Smoked Tri-Tip

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Tri Tip is a beloved California favorite. This West Coast classic is the perfect cut for any cookout. This recipe for smoked tri-tip will walk you through the steps you need to make a perfectly cooked, flavorful, tender, juicy tri-tip.

It is quicker and hat easier to cook than a smoked brisket. Tri-tip is lean, flavorful, and super easy to master. If you’re ready to try your hand at grilling or want a smoker recipe that doesn’t take 14 hours, this grilled trip tip recipe is just the thing.

medium rare tri tip sliced on a cutting board

What is tri-Tip?

Tri-tip is a beef cut of meat from the bottom sirloin primal cut near the cow’s hip. This cut of beef is a triangular-shaped muscle that sits just above the flank and below the top sirloin. 

Tri-tip is a lean cut of beef known for its rich flavor and tenderness when cooked properly.

How do I select a good tri-tip for smoking?

When selecting a good tri-tip, consider the following tips:

  1. Look for marbling: Marbling refers to the streaks of fat within the meat. A moderate amount of marbling enhances flavor and tenderness.
  2. Check the color: Look for a tri-tip with a bright red color. Avoid cuts that have a dull or grayish appearance, as it may indicate older meat.
  3. Assess the thickness: Tri-tip should be uniform throughout, ideally around 1.5 to 2 inches (3.8 to 5 cm). This thickness allows for even cooking and prevents overcooking or drying out.
  4. Examine the texture: Gently press the meat with your fingers. It should feel firm but still have some give. Avoid tri-tips that feel too soft or mushy, as it may indicate poor quality.
  5. Consider the fat cap: Tri-tip usually has a fat cap on one side. Look for a moderate layer of fat that is evenly distributed. This fat adds flavor and moisture during cooking.
  6. Buy from a reputable source: Purchase your tri-tip from a trusted butcher or a reputable meat supplier. They are more likely to provide high-quality cuts.

Remember, personal preference plays a role in selecting a tri-tip. Some prefer leaner cuts with less marbling, while others enjoy a richer flavor with more marbling. Choose a tri-tip that aligns with your taste preferences and cooking methods.

How To Prepare A Tri Tip

Preparing a tri-tip for smoking requires a few steps. 

  1. Select the perfect tri-tip.
  2. Trim, if needed.
  3. Season: use a dry rub or a flavorful marinade for best results. 
  4. Bring the meat to room temperature a few hours before cooking.
  5. Prepare the smoker.
  6. Smoke or grill the tri-tip to your desired temperature.

Should I trim the fat on the tri-tip?

Trimming the excess fat on the tri-tip before smoking is a matter of personal preference. The fat cap on the tri-tip can add flavor and moisture during the smoking process, but some people prefer to trim it for various reasons. Here are a few factors to consider:

  1. Flavor: The fat on the tri-tip can enhance the flavor of the meat as it renders during smoking. It can contribute to a juicier and more flavorful final result.
  2. Bark development: The fat cap can help create a nice crust on the outside the tri-tip. You may want to leave the fat cap intact if you enjoy a well-developed crust.
  3. Aesthetics: Some people prefer the presentation of a leaner tri-tip with minimal visible fat. Trimming the fat can result in a cleaner and more uniform appearance.

If you decide to trim the fat, leaving a thin layer of fat (around 1/4 inch or 6 mm) is recommended to help with flavor and moisture retention. Experiment with both trimmed and untrimmed versions to see which one you prefer regarding flavor and texture.

What is the best seasoning or rub for smoking tri-tip?

The best dry rub for a tri-tip can vary depending on personal taste preferences. However, here’s a classic and flavorful dry rub recipe that you can try:

ingredients for a bbq rub

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine all the dry ingredients until well-mixed.
  2. Pat the tri-tip dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.
  3. Generously coat the tri-tip with the dry rub, ensuring it is evenly covered on all sides. Press the rub into the meat to help it adhere.
  4. Set the rubbed tri-tip on a baking rack set over a sheet pan. Allow the tri-tip to sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.
  5. Proceed with your preferred smoking method.

Feel free to adjust the amounts of each ingredient or add other spices based on your preferences. Experiment with different seasoning blends to create your signature tri-tip recipe. 

Should I marinate the tri-tip before smoking?

The two most common ways to add flavor to meat are using a dry rub or marinating. Marinating tri-tip before smoking is a common way to add flavor and moisture to the meat. While it is not necessary, marinating can enhance the overall taste of the tri-tip. 

lableled ingredients to make steak marinade

Here are some things to consider:

  1. Flavor infusion: Marinating the tri-tip allows the marinade flavors to penetrate the meat, resulting in more flavorful cooked meat. 
  2. Tenderizing: Some marinades contain ingredients with tenderizing properties, such as enzymes or acidic components. These can help break down the proteins in the meat, leading to a more tender tri-tip.
  3. Customization: Marinating allows you to customize the flavor profile of the tri-tip to your liking. You can experiment with different marinade recipes or create your blend using ingredients that appeal to you.

When marinating tri-tip, it is recommended to do so for at least a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to develop. Place the tri-tip and marinade in a resealable plastic bag or an air-tight container, ensuring the meat is fully coated. You can turn the tri-tip occasionally to ensure even marinating.

Before smoking, remove the tri-tip from the marinade and discard any excess marinade. Pat the tri-tip dry with paper towels to remove surface moisture before applying any dry rub or seasoning.

It’s important to note that if your marinade contains high amounts of sugar or honey, it can cause the exterior of the tri-tip to caramelize or burn faster during the smoking process. Monitor the tri-tip while smoking and adjust cooking times or temperatures accordingly.

How To Smoke A Tri Tip?

This smoker recipe is going to be your favorite way to cook tri-tip. It has the best smoke flavor and is perfectly tender and juicy. This recipe works for any smoker. I use a Kamado Joe (affiliate link) ceramic egg smoker, but you can also use a pellet smoker (affiliate link).

Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s directions. 

kamado grill getting ready to smoke a tri tip

What wood is best? 

Wood smoking will give your tri-tip roast a good smoke flavor. I like to use Cherry, Alder, or Oak when smoking a tri-tip. I also often use Kiawe wood when I smoke. It has a great flavor and works well with many different cuts of meat. 

What temperature should I smoke a tri-tip at?

For smoking tri-tip, a recommended temperature range is between 175°F to 250°F (79°C to 121°C). This low-temperature range allows the tri-tip to cook slowly and evenly, giving plenty of time for maximum smoke exposure. 

Maintaining a consistent temperature within this range is crucial for achieving the desired results. Use a reliable smoker thermometer to monitor the temperature throughout the smoking process and adjust as needed to stay within the recommended range.

How long should I smoke a tri-tip?

The cook time for a tri-tip can vary depending on factors such as the size of the cut, desired level of doneness, and the temperature at which you’re smoking it. However, as a general guideline, you can follow the approximate smoking times below:

  1. Smoking at around 175°F to 200°F (79°C to 121°C):
    • For a smaller tri-tip (around 2 to 3 pounds or 0.9 to 1.4 kg), smoke it for about 2 to 3 hours until it reaches your desired internal temperature.
    • For a larger tri-tip (around 4 to 5 pounds or 1.8 to 2.3 kg), smoke it for about 3 to 4 hours until it reaches the desired internal temperature.
  2. Smoking at a higher temperature, around 225°F to 250°F (135°C to 149°C):
    • Smoking at a higher temperature will result in a shorter cooking time. Smoke the tri-tip for approximately 1.5 to 2.5 hours until it reaches the desired internal temperature.
tri tip on the grill with a probe thermometer

It’s important to note that these times are estimates, and the most reliable way to determine when the tri-tip is done is by checking its internal temperature with a meat thermometer. I highly recommend Thermoworks (affiliate link) probe thermometers for grilling and smoking.

The target internal temperature for tri-tip is typically around:

  • 125°F to 135°F (52°C to 57°C) for medium-rare
  • 140°F to 145°F (60°C to 63°C) for medium

Carryover cooking: Keep in mind that the internal temperature of the meat will rise an average of 5 degrees while resting. Pull the meat off the grill when it is 5 degrees lower than your desired final temperature. 

smoked tri tip, seared after it reaches temperature

The reverse sear method is used to brown the outside after it has reached temperature can be done by:

  • On the grill – by increasing the heat of your fire and cooking the tri-tip briefly to develop a crust. 
  • In a screaming hot cast iron skillet (affiliate link)
  • With a blow torch (affiliate link)

Once the desired temperature is reached, remove the tri-tip from the smoker and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

seared trip tip on a butcher block

How to know when the tri-tip is done smoking?

The best way to determine if a tri-tip is done smoking is by measuring its internal temperature using a meat thermometer (affiliate link). Here’s a general guideline for target internal temperatures for different levels of doneness:

  1. Medium-rare: Aim for an internal temperature of around 130°F to 135°F (54°C to 57°C). At this temperature, the tri-tip will be pink in the center with some juiciness.
  2. Medium: For medium doneness, target an internal temperature of around 140°F to 145°F (60°C to 63°C). The meat will be slightly more cooked, with a hint of pink in the center.

How to serve the smoked tri-tip?

A tri-tip roast is a delicious recipe that’s easy to serve. 

When it comes to slicing and serving smoked tri-tip, following a few key steps will help you achieve the best results:

  1. Rest the tri-tip: After removing the tri-tip from the smoker, cover it with aluminum foil and rest on a cutting board for 10 to 15 minutes. This resting period allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more flavorful and tender final product.
  2. Identify the grain: Look for the direction of the grain or muscle fibers on the tri-tip. The grain typically runs lengthwise along the cut. It’s important to identify the grain because you’ll want to slice the tri-tip against the grain for optimal tenderness.
  3. Slice against the grain: Using a sharp knife, slice the tri-tip across the grain into thin slices. Slicing against the grain helps to break up the muscle fibers and makes the meat more tender to bite. Cutting slices about ¼ to ½ inch (6 to 12 mm) thick is best.
  4. Presentation: Arrange the sliced tri-tip on a platter or serving dish, keeping the slices intact and organized. You can garnish the platter with fresh herbs or serve with a side of your choice, such as roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, or a salad.

Remember, the slicing method plays a significant role in the tenderness and overall enjoyment of the tri-tip. Cutting against the grain ensures each bite is tender and easier to chew.

Additionally, tri-tip can be served on its own or used in various dishes like sandwiches, tacos, salads, or even as a main course paired with your favorite barbecue sauce or chimichurri.

By following these steps, you can present 

What to serve With Tri Tip

Pair this recipe with a spicy, tangy BBQ sauce or an herbaceous Chimichurri or a zesty Horseradish Cream Sauce.

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sliced santa maria tri tip recipe

Smoked Tri Tip Recipe

Indulge in the tantalizing flavors of our Smoked Tri-Tip recipe, a true delight for meat lovers. This culinary masterpiece showcases a perfectly grilled, tender beef cut, infused with a savory blend of smoky spices and aromatic herbs. Unlock the secrets to achieving grilling perfection and elevate your BBQ game with this mouthwatering Maria Tri-Tip recipe that will leave your taste buds craving more. Get ready to impress your guests and savor every juicy, flavorful bite.
Prep Time 1 day
Cook Time 4 hours
Resting Time 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6
Calories 237 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
 

  • 2 to 4 lb tri-tip roast

Rub For Tri Tip

Marinade Recipe For Tri Tip

Instructions
 

  • Select the perfect tri-tip. Shoot for 2 to 4 lbs. Trim, if needed.
    2 to 4 lb tri-tip roast
  • Season: use a dry rub or a flavorful marinade for best results. 
  • Bring the tri tip to room temperature a few hours before cooking.
  • Prepare the smoker according to the manufacturer's directions. Heat to 225℉ (107℃)
  • Place the tri-tip on the grill. Insert a probe thermometer and close the lid.
  • Smoke or grill the tri-tip to your desired temperature. Recommended 125℉ (54℃)
  • Remove the tri-tip when it is 5 degrees under the desired final temperature.
  • Reverse sear to brown the outside. You can use a torch to sear the outside of the tri-tip in a smoking hot cast iron skillet or under a broiler.
  • Place on a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil, and rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

Laura’s Tips + Notes

  • Medium-rare: Aim for an internal temperature of around 130°F to 135°F (54°C to 57°C). At this temperature, the tri-tip will be pink in the center with some juiciness.
  • Medium: For medium doneness, target an internal temperature of around 140°F to 145°F (60°C to 63°C). The meat will be slightly more cooked, with a hint of pink in the center.

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Nutrition

Serving: 6ouncesCalories: 237kcalProtein: 31gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 98mgSodium: 80mgCalcium: 36mgIron: 2mg
Keyword bbq, smoked tri tip, smoker recipe
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