Smoked Tri-Tip is a fantastic cut of meat, full of flavor and depth. Especially when smoked.
The fact you can smoke a Tri-Tip in under 2 hours is an added bonus, making it a great weekday feed after work.
There is one big mistake most people make when slicing that makes the meat less tender so be sure to read to the end to find out the best way to slice tri tip.
By following this recipe, you will enjoy eating one of my favorite cuts of beef.
Smoked Tri Tip
Lean cuts of beef like Tri-Tip are great for smoking because you allow the meat to cook evenly on the inside while allowing the outside to form a good crust without drying out or overcooking the meat.
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.
Many smoked tri-tip recipes will include a final sear step (also known as a reverse sear). This isn’t necessary in my opinion, and it does complicate things as you’ll need to switch from smoking meat at low temps to high heat grilling.
You can’t deny it adds a nice crust though! If you want to reverse sear your Tri-Tip, smoke until the internal temperature reaches 110°F then remove Tri Tip from the smoker and tent with tin foil while you set up your grill for searing.
What is a Tri-Tip?
It is a triangular-shaped cut of beef that comes from the bottom of the sirloin, hence its name Tri-Tip. It is sometimes referred to as bottom sirloin tip or Santa Maria steak because of its popularity in California.
The average size Tri-Tip is 2 to 3 pounds. It is covered in a silverskin and fat cap that needs to be trimmed off before cooking.
Tri tip might not be readily available at your supermarket or grocery store but you should be able to find it at any good butcher.
Or you can always order online from Porter Road for a dry-aged, super tender option.
Equipment you will need for this recipe:
- Smoker, I used a Z Grills 700 Pellet Smoker
- Leave-in thermometer (or instant read if you don’t have one)
- Spray bottle
- Cutting board
- Fillet knife
- Chefs knife
- Rub shaker
How long to smoke Tri Tip?
This is the great thing about this cut of meat, it can be smoked low and slow style in under 2 hours. Unlike many other cuts that take 2 to 3 times longer to smoke and render down the intramuscular fat.
I prefer to smoke Tri Tip to a perfect medium-rare of 135°F internally. This usually takes no longer than an hour and a half. This is more than enough time for the Tri-Tip to absorb some smoky flavor.
How to get the perfect crust on Tri-Tip?
With most smoked meats, it is the seasoning you use and the coarseness of the grains that yield the best crust. More so the black pepper.
By using more black pepper at a coarse grain, as opposed to a finer grain, you will notice a better crust on any smoked beef product.
How to smoke a Tri Tip step by step
Using a filleting or boning knife, you will want to remove as much of the outer silver skin on the Tri-Tip as possible. It is not good eating and will create a chewy bite on a finished product, so take a few minutes and remove it.
I also trim most of the fat off. Tri-Tip does not take as long to smoke as brisket, so you do not need to protect it with a layer of fat. It will just stop the meat from taking on smoke.
Once you have the tri tip trimmed, you will see how the grain runs from one corner of the Tri-Tip and fans out across the entire cut in different directions. Take note of how it runs, as when it is finished and you need to slice it, sometimes the rub can hide the grain a little.
2. Seasoning the Tri-Tip
Next up we need to season the Tri Tip. For the seasoning we’ll use just a few ingredients – an even mix of kosher salt, black pepper, and granulated garlic. I prefer using coarse grains.
I personally do not use a binder but you could use one if you like, mustard or oil would be fine to use. Just make sure you get good coverage of the seasoning all over the Tri-Tip, no matter if you use a binder or not.
Put this aside for at least 30 minutes prior to going into the smoker. This will allow it a little time to dry brine, the salt will draw out some moisture from the outer of the cut and then be drawn back into it.
3. Getting the smoker ready
This smoked Tri Tip recipe can be made using any smoker (or grill set up for smoking). I’m using my Z Grills pellet smoker. So setting up the smoker was as easy as setting the temperature to 250°F and waiting for it to warm up.
On this model, I made sure I had filled the hopper with enough cherry and pecan hardwood pellets for the cook and then set the heat dial to smoke, within minutes a plume of smoke started coming out of the door of the smoker.
All up it takes around 8 to 12 minutes to be ready to smoke, depending on the desired temperature you are aiming for.
4. Smoking the Tri-Tip
Once the smoker is ready, you can place Tri Tip in the smoker and insert an internal temp probe into the thickest part of the meat.
I like to take Tri-Tip to medium rare, which is 135°F internally. Anywhere from 130°F to 140°F is considered medium rare though, I just like to aim for right in the middle.
After about 30 minutes, is a good time to spritz. I find with a cut like this that isn’t sitting in a smoker for hours, the spritz can actually add some good smoke flavor. So I tend to use beef broth in my spritz. It doesn’t need a lot, a fine misting is more than enough.
There is no need to turn over or flip a Tri-Tip while smoking it. The heat and smoke can roll around the meat and it will cook evenly.
Once your desired internal temperature has been reached, take the Tri-Tip out of the smoker, place on a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
5. Slicing the Tri-Tip
Here is where things can go south for some people. You need to remember back to the start after trimming the Tri-Tip. Where was the grain running? It started on the outer corner and spread out like a fan.
The easiest way to remember is to start slicing it across the width and grain at the pointy end of the Tri-Tip. This end has the grain running down into the tip.
Remembering we need to cut across the grain to achieve a tender bite. Cutting with the grain can result in a tough and chewy experience, even if you Tri Tip is perfectly cooked.
I personally prefer to cut pieces around ¼” thick. You can slice it thicker and serve as individual steaks.
Once you have sliced down to the outer corner, you need to turn the Tri-Tip a quarter of a turn and begin slicing again as the grain changes direction at this point.
By slicing against the grain, you will ensure that every piece is as tender as the last.
You can serve smoked Tri Tip on its own or with a variety of side dishes like mashed potatoes and steamed garden vegetables or roasted potatoes and gravy.
Low and Slow Smoked Tri-Tip
- 2 lbs Tri-Tip
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp coarse black pepper
- 2 tbsp granulated garlic
- ¼ cup beef broth
- Prep the Tri-Tip first by removing the fat cap and any silver skin using a sharp knife.
- Using an even blend of salt, coarsely ground black pepper and granulated garlic, give the entire Tri-Tip a good covering with the seasoning.
- Get your smoker set at 250°F.
- Once the smoker is ready, put the Tri-Tip in and insert an internal temp probe.
- After 30 minutes, spritz the Tri-Tip with beef broth.
- Once the internal thermometer reads 135 degrees F (medium rare), remove the meat from the smoker, place on a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Slice against the grain into slices around ¼” thick and serve.
- Mashed potatoes and freshly steamed garden fresh vegetables.
- Roasted potatoes and gravy.
- On its own.