Smoked Tri Tip: A Quick and Simple Fave!

November 18, 2022

Smoked tri tip recipes were some of the first ones I learned to cook. As an affordable cut of meat, I could smoke it all through culinary school and when my pay checks were fairly minimal.

Here is a great recipe for you to follow, along with all the tips and tricks to perfect this dish!

Smoked Tri Tip

Should You Dry Brine Tri Tip Before Smoking?

Now, I know that brining tri tip roast isn't the most common practice. Still, I would suggest that this is something that you should try.

As I am sure you are aware, tri tip is a pretty lean cut of mean. Due to this, there is a tendency for the meat to dry out if you are not careful.

One of the ways that I prevent the tri tip from drying out is by smoking tri tip at a lower temperature.

The other trick that I use, however, is dry brining. See, when the tri tip (or any meat, really) is heated, the muscle tissues contract forcing liquid out. Much of this liquid then evaporates leaving the meat dry.

The kosher salt for the dry brining process, however, can dissolve and reshape proteins. This prevents the meat from contracting quite as much and ejecting too much water.

As an added bonus, this process also dries out the surface of the tri tip, causing it to brown nicely. Basically, if you want the best tri tip dish ever, dry brine the meat.

So, how do you dry brine tri tip? Well, it is incredibly easy!

All you have to do is to sprinkle kosher salt over the entire cut. Then, place it in the refrigerator without covering, overnight - this is it!

Now, if you do decide to dry brine the tri tip, make sure to skip the salt in your dry rub. If you don't then go ahead and add the salt.

Steak and French Fries on Gray Plate

Trimming the Tri Tip

Believe it or not, one of the components of great smoked tri tip is ensuring that your cut is trimmed properly.

You will start off by getting rid of the silver skin on the tri tip cut. Also get rid of any sinew or tough muscle - anything that may get burnt during the smoking process.

What you should be really careful about, though, is the fat cap. As tri tip has very little fat to begin with, it is important not to trim this part too much.

Make sure that there is about 1/4th of an inch of fat on one side of the tri tip. This will help to maintain the moisture and the flavor of the cut.

Smoked Tri Tip Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3lbs tri tip roast
  • 1 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil

Dry Rub

  • 1.5 tsp. of kosher salt (skip if dry brining the roast)
  • 1 tsp. of black pepper
  • 1 tsp. of paprika
  • 1 tsp. of garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. of onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. of cayenne

Method

Step 1

Cut away the silver skin from the tri tip roast.

Trim the fat cap until it is 1/4th of an inch thick.

Step 2

Preheat the smoker and set temperature to 225 degrees F.

Step 3

Combine the ingredients of the dry rub in a small bowl.

Season tri tip and press ingredients into the surface of the meat.

Step 4

Insert meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.

Place the tri tip in the smoker.

Smoke until the internal temperature reaches 110 degrees F for rare and 120 degrees F for medium rare.

Step 5

In the meantime, heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until sizzling.

When the smoked tri tip is ready, place the meat in the pan.

Sear tri tip on each side for a few minutes, until the internal temperature registers at 125 degrees F or 135 degrees F, depending on the desired level of doneness.

Take off the pan and place on a wooden cutting board. Rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Baked Beef ready to cut

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Finding the Right Tri Tip Roast

One of the only things that irks me about this cut of meat is its shape. It is pretty irregular and if you have ever tried to smoke an irregular piece of meat before, you know how frustrating it can be.

The thicker portions of the tri tip inevitably end up being done before the thinner ones. This is why I take so much care when choosing my roast.

I try to find the one with the most uniform shape as this will make things easier when I smoking the tri tip.

The other point to pay attention to is the amount of fat on the tri tip. Now, usually, I let the butcher do the trimming. As the tri tip doesn't have all that much fat, I like to choose the fattiest cut in the display and take it home and trim it down myself.

This way, I can ensure that there is enough of a fat cap for that perfect smoked tri tip.

Don't worry as far as nutrition, calories, and saturated fat content goes, not much is added with this layer of fat.

Seasoning the Tri Tip

Usually, when smoking beef, I don't mind piling on the flavor. When it comes to smoked tri tip, though, I like to keep things simple.

The thing is, tri tip has a glorious natural flavor profile - nice and beefy. So, you don't really want to ruin it by adding too many other ingredients.

I stick to the basics when it comes to this dry rub. While you are free to make your own BBQ rub, I would look for milder spices or herbs that will not overwhelm the beef.

Choosing Wood Chips or Wood Pellets

One of the biggest perks of smoked tri tip is the smoke flavor. So, you do have to think carefully about the kind of wood that you will be using.

As I said, the tri tip tends to have a rather beefy flavor. This means that it can hold up well against more potent wood chips or pellets for a pellet smoker.

This is why I like using either hickory or mesquite for smoked tri tip. These add the perfect amount of smokiness.

I do have to advise you against using too much of these woods, though. If you are using pellets, then a handful of hickory or mesquite mixed in with plenty of oak is a good way to strike the right balance.

Want to do something kind of unusual with your smoked tri tip? Then cook tri tip with pecan wood instead. It sweetness is a nice mix with the general smoke flavor.

At What Temp Do You Smoke Tri Tip?

When it comes to smoking tri tip, low is the way to go. As I said, this meat doesn't have a lot of fat on it. So, if you smoke it at a higher temperature, it is going to dry out.

This is why 225 degrees F is the perfect temperature for smoked tri tip.

How Long Does It Take to Smoke a 3 Pound Tri Tip at 225?

The biggest reason that people want to crank the dial on their smoker up is because they want their tri tip to cook faster.

Have no fear, though! Since you are dealing with such a small cut, your smoked tri tip will be ready in less than 2 hours.

Due to this, it doesn't really make much sense for you to smoke the tri tip at a higher temperature.

Beef Steak and Vegetables on Plate

Smoking to Desired Internal Temperature

Personally, I like my smoked tri tip cooked to medium rare. I would advise against cooking it any more than medium done if you want a juicy tri tip.

If you want a rare smoked tri tip, then make sure to take the roast out of the smoker at 110 degrees F. In case you prefer it medium rare, then take it out at 120 degrees F.

It is important to track the internal temperature of the cooking process throughout.

Now, I know that this can be a little tricky considering the fact that the tri tip has such an uneven shape. The key, however, is to make sure that the thickest part of the cut is cooked all the way through.

Do You Need to Wrap the Tri Tip?

Usually when smoking meat, you would wrap it when the stall hits. If you don't then your meat can take several more hours to cook.

This isn't necessary with smoked tri tip, though. This is because you are dealing with a fairly small cut. As a result, it is unlikely that the meat will actually stall.

You only really need to wrap meat that is above 5lbs or so.

Searing the Smoked Tri Tip

In this recipe, I have reverse seared the smoked tri tip, much like cooking steak, in a cast iron skillet.

If you wish, though, you can also do this on a grill. If you are using a grill, turn the heat up to 500 degrees F.

When the grill is heated all the way through, place the tri tip on the grill. After a few minutes, flip over and sear the other side.

If you want rare smoked tri tip, then take the meat off at 125 F for rare and 135 degrees F for medium rare.

It is very important that you use a meat thermometer to track the internal temp of the meat even as it is searing. Otherwise, you may end up overcooking the meat and drying it out.

Resting the Smoked Tri Tip

One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is not resting your smoked meat.

Remember how I said that when meat is heated that the muscles contract and push out the liquid? Well, when the meat has time to cool down, these tissues relax and are able to reabsorb this moisture.

By allowing the meat to rest and cool down, you end up with a far more tender smoked meat.

And, as you can see from the recipe, this process doesn't even take a long time. Just leave it alone for about 15 minutes and it will be ready to serve!

How to Slice Tri Tip

Since you have worked so hard on your smoked tri tip, it is important for you to make just as much effort when it comes to slicing the meat too. Believe it or not, this can have an impact on how your meat will turn out.

The first thing that you need to do is to use a sharp knife. This allows you to cut through the meat smoothly without any pushing and pulling. This results in more succulent pieces of tri tip.

It is also important to slice against the grain. If you aren't sure of what this means or how to do it, look at the tri tip cut. Can you see long lines of tissue running in a certain direction? That is the grain.

You need to cut in an opposing direction to the grain. This creates a more tender, less chewy texture with the meat.

It is also a good idea to cut the meat in thin slices.

Related Reading

Barbecue Meat Grilling

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Long Does It Take to Smoke Tri Tip at 225?

This does depend on the size of the cut. However a cut that is about 3lbs will take less than 2 hours to cook all the way through.

2. How Do You Keep a Tri Tip Moist When Smoking?

There are two tricks to this. First, you dry brine the meat so that it maintains more moisture. Then, you smoke at a lower temperature so that the tri tip doesn't dry out.

Wrapping It Up

This is your ultimate guide to smoking tri tip. Go ahead and try it out for yourself - with how quickly it can be made, this is going to become your favorite smoked recipe in no time at all!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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