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The Santa Maria steak that is a West Coast crowd pleaser, this smoked tri-tip recipe is juicy, flavorful, and is going to be your new backyard barbecue go-to!
Tri tip is one of my favorite cuts of beef to grill and smoke! Not only because it takes a fraction of the time of other smoked meats (looking at you, juicy brisket!) but also because it's fantastic for a barbeque or relaxing outside having a weekend dinner al fresco, which I've totally been into lately. Virginia has perfect weather for enjoying the outdoors.
This smoked tri tip recipe is tasty and tender and it let's my hubby do one of his favorite things: make fire, get smoky, and cook dinner! We have a pellet electric smoker, it's a Pit Boss Pro Series Smoker/Grill Combo (not sponsored, but we love this thing!), and it made things really easy to smoke the tri tip roast then use the grill side to sear it before letting it rest while I finish the sides and prep the table.
But if you don't have a combo grill/smoker, good news! I also have instructions on how to give it a beautiful sear in a cast iron skillet.
Even if this is your first time making tri tip, these tips will ensure you have juicy, tender tri tip every time.
- What is a Tri Tip Roast?
- Trimming and Preparing
- Marinating or Dry Brining
- Best Wood for Smoking Tri Tip
- How to Smoke Tri Tip Beef Roast
- Internal Temperature Guide
- My favorite sides, desserts, and drinks to go with Smoked Tri Tip
- Quick tips for the best tri-tip
- More Smoker and Grill Recipes
- Tasty Links
- 📖 Recipe
What is a Tri Tip Roast?
The tri tip, tensor fasciae latae, is a cut of the cow that has a triangular shape and comes from the bottom sirloin butt (but also kinda flank-shank, too) area. It became popular cut in California during the 1950's and has been ever since, only becoming more mainstream and available recently outside of the West coast.
Rondo Brough, a butcher for the U.S. Army during World War II working in Southern California, claimed that he created the 'triangle tip cut' as a way to gain an extra portion of meat for the troops by reorienting nearby cuts and eliminating scrap, since this area was usually not utilized. This practice caught on with Rondo's army friends and after the war, they began cutting and serving triangle tip throughout restaurants and butcher shops in California.
A tri-tip roast is a lean cut of beef with much lower fat content than other roasts you'll smoke like a brisket or prime rib, so choosing Choice or Prime grade will ensure more fat marbling, more flavor, and a juicier roast.
Trimming and Preparing
Untrimmed, a tri tip roast is covered in a large fat cap and can be around 5 pounds, versus 2.5-3 pounds trimmed.
You'll find them mostly trimmed of the silver skin and excess fat at your local grocery stores, with a long point like an isosceles triangle.
Some butchers will cut most of that long end off, selling the thickest part of the roast for more even cooking. That's how I received mine from my local butcher! I've also seen them this way in the summertime at my local grocery store because they're easier to cook this way.
Marinating or Dry Brining
When you want the most tender tri-tip, dry brining or marinating it will be your best bet. Not only does it help give really great flavor, but it helps break down the proteins in the meat for a more tender roast.
Dry brine or marinate the tri tip for at least an hour or two. We want those seasonings to adhere well, really soak that flavor into the meat. I just do this and leave it on the counter, it is safe since it's only for an hour or two at most.
Is marinating or dry bringing necessary? Absolutely not, you can just season and let the dry rub sit for about 20 minutes before getting it on the grill.
Why 20 minutes? To get that fridge-chill off of it. Cold protein can turn out tough because they didn't get a chance to relax into room temperature.
Best Wood for Smoking Tri Tip
You want that good smoke flavor without overpowering the flavor of the meat itself.
My top wood types for this is apple wood, for a light flavor or if you like that rich smoky flavor, go for hickory or mesquite.
Remember, these instructions are for a pellet grill, they're very home cook friendly. There's no fussing over a fire and wood charcoals.
Trimmed Tri Tip Roast. This will be around a 2.5 to 3 pound roast, feeding about 6 servings.
For my Favorite Dry Rub
Smoked paprika. I love this spice so, so much! If you don't have some smoked paprika in your life, you need to change your life and get it!
black pepper. Make it coarsely ground! My favorite pepper grinder has been the pepper cannon, it grinds SO much pepper with little effort.
olive oil, a little drizzle over the tri tip helps the dry rub adhere and the fat-soluble ingredients to get into the marbling.
How to Smoke Tri Tip Beef Roast
First, get all that good rub all over your trimmed and prepped tri tip roast. Don't miss any sides!
We are basically using the reverse sear method, slowly cooking over indirect heat, before searing over high direct heat to get a little color. There's no butcher paper involved in this so the end result is a perfectly cooked roast with seriously smoky flavor.
Set your smoker to between 190 to 225 degrees F, stick an internal thermometer probe into the thickest part of the beef, and close it into your smoker until your beef hits 115 degrees F for rare or 125 degrees F for medium-rare.
We're grabbing it early because the temp will rise as we sear it and as it rests.
Time to Sear
So now bring your grill to medium-high heat, and sear the smoked tri tip roast. We're just really looking for color here, not cooking.
Bear really likes for the flames to get to whatever he's grilling for some crispy bits here and there, but the best way to get that color is fast and hot. Both sides get about 2 minutes over the fire before you place the roast on a cutting board to rest for about 15 minutes.
If you want to do this part on a cast iron skillet, you totally can. Same idea: medium-high heat with a little butter and oil in there, give the smoked tri tip a sear on both sides for about 2 minutes each side. Baste it with that butter, maybe add some herbs like thyme or rosemary for some added flavor. So good.
Let it rest before slicing. Resting will make sure all those juices get settled back into the meat and won't pour right out onto your cutting board.
Internal Temperature Guide
For the best tri tip, your target temperature should be medium-rare. That's when the marbled fat will render inside and get the roast all juicy.
In my opinion, tri tip should NOT be cooked past medium. It's a lean cut of beef, it will be tough, chewy, and dry past medium (and medium is pushing it for me). Go for medium-rare.
Here's an easy temperature guide for smoking tri tip:
|Temperature||Reverse Sear Ideal Internal Temperature (take to Sear step)|
|Rare (125 degrees F)||115 degrees F|
|Medium Rare (135 degrees F)||125 degrees F|
|Medium (145 degrees F)||135 degrees F|
My favorite sides, desserts, and drinks to go with Smoked Tri Tip
This is a go-to during grilling season for me, so I love just spending my time outside and having some fresh nibbles and sides to go with this hearty piece of beef.
As a super fresh appetizer or side, I love a simple and beautiful cherry tomato caprese salad! My tomato plants are getting nice and happy, they'll be giving up fruit all season and going right into this salad.
My slow cooked Southern green beans are absolutely amazing here as well. Throw it in the slow cooker that morning or early afternoon and have savory, mouthwatering smoky green beans to go with that smoky tri tip.
For a drink, I absolutely love a pitcher of Tuscan Lemonade, both cocktail and a mocktail. I make a divine rosemary-thyme-lemon-zest simple syrup for it that is so refreshing and crowd-pleasing (even our 8 year old Greyson loves it). You know, just using those fresh herbs from my garden makes this feel so summery!
Now for dessert, there's two shortcakes that I love. For the beginning of summer, I use those juicy in-season strawberries to make easy and sweet strawberry shortcakes.
For the end of the summer, it's peak stone-fruit season. So I go for a beautiful peach shortcake with drop biscuits. Even easier than the classic buttermilk biscuits! I love to sprinkle some raw sugar on top for added crunch. So delish.
Quick tips for the best tri-tip
Let that beef rest before and after cooking. Remember: get the fridge-chill off of it and then let the juices rest after cooking for the best results!
Do not cook your tri-tip past medium. I mean, it's your roast, do what you want, honey. But if you're looking for juicy, tender, and flavorful, medium-rare is your best bet.
Super important to know: the tri tip has its grain running in TWO different directions! Slice it against the grain (meaning perpendicular) for not-chewy, tender slices.
It's not necessary, but marinating or dry brining your tri tip will give a boost of tenderness and flavor!
Tri tip roasts are fantastic for grilling. They're lean and tender, so they don't need a long slow cook like a brisket or chuck roast.
Yes! It contains acids that help tenderize your tri tip. Add it to your marinade for a boost of umami and tenderness.
More Smoker and Grill Recipes
- Smoked Prime Rib Roast that is perfect for your backyard celebrations and holiday dinners!
- Grilled Asparagus. It's easy, quick, and delish!
- Grilled Skirt Steak. Simple, easy, and delicious marinated. Try it with herbaceous chimichurri sauce, I put it on every grilled meat!
- Grilled Salmon. Super fast, easy, and a weeknight summer favorite!
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- 1 (2 to 3 pound) tri tip roast, trimmed
- 1 tablespoon regular olive oil or high heat olive oil
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 2 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Mix the dry rub together in a small bowl, set aside. Drizzle the olive oil onto the tri tip and rub it all over on all sides. Season the tri tip with the dry rub, massaging it into the beef on all sides. Let rest for at least 20 minutes up to two hours.
- Preheat your pellet smoker to 190 degrees F up to 225 degrees F. I like to use mesquite wood pellets in my hopper.
- Place the tri tip directly in the center of the grill grates of your smoker and stick your probe thermometer into the thickest part of the roast. Close the smoker's lid and smoke the tri tip until the internal temperature is around your target temperature (chart is below in Notes) to pull it out and grill or pan-sear it.
- Bring your grill's temperature to medium high, then grill the smoked tri tip for about 3 minutes on each side.
- Move the tri tip onto a cutting board and let the roast rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing against the grain and serving.
To Sear in a Cast Iron Skillet
Put 2 tablespoons of butter and light olive oil into the cast iron skillet. Place the tri tip into the butter and sear for 3 minutes per side, basting with the butter while it cooks. Let rest before slicing and serving
Internal Temperature Guide
Rare (125 degrees F) pull from smoker at 115 degrees F
Medium Rare (135 degrees F) pull from smoker at 125 degrees F
Medium (145 degrees F) pull from smoker at 135 degrees F
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 56Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 632mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 1g
All nutrition facts are estimations. Please see a physician for any health-related inquiries.
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.