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?
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:
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
Code 3 Spices Grunt Rub (or whatever spice rub you prefer)
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:
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:
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:
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:
At about an hour and 20 minutes the smoked tri tip looked like this:
I decided to give it a check with my Thermapen instant read thermometer:
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!
And here’s another nice bit of flame porn just because I know you like that sort of thing:
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:
And here is the flat side with much better charring:
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:
And a bonus sliced, meatporn pic:
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:
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!
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.
- 1 tri tip
- Coarse salt
- Code 3 Spices Grunt Rub (or your favorite rub)
- Coat each side of the tri tip with the coarse salt and BBQ rub
- Prepare the grill for two zone grilling with coals on one side and nothing on the other
- Target temperature inside the grill is 275
- For a kamado grill, place the plate setter between the coals and the tri tip
- Put a chunk of smoke wood on the coals and the tri tip on the grill
- Smoke for 60–90 minutes until the internal temperature of the tri tip gets to between 120–130
- Then move the tri tip over to the side of the grill with the heat and sear on each side
- Remove from the heat and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes
- Slice and serve