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.
To best measure temperature consider at the minimum a good instant read thermometer like the Thermoworks Thermapen One, or a leave in Bluetooth thermometer like the Thermoworks Smoke Unit.
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.
*Serve Tri Tip with these smoked collard greens or top with this chimichurri sauce.
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.
You can totally pair this with something bigger, like Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo, but don’t be afraid to try it with Pinot Noir (especially a bigger style Pinot).
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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This was the best and easiest trip tip recipe ever! We hosted Passover for 30 people and I was so nervous about cooking for everyone. I’ve made tri tip before but never loved how it turned out. It was always dry and I felt like I was making it too complicated. But I wanted to use my smoker so that I didn’t have to be cooking during the Passover Seder. I tried your recipe and it was a huge hit. Some guests even told me it was the best tri tip they’ve ever had. Everyone was blown away and I am just so thankful for your post. I will be making this tri tip for all of my guests from now on!
Sean Martin says
Thank you so much for sharing! So happy this turned out for you and your guests.
Hunter’s girlfriends says
I have a venison roast, do you think I could use this same method? The seasonings I’m sure I can figure out, but the cut of meat and this style cooking plus temperatures ,I’m nervous about.
Sean Martin says
You can definitely use this method. I would just plan the venison to cook a lot faster than the tri tip given how lean it is. So just keep an eye on the internal temperature as it cooks and pull it at the temp you like.
Carrie Clark says
I was searching for a fantastic recipe to smoke my tri-tip roast. Most I read said to smoke it for 4 hours. I’m so thankful I came across your site. It saved my family from eating an oversized piece of jerky for dinner. Instead, they are all enjoying delicious, tender strips of tri-tip as I am writing this. Thank you! I will be trying the resting time in the cooler next time, as I wrapped mine in butcher paper and placed it in the microwave for 10 minutes and it did not redistribute the juices well enough. (no, I did not microwave it…lol)
Melissa Boone says
That was by far one of my best smoked tri-tip so far thank you.
Absolutely fantastic!! Tri tip is one of my favorite cut of beef and I cook it 2-3 times a month. This has become my go to recipe – so easy and incredibly flavorful. Thanks for sharing this gem of a recipe!
Sean Martin says
Awesome!!! Thanks so much for the feedback! We’ll keep ’em coming!
Bob Conroy says
I’m gonna try this tomorrow, do you “smoke” it the whole 60-90 mins or just partially ? Thanks
Bob we smoke the whole time. So if you are using a pellet smoker, you can use “smoke” setting, or 225. For a wood and charcoal cooker, we go for 225 until it comes up to our desired temperature. Be sure to start checking the temperature around the 45 – 60 minute mark to see how fast it is cooking.
Added a drip pan with a tiny bit of water and let it smoke at 250 for 80 ish minutes. Jesus christ all mighty was it good. I didnt use salt and pepper used a wet rub it was awesome but the tinfoil trick and temp pull out times are on point!
I prefer too sear a chunk of tri tip at high heat for 3 minutes per side Directly over red oak wood on a Santa Maria grill 1st then raise the grate too finish at 135 pull off and wrap in foil,let rest 10 minutes.using the tri tip juices inside Too pour over meat.my rub, fresh garlic and fresh grind black pepper that’s all for rub.,simply awesome flavor and juicy and tender.with a nice crust on the outside and medium rare in the middle.
Sean Martin says
Love this!!!! Life goal for me is to get a Santa Maria style grill myself. Love them and the way they can be controlled for heat element. I can smell the sear from here!!!
Does smoking two roasts at once increase cook time?
Wes, no, not with Tri Tip. They are small enough to not pull in too much of the ambient heat.
Elliott Miller says
Does this recipe work with an electric smoker? I’m trying it currently and it just doesn’t the same red outer crusty look to it. What am I doing wrong?
I also put it in and the temp was at 127 degrees within a half hour. Still leaving it in cause we have kids and don’t want it too rare.
Please help, what am I doing wrong??
I don’t think you are doing anything wrong, the color will be a number of things, pellet type, etc.
Did you get a smoke flavor you like? And did you find a smoke ring?
You could always turn the temperature of the smoker down lower if it’s cooking too quickly, to get more smoke flavor.
And always check the temperature of the meat at the thickest part of the meat to make sure that is cooked to the temperature you want it. The thinner parts on the ends will likely be cooked more thoroughly, and likely the ones you would probably feed to the kiddos (though I love some of those crusty and juicy end pieces too!).
Steve Crawford says
I made this for the family and they loved it. Didn’t pair it with a wine but we are doing the keto diet and this works well.
That’s awesome! We love to hear this 🙂
My California boy cannot wait to try this on his new smoker. He definitely can’t find a restaurant here in TX that serves Santa Maria style tri-tip. What kind of wood do you recommend using?
oh….a controversial topic for a Texan, we are big fans of local wood making great local flavor. So depending on the part of Texas, mesquite or post oak may work. We are here in the Pacific Northwest and will typically go oak or apple given it’s easy to get here. But we shy away from mesquite to avoid it tasting too smoky. But it’s all about your preference.
Mark Kautsky says
Thank you for this recipe. Its insanely good. Cant believe how easy it was to prepare. You really deserve boatloads of credit for this. The only thing different I did was lace some slivers of garlic into the meat, and I like it more medium so I pulled it from the smoker at about 140 degrees.
Otherwise, Good on you!
Awesome!!! Thanks so much for the feedback 🙂 I’m totally trying ours with that garlic suggestion next time (I’m a huge garlic lover!). Cheers 🙂
BBQ On Main says
Hey Mary, we love your smoked tri-tip recipe so much that we featured it as part of our 101 favorite smoker recipes. And the wine pairings are a huge bonus! You can check it out here – https://bbqonmain.com/101-smoker-recipes/
Thanks so much for sharing!
Made this just today in our old Philco refrigerator smoker with applewood chips & it was AMAZING!! Thank you!
That is awesome!!!! I love seeing those mods on appliances, take a photo and please share on our facebook site, I love that!!!!
Mike Bengs says
Couldn’t believe how great this was! We used dry rub overnight. Only took an hour to reach your recommended temp. Let sit in foil about 45 minutes. Delish and so tender! Thanks for enlightening this old boy smoker to a new quick smoking technique with Tri-Tip.
I made this tonight and it was delicious! Was a little skeptical about pulling the meat off the smoker at such a low temp, but the result was amazing!
Yeah!!!! You can always pull off at higher temps, but we just love how tender it comes out. Thanks for the feedback!!!
Daniel Borba says
How long before you smoke it do you season it? 1 hr, 30 mins, 10 hrs?
Daniel, we’ll prep and season about six hours before cook time, sometimes less if we run into a time crunch, but a few hours before works.
Pinot Noir is my favorite, but because it’s such a delicate flavor I never know what to pair it with. I never even thought about tri-tip! Perfect suggestion.
Mmmmm I love when you post food photos of meat, you have an incredible way of always making it look incredible!
Jill BARTH says
Why does this post makes me want to say hello yeah?!?
Looks absolutely mad, way too good. Cheers!
Brianne Limani says
This looks so good! I wouldn’t normally think to pair red meat with a Pinot Noir (I generally reach for a cab or merlot by habit), but this full bodied Pinot sounds like it could be perfect!
Marlynn | UrbanBlissLife says
Can I just move in next door and come over for dinner everyday? This smoked tri-tip looks AMAZING! I’ll have to check out those wines too, especially the Camlow. I’m in the mood for a BIG Pinot Noir right now!