Smoked Tri Tip - 16

Smoked tri tip is one amaz­ing way to feed a crowd some won­der­ful steak with­out break­ing the bank. With tra­di­tion­al steak prices get­ting closer and closer to requir­ing a cred­it check to buy a half dozen steaks, this is one fan­tas­tic alter­na­tive. But first, what is a tri tip?

Smoked Tri Tip - 01

It’s a beef roast that is part of the bot­tom sir­loin and is tri­an­gu­lar shaped. A tri tip roast gen­er­al­ly runs about 1.5 — 2.5 pounds. As you can see here the cut is indeed tri­an­gu­lar, which is where it gets its name. It has three tips thus a tri tip:

Smoked Tri Tip - 02

Some are think­ing that sir­loin is pret­ty ter­ri­ble steak com­pared to say a NY strip or rib eye. Nor­mal­ly I would agree but there’s some­thing about it being in a roast, grilled whole and then sliced that makes it much more ten­der and fla­vor­ful than a typ­i­cal sir­loin steak. I would put some thin sliced tri tip up again­st NY strip or rib eye and at a con­sid­er­able dis­count.

The beau­ti­ful thing about tri tip, oth­er than how cheap and deli­cious it is, it can be grilled any num­ber of ways. Such as the­se Grilled Tri Tip Tacos I made. Or here’s Arthur’s take on the tra­di­tion­al San­ta Maria style tri-tip which is where this cut first got pop­u­lar­ized in Cal­i­for­nia.

For this recipe — smoked tri tip — I’m going sim­ple: a rub and reverse sear is all it real­ly needs. Why not go with the flame sear first like in the San­ta Maria style? Because then the tri tip steak won’t take on the smoke fla­vor. By smok­ing first and then flame sear­ing, and flame sear­ing I WILL, I get the best of both worlds.

Smoked Tri Tip Ingredients:

1 Tri tip roast
Coarse salt
Code 3 Spices Grunt Rub (or what­ev­er spice rub you prefer)

Smoked Tri Tip - 03

I chose the Grunt Rub because it is a high qual­i­ty gar­lic pep­per which is rem­i­nis­cent of the sim­ple tra­di­tion­al fla­vors of the San­ta Maria style as well as the fact that the Code 3 Spices com­pa­ny gives 50 cents from every can sold back to first respon­der and mil­i­tary char­i­ties. It’s also gluten free and per­fect for a paleo diet. In oth­er words, very ver­sa­tile and a great cause.

There was some hard fat on the flat side of the tri tip that I trimmed away before sea­son­ing. You can leave it there, but remov­ing it is health­ier than leav­ing it.

Hit the tri tip on both sides with a heavy dose of coarse salt and then the rub:

Smoked Tri Tip - 04

Real­ly cake that rub on the steak roast. With a tra­di­tion­al steak cut, I would dust it on to let the fla­vor of the meat come through more. But with a roast like this, each slice only has the rub around the out­er edge so don’t be bash­ful. Then pre­pare the grill for two zone or indi­rect grilling with an inter­nal tem­per­a­ture of the grill around 275. For tra­di­tion­al grills that means coals or hot burn­ers on one side and the meat on the oth­er. In the case of my Grill Dome Kamado grill, I would nor­mal­ly go with a cir­cu­lar plate set­ter in between the coals and the meat to deflect the heat around my tri tip:

Smoked Tri Tip - 06

But I want to sear at the end so I put a half moon plate set­ter on one side, added a chunk of smoke wood and put the tri tip over the plate set­ter:

Smoked Tri Tip - 05

You can see the plate set­ter under the soon to be smoked tri tip and the fire on the oth­er side. If you are unsure what smoke wood to use, try this post where I have lit­er­al­ly dozens of types of smoke wood and what meats they pair well with.

After about 45 min­utes the smoked tri tip is still pret­ty rare but is start­ing to brown up some­what:

Smoked Tri Tip - 07

At about an hour and 20 min­utes the smoked tri tip looked like this:

Smoked Tri Tip - 10

I decid­ed to give it a check with my Thermapen instant read ther­mome­ter:

Smoked Tri Tip - 09

That is real­ly rare. It’s per­fect tim­ing for the sear part of this recipe. I could move the steak over to the oth­er side of the grill and get a nice sear, but I want to real­ly blast it, so I took the grill grate off, removed the half moon plate set­ter and placed the steak roast inch­es above a blaz­ing hot fire. FLAME ON!

Smoked Tri Tip - 11

And here’s anoth­er nice bit of flame porn just because I know you like that sort of thing:

Smoked Tri Tip - 12

Sim­ply sear the smoked tri tip on both sides until there is a nice fla­vor crust or in this case about 3–4 min­utes per side. One side is flat (the fat­ty side) and it gets bet­ter char­ing than the curved side. Here is the curved side after the sear:

Smoked Tri Tip - 13

And here is the flat side with much bet­ter char­ring:

Smoked Tri Tip - 14

Let the smoked tri tip rest for at least 10 min­utes to let the juices, in an excit­ed state from the heat, to calm down and redis­trib­ute through­out the meat.

Slice and serve:

Smoked Tri Tip - 19

And a bonus sliced, meat­porn pic:

Smoked Tri Tip - 18

So this slice was only about a third of the way into the smoked tri tip. Slice at the mid­dle and it will be more rare:

Smoked Tri Tip - 20

But what about the smoke ring. Here’s a slice from the nar­row end which is pret­ty well done. I used this piece to show two things. First, when feed­ing a crowd, some­one, invari­ably, wants theirs well done. Boom. Here’s the end. Sec­ond, check out that slam­min’ smoke ring!

Smoked Tri Tip - 21

The steak is infused with a love­ly smoky fla­vor on top of the caramelized pro­teins from the flame sear on top of the won­der­ful rub. Did I men­tion incred­i­bly ten­der and juicy? And at the cost, if you’re try­ing to go the paleo route, the smoked tri tip is an out­stand­ing option.

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

I reshot the pic­tures includ­ed in this post and com­plete­ly rewrote it so the write up matched the new pic­tures because my first time around the pics were hor­ren­dous­ly bad. I’m not kid­ding. Scroll down past the print­able recipe card for most of the pics and cap­tions of the orig­i­nal post. I think I’ve come a long way since Novem­ber of 2011 when the pic­tures below were tak­en. And as an added bonus, there’s a col­lage of the process at the very bot­tom.

4.0 from 1 reviews
Smoked Tri Tip
Recipe type: Steak Roast
Cuisine: BBQ
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4–6
Tri Tip is an incred­i­bly ten­der sir­loin roast. It’s an out­stand­ing cut of steak that is ide­al for 2–3 cou­ples, serv­ing every­one deli­cious, juicy steak for cheap
  • 1 tri tip
  • Coarse salt
  • Code 3 Spices Grunt Rub (or your favorite rub)
  1. Coat each side of the tri tip with the coarse salt and BBQ rub
  2. Pre­pare the grill for two zone grilling with coals on one side and noth­ing on the oth­er
  3. Tar­get tem­per­a­ture inside the grill is 275
  4. For a kamado grill, place the plate set­ter between the coals and the tri tip
  5. Put a chunk of smoke wood on the coals and the tri tip on the grill
  6. Smoke for 60–90 min­utes until the inter­nal tem­per­a­ture of the tri tip gets to between 120–130
  7. Then move the tri tip over to the side of the grill with the heat and sear on each side
  8. Remove from the heat and allow to rest for at least 10 min­utes
  9. 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.


Tri Tip 1
A typ­i­cal tri tip
Tri Tip 3
On the cut­ting board
Tri Tip 6
The oth­er side reveals a thick lay­er, of tough fat
Tri Tip 7
You could leave it on, but I need to eat health­ier
Tri Tip 8
That’s a knife!
Fat trimmed
Tri Tip 10
That sil­ver skin will melt away
Tri Tip 11
Brine Ingre­di­ents
Tri Tip 12
Tri Tip 15.JPG
Grill prepped for two zone grilling
Tri Tip 17
Tri Tip 22 - 40 minutes in
Look­ing good at 40 min­utes
Tri Tip 23 - really spongy
Still rare
Tri Tip 24 - 1 hour and needed wood
Needs more smoke
Tri Tip 27
Time to go to fla­vor town
Tri Tip 28
Tri Tip 29
Tri Tip 30
That is per­fec­tion to me

Smoked Tri Tip Collage

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas, the Orig­i­nal Grillin’ Fool, was sent off to col­lege with a suit­case and a grill where he over­cooked, under­cooked and burned every piece of meat he could find. After thou­sands of fail­ures, and quite a few suc­cess­es, near­ly two decades lat­er he start­ed a web­site to show step by step, pic­ture by pic­ture, fool­proof instruc­tions on how to make great things out of doors so that oth­ers don’t have to repeat the mis­takes he’s made on the grill.
Scott Thomas

@GrillinFool­Porn abounds here. All meat, all the time!
My sec­ond slide show! Swipe to see my step by step process to make a gar­lic and cheese stu… — 16 mins 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.….lol. 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!


This looks so good! I am going to give this smoked tri-tip a try.


How long did you brine?



I didn’t brine the tri tip for this recipe…


Rel­ly good, I cann’t wait to make it, can I use my elet­ric somk­er to make it, if so, I will go out with my fam­i­ly for smok­ing this week­end, thanks 



Yes you can use the elec­tric smok­er to smoke it, but you need to use some­thing else to do the sear­ing if you want to do a reverse sear. May­be just smoke it to the desired temp and skip the sear…


I will be serv­ing smoked tri tip at pok­er nite about 915 pm don’t want to babysit smok­er . Can I smok­er in mid after­noon 430 ish wrap in foil then wrap in tow­els put in cool­er if I cook til 115 degrees will the temp get to 130 wrapped in tow­els



I don’t think it will get that hot. But you could always take it to say 115, and then right before the game warm it up and give it a quick sear…


Can I smoke tri tip ear­ly wrap in foil and tokens and not loose ten­der­ness How many degrees can the meat go up while wrapped



I doubt it goes up more than 5 more degrees even when wrapped.

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