Our Smoked Tri Tip Recipe is a West Coast Southern California inspired cut that is tender, full of flavor, and incredible when smoked, grilled or reverse seared. Learn the secrets for perfect Smoked Tri Tip from a professional BBQ caterer.
Smoked Tri Tip Highlights
- Smoking a tri-tip roast adds rich smoky flavor while leaving the roast tender.
- Simple seasonings go a long way in flavor but you can use any beef seasoning.
- Smoke for an hour and it’s ready, although be sure to monitor the temperature.
- Understanding how to slice the roast is important to maintain a tender bite.
We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again. We absolutely love Smoked Tri Tip around these parts!
It’s the #1 requested meat we cook at Ember and Vine catering events. And that is because it’s a much more affordable option to brisket or other roasts, both in price and the time it takes to cook. Smoked Tri Tip averages around 60-90 minutes to cook, whereas brisket can take you 10+ hours. That’s a serious commitment! So this is a great option that is tender and delicious and done in a fraction of the time.
What is Tri Tip?
Tri Tip is beef and comes from the backside of the cow, specifically the sirloin. It is where separate areas of muscle come together within the bottom of the sirloin and why you have three points to the cut. Thus “tri tip”. When you buy it, it should typically be trimmed and almost ready for grilling or smoking. Tri tip can be a lean cut of beef but is still very tender when cooked.
It can also be called a triangle steak or tri-tip steak. For this recipe be sure to buy a whole roast versus sliced up.
Marbling is key so you get the most flavor as the fat renders out while smoking. We use at least choice or its local rancher equivalent. If you cut in half a select grade tri tip you quickly realize why you want to maximize the marbling in an otherwise lean cut of meat.
As you travel east from the west coast, it is often difficult to find this cut. It’s become more popular in big box stores, but be sure to call your butcher and see if they carry or can cut this up for you. It’s worth it. When buying for this recipe, buy the entire roast, not cut up in smaller steaks. It should look like a large triangle as noted above.
You can also source amazing tri tip online. Consider a Snake River Farms American Wagyu or even the Double R Ranch option (Double R is our go to for any catering event).
What Size Tri Tip to Smoke
You’ll find them range from 1 ½ to 3 pounds. We like them somewhere around the 2 pound range. Because it’s so lean it’s important to not overcook it. We see a lot of Tri-Tip recipes where folks will smoke it for several hours.
In our experience we’ve found that is not necessary because the intramuscular tissue is not dense like brisket nor does it need hours to render large fat pockets. But if you want to do a brisket style tri tip – go for it.
A peeled (trimmed) tri tip will likely need a little additional trimming using a good boning knife. Typically there will a small amount of silver skin on one side, and a few fat pockets along the edge and corners. Simply remove them and then season.
Coat the tri tip with a binder of olive oil and then season with kosher salt and coarse black pepper. Alternatively you can use our beef seasoning or even something with a little richer flavor like our blackening seasoning.
How Long To Smoke Tri Tip
The average 2 pound roast should take no more than 60 minutes for rare, or 90 minutes for medium rare when smoking. As a reminder, always cook to temperature, not time for best results.
How To Smoke Tri Tip
Whether you use a pellet smoker or an offset the process is the same.
- Trim – Using a sharp knife, trim off the silver skin and fat pockets. Some cuts may have a thick sinewy layer of fat on the base (or thicker side). Remove that as it won’t render and when cooking will have a chewy texture.
- Season – A light coating of extra virgin olive oil will help the rub to stick. Then apply equal parts kosher salt and coarse ground pepper.
- Smoke – Smoke at 225 degrees Fahrenheit using indirect heat. Fruit wood is great, or oak, because it cooks so quickly. Smoked tri tip temp is ideal when the thickest part of the meat is registering 125 degrees F with an instant-read digital thermometer like a Thermoworks Thermapen for rare. 135 degrees F for medium rare.
- Rest – After you hit your target temperature, wrap in foil and let rest for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and slice.
- Slice – Slice against the grain into thin slices and serve.
Related Article: For a gas grill check out our tutorial on how to smoke on a gas grill using wood chips.
Chef’s Tip – If the roast is done earlier than you want to slice and serve, take the wrapped tri tip and put into a small cooler with no ice. It will stay warm for up to two hours if you don’t open the cooler. Then slice and serve when ready.
How To Slice Tri Tip
Tri tip will have two directions for the grains due to where it is butchered. Following the rule of slicing against the grain, start slicing the thin tail end. Then as you get closer to the thicker side, rotate the tri tip 90 degrees and continue slicing.
Slicing against the grain is important to keep the cellular connectivity which in turn helps keep the tender texture and moisture. If you slice with the grain, the taste will be slightly chewy because you are breaking the cells by slicing with the grain, and all the liquid they absorbed comes right out.
Beef Temperature Cooking Chart
- Rare: 120-130 degrees F
- Medium Rare: 130-140 degrees F
- Medium: 140-150 degrees F
- Medium Well: 150-160 degrees F
- Well Done: 160 degrees F (and not recommended)
You can marinate or use your favorite dry rub to season your Tri Tip if you wish, but we like to keep it simple and go with a liberal amount of salt and pepper. That’s it! This is exactly how we cook this for events, and we’ve always received high praise for this smoky deliciousness.
One of my favorite things about Tri-Tip is its versatility with wine. One of the reasons I think it’s so popular at our events is that it’s fan-friggin-tastic with a full-bodied style Pinot Noir (and we do most of our events in Oregon wine country, aka Pinot country). Most folks just associate Pinot with pork or salmon, but it can totally work with beef, especially this cut.
It doesn’t need some big tannic wine that will work with a fatty cut. It also takes on some great savory characteristics from the smoke and rub (or salt and pepper), which are to die for with the savoriness of Pinot. Juicy, lean, tender, and delicious.
More Tri Tip Recipes
- Red Wine Marinated Smoked Tri Tip (recipe and video)
- Grilled Santa Maria Steak Tri-Tip from our cookbook Fire + Wine
- Beef Tenderloin – Reverse Seared
- Grilled Tri Tip with Zinfandel Wine Sauce
- Smoked Tri Tip Sandwiches with Chimichurri Sauce
- Smoked Beef Plate Ribs
This post was originally posted in December of 2016 and updated in April of 2022 with new photos, recipe ideas, and details on the preparation of the roast.
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