Tri Tip 29

Tri tip is one of those cuts of meat that most people have never heard of, or if they have, haven’t had the pleasure of trying.  It’s relatively cheap, $7.99/pound for the one I purchased, which compared to steak is pretty cheap, particularly when it stacks up against just about any steak.  There are a million tri tip recipes.  Here’s Arthur’s take on the traditional Santa Maria style tri-tip which is where this cut first got popularized.

Arther flame seared his tri tip and then baked it until it was done.  I am reversing that order and baking mine first, during which time I’ll smoke the meat, before dropping it over the hot coals and searing it to get that flavor crust.  This is called the reverse sear method.  The benefits of this method is that once meat is seared, it doesn’t take on as much smoke flavor because the outside skin is too hot.  Once it reaches between 140-160 degrees outside of the meat, it won’t take much smoke flavor.  With this, I get the smoke flavor first, and then get that tasty flavor crust from the sear.

Let’s start off as to what a tri tip is.  It’s part of the bottom sirloin and is triangular shaped that generally runs about 1.5-2.5 pounds.  As you can see the cut is indeed triangular, which is where it gets its name (it has three tips):

Tri Tip 1
A typical tri tip

The cut was first popularized in Santa Maria, California, where they hit the cut with salt, black pepper, and maybe garlic and put over open flame, usually from red oak.  Despite the fact that it was put on the map in California, it’s often referred to as a Texas tri tip:

Tri Tip 2
Tri-Tip doesn’t have to come from Texas

This could easily feed a family of four and is as good as anything but a dry aged steak.  Not bad for under $5/person. I’m so glad I saw this in the case.

I took the tri tip out of the package and placed it on a cutting board to examine the meat:

Tri Tip 3
On the cutting board

This bit of fat in the middle was a little tough.  No big deal. I trimmed it out:

Tri Tip 4
Trim any excess fat
Tri Tip 5
Looks like a great cut of meat

Looks fantastic, right?  On that side.  Flipped over reveals some more trimming to be done:

Tri Tip 6
The other side reveals a thick layer, of tough fat

That’s a little too thick to leave on there:

Tri Tip 7
You could leave it on, but I need to eat healthier

Time for a bigger knife than the paring knife in the above picture. This should do it:

Tri Tip 8
That’s a knife!

That is my 8 inch Kershaw Shun Chef’s knife. HUGE fan of the Shun knives. I think I’m up to about 8 of them now of different sizes and shapes. If you don’t have a good knife and are looking to get a feel for them, they sell them at Bed, Bath and Beyond and at William Sonoma where you can actually hold them and use them. You can see the knife on Amazon as well.

It took a few minutes to clean all the away.  In the end, the tri tip looked like this:

Fat trimmed

And a close up of the tri tip.  Notice the patches of skin that looks a little like silver skin:

Tri Tip 10
That will melt away

Don’t sweat that skin.  It’s not silver skin.  It’s not tough at all.

Now it’s time for a bath, or in this case brine:

Tri Tip 11
Brine Ingredients

Smoked Tri-Tip Brine Ingredients:

3/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
10 turns each of white and black pepper

Notice there is no salt in the brine ingredients. How can it be a brine without salt? The soy has plenty.

Mix the ingredients together in a plastic bag along with the tri tip and put in the fridge for a couple hours to overnight.  I brined this for about 3 hours before I took it out to come up to room temperature before going on the grill:

Tri Tip 12

Pick whatever rub you want for this.  I was craving something spicy and used a Brazilian Beef Rub as well as some smoked salt from Penzy’s:

Tri Tip 13
If you like heat, this stuff is outstanding
Tri Tip 14
Smoke salt is the best!

All I did was gave the meat a light dusting on one side.  I did not season the other side yet. More on that in a minute.

Feel free to use whatever rub you like.  Looking back on how good the meat was, it really didn’t need the rub.  It was so good that it didn’t need to have any spices other than salt, pepper, and a little garlic.  Maybe the folks in Santa Maria know what they’re doing?

I set up the grill for two zone cooking with coals/smoke wood on one side and nothing on the other:

Tri Tip 15.JPG
Grill prepped for two zone grilling

That’s oak wood. Oak, pecan and mesquite are the top three woods for beef, not necessarily in that order, depending on where you’re from.

So I put the tri-tip on the side with no heat, with the seasoned side down and dusted the other side with the rub and smoked salt:

Tri Tip 16
Seasoning the other side

The reason I waited to hit the grill before seasoning the other side is that I’d waste half the seasoning if I did it on the cutting board where the moisture of the meat will cause all the rub and salt to stick to the cutting board and thus warrant a second application to the other side.

The wood caught fire while I rubbed the other side of the tri tip.  Time to close the lid:

Tri Tip 17

With the airflow constricted, the fire goes out and the wood smokes nicely:

Tri Tip 18
Some nice smoke

The grill is running about 225, but I want to run cooler:

Tri Tip 19
Hotter than I want

See, I want to smoke this for 90 minutes and then sear it and still have it be medium rare inside.  So I took some of the the coals out and tossed them onto another grill I had nearby:

Tri Tip 20
Dumping Heat

That’s more like it:

Tri Tip 21

At 40 minutes, or about halfway through the smoke process, here’s what the tri-tip looks like:

Tri Tip 22 - 40 minutes in
Looking good

The smoked tri tip is still really, really spongy to the touch:

Tri Tip 23 - really spongy
Still rare

At the 1 hour mark, there was no more smoke coming out of the grill so I had to open the lid and toss another chunk on:

Tri Tip 24 - 1 hour and needed wood
Needs more smoke

At 90 minutes I had to add charcoal over the hot coals to get a big enough surface to sear the meat:

Tri Tip 26
Adding heat

The tongs at the bottom in the above picture are the preferred tongs of the Grillin’ Fools. You can find them a lot of places like Bed, Bath and Beyond or you can see them here on Amazon.

Once the new coals were ashed over and hot, the smoked tri tip went over the heat for a quick sear, note that I shielded the narrow tips a bit by not putting them directly over the coals:

Tri Tip 27
Time to go to flavor town

There was nothing to this.  Between 3-4 minutes on each side, right over the hot coals.  The fire was so hot that it didn’t need any more than that.  After both sides were seared, I pulled it from the grill to let it rest for 10 minutes:

Tri Tip 28

Resting is vitally important to keeping meat juicy.  The juices are in an excited state from the heat and moving throughout the cut at a million miles an hour.  Slice into it right away and they will run all over the cutting board. Letting the meat rest will allow the juices to redistribute throughout the cut and ensure that they stay in the meat rather than run all over the cutting board as soon as the meat is sliced.

After 10 minutes, I sliced the tri tip and it looked like this:

Tri Tip 29

I carved off slices against the grain and it was outstanding:

Tri Tip 30
That is perfection to me

It was still pink and tender at the narrowest point where I expected it to be well done, but I shielded that part from the heat a bit by having that just off the edge of the coals when I seared it. The smoke flavor was there, but not overpowering.  The flavor crust had some heat from the rub, but didn’t necessarily need it. I really, really enjoyed this.

Next time I’ve got the folks or the in-laws coming over for some steak, I think I will experiment with some other tri tip recipes.  My mind is also working at other uses for smoked tri tip.  It would be excellent in chili, fajitas, tacos, steak and eggs the next morning (if there’s any left), anything that you need some robust beef. I will be making this again very soon.

If you have any questions about  tri-tip, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email.

Also, you can follow us on our Grillin Fools Facebook page and post your own grilling pictures which is how we met Arthur here.  You can also share grilling recipes or join the discussion of all things BBQ.   You can follow us on Twitter as well @GrillinFool.

Smoked Tri Tip
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
  • ¾ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 10 turns each of white and black pepper
  • 1 tri tip with the thick layer of fat trimmed off
  • Your favorite rub
  1. Combine the soy sauce, garlic, red pepper flakes and pepper and tri tip in a resealable plastic bag for 2-12 hours
  2. Remove from the bag and rinse off
  3. Pat dry with paper towels
  4. Coat one side of the tri tip with the rub
  5. Prepare the grill for two zone/indirect grilling with coals and smoke wood on one side and nothing on the other
  6. Target internal temperature of the grill is 200-225
  7. Place the tri tip on the side with no heat with the rubbed side down
  8. Coat the other side with the rub
  9. Smoke indirect until the the internal temperature of the tri tip is 120 degrees
  10. Move the tri tip over to the side with the coals and sear on both sides until some nice charring occurs
  11. Remove from the grill and let rest for 10 minutes
  12. Slice and serve
If you would like a tri tip that is a little more well done, leave it on the side with no coals until it reaches 135-140 before searing to get meat that is medium.


Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas

@GrillinFool - Dedicated to step by step, picture by picture, foolproof grillin' instructions.
RT @AngeliquefromVA: @GrillinFool Oh Dear Lord! That looks yummy. - 3 hours ago
Scott Thomas

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This looks very good and easy to follow. I will give this a shot soon (right after I tackle my first brisket). Thanks!!!


Hello Guys. I’ve used this cut of meat for several years. I discovered it from a friend of mine. And the method you use is just what I have been doing. I have also done it with out the sear and it still turns out great! Thanks for the site….you guys are on Fire… Very informative.



Good recipe. I make mine my own with some worcestershire, italian dressing and lemon juice. i have not needed to grill mine either. The picture potion of this recipe says to run lower than 220 deg. The directions at the bottom say 275 to 325 deg. I run mine 200 – 220 so I can get the longer cook and smoke time.


Thanks for spotting the error there. 275-325 is what we cook so many things at, that I must’ve put in the wrong number. I’ll correct that momentarily!


I learned about tri-tips when I was learning to butcher deer. Then I saw them at John’s Butcher Shoppee on Walton. I love rub with Santa Maria seasoning then cook it over medium coals for 30 mins. Such a change of pace and there are always left-overs. You guys have a great website!


Thanks Marty. We work hard, but we love doing what we do!


Ooops, forgot to mention, ^^^lid closed, flue and vent open 1/4 of the way.


Tritip is such an awesome cut to smoke. I first learned about it when we lived in CA. Its incredibly difficult to find in the Midwest!



It is hard to find around here but is becoming more and more available. I highly recommend getting to know your local butcher and asking for them. ORder a handful. You can always toss a couple in the freezer.

Oh yeah, the local butcher is the only place here in Chicago you can get Tri Tip. When we lived out in CA though, you could get it everywhere. I actually didn’t even know the cut existed until we moved out there.

Keep up the good work.


Good that you have a butcher you can rely on. Next tell him you need some teres major steaks. You can thank me later!

Why would you ever cut that delicious fat off!?



The older I get, the less fat I need. The steak is wonderful without it. Sure, if you wanted to leave it, that would be fine too…


This is such a great cut.

I would “highly recommend” cooking the reverse method with Zebra (salt, pepper, and garlic)…….low and slow until internal hits @ 130 and then go to the high heat/radiant to sear never bringing above @ 134/135. Wrap and rest 10 minutes. OOOOH MAN!

Once you have the method down……..then experiment with add’l flavors and/or brine/marinade. Such a great cut of meat does not need any more than the basics.



Excellent advice!


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