The Best Smoked Tri-Tip (Low & Slow Then Seared)
Smoked tri-tip is by far one of the juiciest, flavor-packed pieces of beef when cooked correctly.
It’s a cut of meat that’s accessible across the county – and the great thing is that you can feed multiple people off one roast.
In this recipe, we’re going to guide you through the reverse sear cooking process so that you can enjoy this delicious tender cut at your next BBQ.
Make sure you pay attention closely – it can turn into a tough, chewy piece of meat if you don’t follow a few key steps.
Lean cuts of beef like Tri-Tip are great for smoking because you allow the meat to cook evenly on the inside.
Smoking allows the meat fibers to cook evenly and slowly. Muscle fibers tense and toughen up at high temperatures, which will cause the meat to be tough and chewy.
You could cook a tri-tip low and slow the whole way, but you can’t beat finishing with a quick sear over high heat to develop a flavorful crust.
What is Tri-tip?
Tri-tip is a triangular beef roast that comes from the bottom of the sirloin. It is sometimes referred to as bottom sirloin tip or Santa Maria steak.
It’s a very versatile cut of meat that can be cooked in a variety of different ways.
A lot of people smoke and reverse sear it, but you can also grill it, cook it in the oven, or, if you want to get adventurous, you can even smoke it low and slow to well done like a brisket.
It’s become easier to find at big grocery stores of late, and you can always score a top quality cut from our friends at Porter Road.
What type of smoker do I need?
You can use any type of smoker that you want as long as you can get a consistent temperature of 225°F-250°F.
For this cook, we used our Kamado Joe Classic II to smoke indirectly, and then we seared directly over hot charcoal for some delicious open-fire flavor.
If you are using a pellet grill that does not have an open flame searing plate, I would highly recommend searing your tri-tip on both sides in a smoking hot cast iron skillet to ensure you are getting a great crust on the outside.
If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, Lodge makes a great pre-seasoned skillet for a very affordable price.
How to smoke Tri-tip
When you purchase a tri-tip, sometimes it is already trimmed up, but if yours isn’t – you’re going to want to take a few extra minutes to do it yourself.
First things first – let’s make sure you get a good clean trim job by working with a nice sharp knife. You can’t go wrong with our Smoke Kitchen 6.5″ Boning Knife. This knife has a great handle and is one of my favorite knives for trimming.
Tri-tip can come with or without the fat cap removed. If yours comes with a fat cap, it’s your choice if you want to leave it on or not. My personal preference is to remove it, as I want to make sure that the seasoning hits all the meat.
Remove any silver skin that may be on the tri-tip. It helps to use the full length of the blade for nice clean cuts.
There are a TON of amazing beef rubs out there and honestly, this part is 100% your preference.
If you know you are going to sear over direct heat – you want to avoid rubs that have a high sugar content to prevent the meat from burning.
I kept the seasoning simple with a blend of Kosher salt, coarse black pepper, and garlic powder.
If I have extra time, I typically like to do this 30-45 minutes ahead which helps allow the seasoning to penetrate down into the meat and help tenderize the roast.
Preheat your smoker to a consistent 225°F.
As I mentioned above, we used our Kamado Joe Classic II for this cook with Weber Hickory Wood Chunks. Pecan is also another great flavor option.
Before you put your tri-tip on the grill, you need to decide how you want it cooked. For me, tri-tip is at its best cooked to medium rare doneness. If you’re unsure of what the internal temperature of your preferred doneness is, check out our article here.
To monitor the internal temperature during the smoking process, I used my MEATER+ Wireless Thermometer.
A wireless Bluetooth thermometer is a great tool to have in your BBQ arsenal – especially for lower-temperature cooks.
Place your meat in the smoker on the indirect heat side. You want to smoke the tri-tip until the internal temperature reaches 115°F and then remove the MEATER+.
Next, you want to sear it over direct flame, flipping it every couple of minutes until the internal temperature reaches 127°F, for medium rare doneness.
Remove from heat and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Something to note, the internal temperature will typically increase by 5-10°F as you rest your roast, so be sure to stop cooking your tri-tip before it reaches your desired doneness temperature.
Slicing, the most critical part!
It’s crucial to slice your tri-tip the correct way. Otherwise, you’ll end up chewing on what feels like a leather belt.
The tri-tip has grains running in two different directions, and you need to make sure you are cutting against the grain.
It is easiest to start slicing at the smaller end of the tri-tip and work towards the larger portion where you will need to rotate to help make sure that you are slicing each part of the tri-tip against the grain.
It’s also best to stick to thinly sliced pieces for the most tender bite.
Need some more steak guidance?
- 11 best mail-order steaks in 2022
- 9 best cheap steak cuts you can afford
- 7 best steak knives in 2022
- How to reverse sear a steak on the grill
- How to cook steak on a charcoal grill
- 2.5 lb Tri-tip
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- 1 tbsb black pepper coursley ground
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- Preheat your smoker to a consistent temperature of 225°F.
- Using a sharp knife, remove most of the fat cap (if there is still one on there) and any silver skin.
- In a small bowl combine salt, pepper and garlic.
- Generously season your tri-tip on all sides and if time permits let sit for 30-40 minutes.
- Place your meat in the smoker on the indirect heat side. Smoke the tri-tip until the internal temperature reaches 115°F.
- Move the tri-tip over to the direct flame and flip it every couple of minutes until the internal temperature reaches 127°F (this is for medium rare doneness).
- Let the tri-tip rest for 15 minutes then thinly slice it against the grain.