Smoked Tri Tip
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):
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:
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:
This bit of fat in the middle was a little tough. No big deal. I trimmed it out:
Looks fantastic, right? On that side. Flipped over reveals some more trimming to be done:
That’s a little too thick to leave on there:
Time for a bigger knife than the paring knife in the above picture. This should do it:
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:
And a close up of the tri tip. Notice the patches of skin that looks a little like silver skin:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
With the airflow constricted, the fire goes out and the wood smokes nicely:
The grill is running about 225, but I want to run cooler:
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:
That’s more like it:
At 40 minutes, or about halfway through the smoke process, here’s what the tri-tip looks like:
The smoked tri tip is still really, really spongy to the touch:
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:
At 90 minutes I had to add charcoal over the hot coals to get a big enough surface to sear the meat:
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:
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:
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:
I carved off slices against the grain and it was outstanding:
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.
- 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
- Combine the soy sauce, garlic, red pepper flakes and pepper and tri tip in a resealable plastic bag for 2-12 hours
- Remove from the bag and rinse off
- Pat dry with paper towels
- Coat one side of the tri tip with the rub
- Prepare the grill for two zone/indirect grilling with coals and smoke wood on one side and nothing on the other
- Target internal temperature of the grill is 200-225
- Place the tri tip on the side with no heat with the rubbed side down
- Coat the other side with the rub
- Smoke indirect until the the internal temperature of the tri tip is 120 degrees
- Move the tri tip over to the side with the coals and sear on both sides until some nice charring occurs
- Remove from the grill and let rest for 10 minutes
- Slice and serve