you specify to a butcher that you want the silver skin and fat trimmed off, you’re most likely going to have to do so yourself.
Once the tri-tip is trimmed, put it into a large zip-top bag with one bottle of marinade of your choosing. We used a 16oz bottle of Smoke on Wheels BBQ marinade. Place back into the fridge for 1 – 2 hours.
Note: you can still cook a great tri-tip without marinating, but this step helps to tenderize the meat while also adding depth of flavor.
Get your smoker setup for reverse searing
While the meat is marinating, prepare your smoker to 250°F. You’ll want to maintain as level a temperature as you can, as the tri-tip won’t be smoking as long as other meats like brisket. You want its internal temperature to rise at an even, steady pace.
Like brisket, the tri-tip is very meaty, so you’ll want wood that will impart a distinct flavor into the meat. This is where hardwoods come into play, and why they’re so prevalent when smoking beef.
Hardwoods like oak, hickory and pecan are great options for smoking tri-tip. The meat will only be on the smoker for an hour or two, so the strong flavor from the hardwood smoke will get maximum penetration in minimum time.
Delicate woods like fruitwoods have a lighter smoke and though they would add flavor, it’s more of a hint of smoke that doesn’t always penetrate too deep into the meat with such a short smoke. You may get more of an oven result if using strictly fruitwood rather than the smoke flavor we’re after.
If you don’t have a smoker or can’t be bothered, you can do this step in your oven before finishing the tri-tip off in over a hot grill or cast iron pan.
Smoking the tri-tip
Remove the meat from the fridge and marinade, and wipe off any excess liquid using a paper towel.
Season the tri-tip with your choice of dry rub – in this case, we did kosher salt, coarse ground pepper, and granulated garlic. Press the rub into the meat with an open hand to help it adhere and penetrate.
With clean, steady smoke rolling and the temperature at 250°F, put the tri-tip on the smoker. Smoke until the internal temperature reaches 110°F. Remove from the smoker and tent with aluminum foil.
Searing the tri-tip
While the meat rests under the foil tent, prepare a grill for direct heat to 500°F.
This can be any direct heating method you have at your disposal, such as another charcoal or gas grill. A cast-iron skillet over high heat on the stovetop works as well.
Some smokers convert into direct-heat cookers, as does the Chubby 3400, but I opted to go with my tried and true Chargrill Akorn Jr. Kamado style grill.
It takes very little fuel to get this grill scorching hot, and it is perfect for searing.
Grill the tri-tip on both sides to achieve nice grill marks. Remove the meat when the internal temperature reaches 125ºF. Rest at least 10 minutes before slicing thin, against the grain.
Tri-tip like brisket has two different grain patterns as the muscles overlap. Be sure to keep an eye on the grain and switch it up so you’re always slicing against them.
Serving the tri-tip
If you’ve followed along closely, your tri-tip should raise to a perfect medium-rare temperature of 135°F during its ten minute rest after searing. What you get is succulent slices of meaty goodness.
The intramuscular marbling had a chance to break down slowly during the smoke portion, while the sear adds a nice exterior texture and flavorful crust.
You should have a very faint smoke-ring, but the flavor will have been imparted well enough throughout the meat despite how light the smoke ring may be.
Tri-tip can be served sliced like a steak or roast, or even used to make french dip or roast beef sandwiches that pair well with a good horseradish sauce.
Whatever you choose, the tri-tip is a versatile cut of meat that can find a part in most dietary needs.
Smoked BBQ Source Reverse Seared Tri-Tip
- 1 2-3 pound tri-tip roast
- 1 bottle of your favorite marinade
- Your favorite beef BBQ rub, steakhouse seasoning, or kosher salt, pepper and granulated garlic
- Hardwood for smoking – Oak, Hickory, or Pecan recommended
- Check the tri-tip for any surface fat or silver skin. Trim off any that you find.
- Put meat into zip-top bag with one 16oz bottle of marinade. Remove as much excess air as you can, close bag and toss meat to coat.
- Put into fridge to marinate for 1 – 2 hours.
- Preheat smoker to steady 250°F and add hardwood.
- Remove meat from marinade and pat dry.
- Dust surface with dry rub. Press rub into meat with open hand. Let sit at room temperature for 10 – 30 minutes.
- Place tri-tip on smoker grate and smoke until internal temperature reaches 110°F.Note: you are smoking the meat to an internal temperature, not for a length of time. Different sizes of meat will cook for different periods.
- Remove meat from smoker and tent with foil.
- Prepare a grill for direct cooking at 475°F – 500°F – or use a cast-iron skillet over high heat.
- Sear the tri-tip on both sides to achieve grill marks and color.
- Remove the roast from searing when the internal temperature reaches 125ºF.
- Let rest for 10 minutes.
- Slice thinly across the grain and serve warm.