The Best Smoked Tri Tip

With its bold beefy taste and tender texture, tri-tip might just be the best piece of beef you'll smoke!
smoked tri tip sliced on serving block

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Tri Tip can be tough and chewy, but when handled correctly, it’s one of the juiciest, flavor-packed pieces of beef you can have.

I recommend treating Tri-Tip like a steak and going with a simple seasoning, a relatively short smoke, and then finishing with a quick sear and short rest.

Smoked Tri Tip

Smoking tri-tip and other lean cuts of beef is great because you allow the meat to cook evenly on the inside.

smoked tri tip on charcoal grill
Smoking and then searing tri tip gives you perfectly even meat with a beautiful crust.

Smoking allows the meat fibers to cook evenly and slowly. Muscle fibers tense and toughen up at high temperatures, which causes the meat to be tough and chewy.

Not to mention the added smokey flavor.

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.

You can certainly grill a whole tri-tip roast like we show in our Santa Maria Tri Tip recipe, but I find you get a more even result using the reverse sear method.

What you’ll need

  • 2-3lb Tri Tip – Trimmed and with the fat cap removed. I’ll often smoke two tri tips at once.
  • SPG Rub – Simple seasoning works best so go with a basic salt, pepper and garlic, our Smoke Kitchen Beef Rub or any steak seasoning you have on hand.
  • Smoke Wood – I used hickory wood chunks, but apple, cherry or pecan would all be good choices.

What is Tri-tip?

Tri-tip gets its name from its triangular shape. It comes from the bottom of the sirloin primal cut. The cut first became popular in California, although now quite common around the world.

vac pack of porter road tri-tip on wooden board
For this cook, we got our tri-tip from Porter Road.

My favorite way to cook tri tip is to 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.

How long does it take to smoke tri tip?

It took me an hour and fifteen minutes to smoke a 2.5lb Tri-tip.

The exact time will depend on the thickness of the meat and how well done you like it.

Use a good thermometer and smoke until the tri-tip reaches 115°F, and then sear until you hit around 127°F, and you will have a perfectly cooked tri-tip.

How to smoke Tri-tip

1. Trim fat cap and silver skin

Depending on where you buy your tri-tip, it might already be trimmed and ready. The one I bought still had a large fat cap intact.

untrimmed tri-tip on a wooden board
Tri-tip with fat intact.

If yours comes with a fat cap, it’s your choice if you want to leave it on or not. I like to remove it so 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.

trimmed tritip with a pile of silverskin and the fatcap above it with a knife in the middle
Be careful not to gouge the meat as you trim it by keeping your blade flat.

2. Season with SPG rub

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.  

glass jar with salt, pepper and garlic powder in it

I like to keep it simple and season the tri tip with a blend of Kosher salt, coarse black pepper, and garlic powder.

seasoned tri-tip on a wooden board
Be sure to generously season it on all sides, making sure all the meat is covered in seasoning.

You also can’t go wrong with our Smoke Kitchen Beef Rub.

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.

If you really plan ahead, you can also dry brine the tri tip in the fridge for up to 24 hours before smoking.

3. Smoke the tri tip

For this cook, I used my Kamado Joe Classic II with Weber Hickory Wood Chunks.

You can use any type of smoker you want as long as you get a consistent temperature of 225°F-250°F.

Place your meat in the smoker on away from any indirect hea. You want to cook tri-tip until the internal temperature reaches 115°F. Start checking the temperature around the 45-minute point.

tritip on the smoker

To monitor the internal temperature during the smoking process, I used my MEATER+ Wireless Thermometer.

A wireless thermometer is a great tool in your BBQ arsenal – especially for lower-temperature cooks, but any good digital meat thermometer will do.

4. Searing the Tri Tip

Next, you want to sear the tri-tip over high heat.

Depending on your smoker, this may be as simple as moving the meat across to the direct heat side. Some pellet smokers have an open flame searing option, so utilize what you have, and if all else fails, a screaming hot cast iron skillet will get the job done.

If you need some time to get your grill ready for searing, you can place your tri tip on a cutting board and cover it loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.

While searing, flip the tri tip every couple of minutes until the internal temperature reaches 127°F, for medium-rare.

tritip being seared on the grill
A nice crust is forming due to the high heat of the sear.

Remove from the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. 

The temperature will typically increase by 5-10°F as the meat rests, so be sure to stop searing the tri-tip before it reaches your desired doneness temperature.

5. Slicing, the most critical part!

It’s crucial to slice 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 directions, and you need to make sure you are cutting against the grain. 

sliced tri-tip on a wooden chopping board with knife alongside

Place the tri tip in the middle of a butcher block or cutting board. 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.

I recommend thinly sliced pieces for the most tender bite. 

You can serve tri-tip any way you would serve steak. A great option is to pair it up with our Balsamic brussels sprouts or you could place it on some brioche buns with some pickles and barbecue sauce.

Smoked Tri Tip Recipe

sliced smoked tri tip on butcher block

The Best Smoked Tri Tip

Simply seasoned tri-tip, smoked and reverse seared to juicy perfection.
5 from 7 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Resting Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 490kcal
Author: Nick Nesgoda

Ingredients

  • 2.5 lb Tri-tip
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsb black pepper coursley ground
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder

Instructions

  • 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.

Video

Notes

We have cooked the tri-tip in this recipe to medium-rare doneness.
How can I find out what my preferred doneness temperature is? Check out our article here.
How do I know which way the grain goes when slicing? The trip 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.
What time of wood should I use? We used Hickory wood chunks, but Pecan would also be a good option.

Nutrition

Calories: 490kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 60g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 187mg | Sodium: 1895mg | Potassium: 996mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 0.1g | Vitamin A: 20IU | Vitamin C: 0.05mg | Calcium: 91mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated and should be used as an approximation only. If you’re worried you could always add a side of kale.

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