Tri-tip, dollar for dollar and from a value perspective, is my favorite cut of beef. I was first introduced to tri-tip while stationed in Southern California circa 1993. It was one of the few cuts of meat I could afford at the time and smoked tri-tip is probably the first cut I “mastered” if there is such a thing (it’s still really cheap in California, by the way).
This inexpensive cut is packed with flavor and can be cooked countless different ways. Today, I’m going to talk about my preferred method of cooking a tri-tip: smoked and seared. Tri-tip on a smoker is simple and fun, and the results are amazing.
You don’t have to have a smoker for this—almost any grill will work for this recipe. And if you have any left over, try it on the world’s best grilled cheese sandwich.
The smoked tri-tip recipe I’m sharing is very basic and straightforward. Anyone new to grilling can do this, and the old pros love it as well.
But first, I’m going to answer a few common questions about tri-tip, then I’ll go over a few tips for cooking tri-tip, and then we’ll get into the recipe. Given that this blog is a “how to,” the recipe itself is less important than the technique.
OK, on to some pretty commonly asked questions about this great cut of meat and smoking tri-tip.
What Is Tri-Tip?
Where To Buy Tri-Tip
This is probably the question I am asked most often. I live on the East Coast and tri-tip isn’t readily available here so I get tri-tip online.
If you’re on the West Coast, they’re available at just about any grocery store. I’m always scratching my head as to why this cut hasn’t gained more popularity outside of California.
How To Prepare Tri-Tip
Unlike a brisket, which requires a lot of trimming, the tri-tip doesn’t require quite as much. In fact, most of the time they come pre-trimmed. Oftentimes the least expensive tri-tips in California will be untrimmed and in the meat display at the butcher’s counter.
If you get a tri-tip that requires some trimming, it’s super easy. There’s no real fat cap to deal with, but quite often you’ll have to trim off the silver skin that’s pretty prominent on this cut. Simply slice it off with a sharp boning knife and call it a day.
How To Cut Tri-Tip
The grain of the meat on tri-tip goes in two different directions. For serving, you’ll always want to slice against the grain, which will require you to cut the meat in half, and then slice each half against the grain. It’s not hard at all, just be aware and note the grain of the meat.
Cutting it against the grain for service makes for a better mouth feel. Remember, this is a very inexpensive cut of meat and it can get chewy. By slicing against the grain, it’s certainly less chewy and results in a more pleasant eating experience.
How To Cook Tri-Tip in the Oven
This is the question I’m asked most often when I serve this to guests who ALWAYS love it, but may not own a grill or smoker. You can absolutely oven roast tri-tip.
I suggest following my guide for reverse sear using the oven. Just follow the directions, and though you won’t get the smoke flavor, you’ll be more than satisfied—until you decide you can’t live another day without a grill.
Tips for Cooking Tri-Tip
The Smoke: Smoke adds an amazing element of flavor to tri-tip. If you can, kiss this cut with some quality hickory or oak smoke.
The Sear: After smoking the tri-tip, sear it quickly at extremely high temperatures, 600-700 °F if possible, in order to quickly create the nice crusty bark that’s so flavorful.
The Flip: When searing, flip often…every 20 seconds or so. You don’t want the same side of meat sitting too long above those extreme temperatures, so flipping often will build a crust without overcooking the meat.
The Temperature: This cut is best served medium-rare plus, less than that and it gets a bit chewy.
Be sure to monitor the meat’s internal temperature with a reliable quick-read thermometer and pull it off the grill after searing it to 127 °F.
The Rest: Tri-tip tends to get extremely tight after being seared, especially around the thickest part of the meat. So, let it rest at least 10 minutes before slicing, and if it’s a larger tri-tip don’t be afraid to let it rest 15 minutes. Just be sure to tent it with foil so it stays warm.
How To Smoke and Sear Tri-Tip
Serves: 4 | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Cook Time: 1 hour
1 tri-tip roast, about 2 lbs
2 tsp olive oil
For the Rub:
2 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp finely ground espresso
3 tsp white sugar
3 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp fine ground black pepper
1 tsp chipotle chili pepper
How To Smoke and Sear Tri-Tip
Step 1: Light your grill and set up for two zone cooking. Using a reliable leave-in thermometer, establish grill temperature at 225 °F.
Step 2: While the grill is preheating, combine all ingredients for the rub into a shaker bottle. Evenly coat the entire tri-tip with olive oil, and then liberally season all sides of the roast with the rub.
Step 3: Add one hickory wood chunk to the hot coals of your grill, and place the tri-tip over indirect heat. Insert a reliable leave-in thermometer into the thickest portion of the meat and close the grill’s lid. Allow the meat to smoke until the internal temperature reaches 115 °F, about one hour.
TIP: Placing the meat on a cooling rack on the grill makes it easy to transport without disturbing the crust formed by the oil and seasoning.
Step 4: Remove the meat from the grill and stoke the coals for high direct heat. Get coals as close to the grill grate as possible. Meat should have the beginnings of a nice bark starting to set by this point.
Step 5: Place the meat directly over high heat and flip every 20 seconds. Continue this for about five minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 127 °F.
- 1 tri-tip roast about 2 lbs
- 2 tsp olive oil
For the Rub
- 2½ tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp finely ground espresso
- 3 tsp white sugar
- 3 tsp granulated garlic
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp fine ground black pepper
- 1 tsp chipotle chili pepper
- Light your grill and set up for two zone cooking. Using a reliable leave-in thermometer, establish grill temperature at 225 °F.
- While the grill is preheating, combine all ingredients for the rub into a shaker bottle. Evenly coat the entire tri-tip with olive oil, and then liberally season all sides of the roast with the rub.
- Add one hickory wood chunk to the hot coals of your grill, and place the tri-tip over indirect heat. Insert a reliable leave-in thermometer into the thickest portion of the meat and close the grill’s lid. Allow the meat to smoke until the internal temperature reaches 115 °F, about one hour.
- Remove the meat from the grill and stoke the coals for high direct heat. Get coals as close to the grill grate as possible. Meat should have the beginnings of a nice bark starting to set by this point.
- Place the meat directly over high heat and flip every 20 seconds. Continue this for about five minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 127 °F.