Smoked tri-tip is one of the juiciest, flavor-packed pieces of beef when cooked correctly.
In this tri tip recipe, you’ll learn to use the reverse sear cooking process which ensures you get a perfectly cooked piece of beef every time.
Tri tip can turn into a tough, chewy piece of meat if you don’t nail a few basics, so keep reading to get all the tips.
Smoking tri-tip and other lean cuts of beef is great 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 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, but I find you get a more even result using the reverse sear method.
What is Tri-tip?
Tri-tip gets its name from its triangular shape. It comes from the bottom of the sirloin primal cut. It is sometimes referred to as bottom sirloin tip or Santa Maria steak. The cut first became popular in California, although it’s used around the world.
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.
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. I prefer to remove it, as I want to ensure 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 like to keep it simple and season the tri tip with a blend of Kosher salt, coarse black pepper, and garlic powder.
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.
3. Smoking tri tip
You can use any type of smoker you want as long as you get a consistent temperature of 225°F-250°F.
For this cook, I used my Kamado Joe Classic II with Weber Hickory Wood Chunks. I started by smoking indirectly and then finished with a quick sear 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 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.
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 don’t know what temperature for 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 in your BBQ arsenal – especially for lower-temperature cooks, but any good meat thermometer will do.
Place your meat in the smoker on the indirect heat side. You want to cook tri-tip until the internal temperature reaches 115°F and then remove the MEATER+.
4. Searing the tri tip
Next, you want to sear the tri tip over direct flame, flipping it every couple of minutes until the temperature reaches 127°F, for medium rare doneness.
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 foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and let it rest for 15 minutes.
The temperature will typically increase by 5-10°F as you rest your roast, so be sure to stop searing the tri-tip before it reaches your desired doneness temperature.
5. Slicing, the most critical part!
If you rested your tri tip before searing, there’s no need to rest it again. If it went straight from smoking to searing, you can give it a five minute rest.
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 directions, and you need to make sure you are cutting against the grain.
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.
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
- 9 best cheap steak cuts you can afford
- 7 best steak knives
- How to reverse sear a steak on the grill
- How to cook steak on a charcoal grill
Smoked Tri Tip Recipe
- 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.