It is time to smoke one of the most flavorful cuts of meat you can find: Tri-Tip! Sometimes called a triangle steak due to its triangle tip, this cut of beef has high tenderness and packs a punch of flavor.
It is delicious when cooked on a pellet smoker since it soaks up the excellent smoke flavor and tenderizes slowly over the cook.
The great news is that smoked tri tip is relatively simple to make and can be paired with your favorite side dishes to be a hit!
What is Tri-Tip?
Have you ever heard of tensor fasciae latae? It is a fancy way name for a tri-tip roast.
This cut of meat is a small muscle with a triangular shape, located in the under sirloin cut of the beef. Initially, it was ground up and used as hamburger meat.
But in the 1950s, it started to gain popularity on the west coast, specifically in the Central Coast and Central Valley regions of California. People began to recognize its tender juiciness and depth of flavor as a standalone roast.
You can think of it this way: tri tip is to California what brisket is to Texas!
A tri-tip steak is not only a tender cut of meat but also a lean cut of beef. When cut into thin slices, it can melt in your mouth.
Many people love a Santa Maria steak. That’s tri tip marinated in Santa Maria-style BBQ seasoning using salt, black pepper, garlic, and cooked over red oak.
Is Tri Tip a Good Cut to Smoke?
Yes! Tri tip is a good cut to smoke because it is naturally tender and well marbled. It’s a great cut of meat to cook on the grill, on a skillet, or in a smoker, making it very versatile.
How to Smoke Tri Tip (Step-by-Step)
The following steps outline how to smoke the best tri tip, from trimming to serving. If you’re just looking for a recipe, you can jump ahead to my easy smoked tri tip recipe at the end.
How to Trim a Tri Tip
Do not skip trimming your tri tip roast! This is essential because you will cut off large chunks of fat that, when cooked, will not render down completely. Instead of ending up with tender, juicy bites, you will have a chewy roast.
Taking a few minutes to prep your meat is an easy way to ensure that you cook the best roast.
You may notice that the tri-tip has a thin silver layer. This is called silver skin. Excess fat does not cook down properly and will not provide a pleasant bit when you eat your roast.
To trim the silver skin and other excess fat, lay your roast on a cutting board with the silver skin side up. Using a sharp knife, gently work it under a corner of the silver skin.
Then, using a paper towel, grab the side of silver skin and gently but firmly pull it up. The entire piece should peel right off the back of the meat. If it doesn’t, try again.
Once the silver skin is removed, trim any other significant bits of excess fat you can see. For tri tip, you can remove most of the outer fat and still get tender meat, especially when smoked. (As shown in the above video.)
But, if you prefer (or if you’re grilling it), you can keep up to a 1/4″ of the fat cap to help protect the meat.
How to Season Tri Tip for Smoking
Seasoning your tri-tip is an important step. That is because the right seasoning blend can enhance the meat’s natural flavor.
Seasoning can also help tenderize your meat, resulting in melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.
The good news is that there is no wrong way to season your meat! You apply a thin layer of olive oil to the roast and sprinkle the seasoning on. Be sure to coat each side of the meat, and then press the seasoning firmly onto the meat to stick well.
Here are some tri tip seasonings I recommend…
Best Pre-Made Dry Rubs
Do you have a favorite dry rub to season your tri-tip? If so, use it generously!
If you don’t have a “got to” but want to use an already-made dry rub, here are some excellent choices:
- Lillie’s Q – Brisket Pepper BBQ Rub
- Traeger Grills Beef Rub
- Meat Church Holy Cow BBQ Rub
- Spiceology Cowboy Crust
Homemade Dry Rub Recipe
If you are like me, you might want to make your own dry rub for your tri tip roast. While I use pre-made rubs when I’m in a pinch (pun intended), I like to make my own when possible.
The good news is that this dry rub recipe is straightforward to make. Plus, you’ll likely already have a few (if not all) ingredients in your cupboard.
All you need is 5 minutes and the following ingredients to make this simple dry rub:
- 1/2 c brown sugar
- 1 TBSP garlic powder
- 1 TBSP kosher salt
- 1/2 TBSP paprika
- 1/2 TBSP chili powder
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. When ready to season your meat, rub a thin layer of olive oil on the tri tip and apply seasoning on all sides.
Pro tip: For best results, make the seasoning in advance. It will keep well for up to a month. The best way to keep your seasoning fresh is to store it in an airtight container.
How Long Does It Take to Smoke Tri Tip at 225?
Most agree the best temp to smoke tri tip is 225 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because it still cooks it “low and slow” but not too slow to drag the process out. At 225 degrees, it takes about 30 minutes per pound. However, internal temp determines when it’s done, not cook time…
What Temp Do You Pull Off Tri Tip?
Tri tip is best medium-rare. So, you want to pull off tri tip from the smoker when its internal temp is 125-130 degrees F. The temp will continue to rise just a bit outside of the smoker. That’ll bring it to the perfect medium-rare temp for tri tip of 130-135 degrees F.
When Should I Sear My Tri Tip? (Reverse Sear Method)
With tri tip, you want to use the reverse sear method. This means you sear the meat after you cook it “low and slow.” You can reverse sear it on a grill, the smoker, or a cast iron skillet (which I’ll show you next). To reverse sear it on a grill…
Reverse Searing Tri Tip on Grill
Pull the meat from the smoker when its internal temp reaches 125-130 degrees. If you’re not putting it straight on a preheated grill, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. This will keep the juices from flowing and drying out the meat while you wait to sear it.
Turn your grill on the highest setting and let it preheat. Then, sear all sides of your tri tip for approximately 3 or 4 minutes per side. Monitor the internal temp and remove it from the heat once it reaches 130-135 degrees F.
Searing the tri-tip will give it a nice crust, adding to the flavor profile. You can achieve that nice crust in the smoker, too…
Reverse Searing Tri Tip in Smoker
If you don’t want to sear your meat using a skillet, then another great option is to use your smoker!
Pull the meat and wrap it tightly in foil once it reaches an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees F. While it is resting, turn your smoker up to 500 degrees F.
Once it reaches the high heat, unwrap the tri-tip and place it on the smoker. Sear it for about 5 minutes total.
Reverse Searing Tri Tip on Cast Iron Skillet
Searing tri tip with a cast-iron skillet is the fastest method; it only takes a few minutes. Heat the skillet over high heat until it is hot, then add about a half stick of butter.
Using butter is a great idea when searing meat because the milk proteins help to brown it up quickly. And, of course, it is delicious!
Once you put in the butter, wait for it to melt. Do not walk away from the pan at this time, as the butter can quickly burn. Add the tri-tip and let it sear for approximately 30 seconds on each side.
How Long to Let Tri Trip Rest Before Cutting
Whichever searing method you choose, be sure to rest the tri trip. Remove the meat from the reverse searing heat source and let it rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Now, how do you slice tri tip? Let’s answer that next…
How to Slice Tri Tip
If sliced properly, this cut of meat can be incredibly juicy. You want to follow a tri-tip cutting guide (or the above video) to ensure you cut against the grain. It’s a bit tricky at first because the meat’s triangular cut has two different grain directions.
Cut against the muscle fibers with a sharp knife so you don’t spill the juices out and end up with stringy, chewy meat.
Easy Smoked Tri Tip Recipe
This easy smoked trip recipe is for newbies and veterans alike. It’s easy to prep and will result in tender, succulent meat every time.
- 1 4-6 pound Tri-Tip Roast
- 2 TBSP Olive Oil
Dry Rub Ingredients
- 1/2 c brown sugar
- 1 TBSP garlic powder
- 1 TBSP kosher salt
- 1/2 TBSP paprika
- 1/2 TBSP chili powder
1. Set Out the Meat
Set the meat for about 30 minutes or until it reaches room temperature.
2. Trim the Tri-Tip
Follow the directions to trim the tri-tip I gave earlier.
3. Season the Meat
Mix the dry ingredients. Apply a light coat of olive oil to the tri-tip for the season to adhere.
Liberally sprinkle the meat with a dry rub on all sides of the roast. Lightly pat it to secure the seasoning.
4. Smoke the Tri Tip
Once the smoker is hot, place the tri-tip centered on the smoker’s grates. Insert the meat probe halfway into the thickest part of the meat. Close the lid and smoke the meat until the roast’s internal temperature reaches 125-130 degrees F*.
*Remember, its internal temp will continue to rise outside of the smoker, bringing it to the ideal 130-135 degrees F.
5. Sear the Tri Tip
Once the roast reaches an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees F, pull the meat from the smoker. Wrap the roast tightly in foil and let it rest while preparing the grill, cast iron skillet or smoker.
If using a grill, preheat it to a very high heat. Then sear each side for 3-4 minutes each.
If using a skillet, heat it to very high heat. Add half a stick of butter, watching it closely as it melts. Place the meat in the pan and sear it on both sides for 30 seconds to create a crust.
If using a smoker to sear, raise the smoker’s temperature to 500 degrees F. If your smoker does not go that high, submit it to the most increased heat possible. Once the smoker is hot, place the meat inside and sear it for about 5 minutes.
6. Rest and Slice
Once the meat is seared, pull it off the searing heat source. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
Slice the meat using a cutting guide. Cut against the grain. Remember, since tri tips are a triangular cut of beef there are two different grain directions.
Best Wine Pairing With Tri-Tip
Red meat is most often paired with red wine. However, if you’re not a fan of red wine, a good Chardonnay or champagne pairs well with tri tip. You can pick up a bottle of each from your local grocery store and have something on hand for everyone to enjoy!
Syrah is an excellent choice of wine to serve with your tri tip. Syrah is a dark-skinned grape and sometimes goes by the moniker “Shiraz.”
Syrahs are usually spicy and bold, meaty wines. But they can also have fruity flavors that complement all types of meat dishes.
Syrahs often have smoke or tobacco notes that pair well with meat smoked on a pellet grill or electric smoker. Its acidity and moderate tannin levels can cut through the high-fat content of the tri-tip roast.
Merlot is another great pairing option. Either a full-bodied or light-bodied Merlot will accentuate the meaty flavor of tri tip.
Other Red Wine Pairings for Tri Tip:
- Pinot Noir
- Cabernet Sauvignon
As you see, you can’t really go wrong with red wine and red meat. So, you can select your favorite red wine to pair with your tri tip.
If you’re looking for a great white wine pairing, then Chardonnay is the way to go. Chardonnay usually has subtle notes of apples or citrus, with some hints of floral blossoms and nutty flavor that go well with tri-tip.
It is a medium-bodied wine with moderate acidity to cut through the fat of the meat.
If you are not a red or white wine fan, then don’t worry. You can still make the meal special with a great bottle of champagne.
Champagne can be dry or sweet and creates a velvety feel in your mouth when it is sipped. It’s a perfect balance to a textured, savory bite of tri tip.
Chill it beforehand for an extra crisp drink to complement your roast.
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As a mom of three little eaters, I am excited to share my love of cooking, smoking, and baking with you. My love of food started when I went to college in Berkeley, and has followed me ever since! When I am not “momming,” writing, or cooking, you can find me reading, traveling, or hiking.