Grab your smoker and make this extraordinary beef smoked tri-tip recipe that is tender, juicy, and loaded with flavor. Learn how to make this epic smoked tri-tip from scratch as I break down each step from meat selection, rub options, homemade marinade, smokers, and pellet selection. And when all is said and done, you'll find yourself in brisket heaven.
My smoked tri-tip is truly fantastic. However, if you find yourself in late fall or winter and prefer an oven roast. Try my tender bottom round roast cooked low and slow. The aroma, flavor, and leftover roast beef is delightful.
- Smoked Brisket vs Smoked Tri-tip
- Why Tri-tip?
- What you need
- How to make Smoked Tri-tip
- How to make summary
- BBQ Tips
- My fav BBQ smoker
- My fav wood pellets
- Rub alternatives
- What to serve with
- What is Tri-Tip?
- What is the best tri-tip dry rub for smoking?
- How to slice tri-tip?
- How long does it take to smoke tri-tip?
- Internal temperature chart
- 📋 Recipe
- What do you think?
Smoked Brisket vs Smoked Tri-tip
We all know and love smoked brisket. I know I do. But we also know it takes 12 - 24 hrs to prep, smoke, rest, and serve this delicious cut of beef. To pull this off, it takes a serious commitment. And if your timing is off, you and your guests may be eating dinner at 11 pm. (true story, right Dave? or was it midnight? I forget the brisket and scotch were fantastic).
Enter smoked tri-tip, a smaller cut of beef that on average weights between 3 - 4 lbs. Instead of 12 - 24 hrs for brisket, we're looking at 2 hrs for our smoked tri-tip, which is far more reasonable for a random weeknight BBQ.
Tri-tip steak is renowned for its tenderness and juicy flavor that oozes through the meat and always puts a smile on my face. And the fact I can prep, smoke, rest, and serve smoked tri-tip in under 2 hours is epic.
I regularly smoke this cut of beef using my Traeger smoker and Bear Mountain's all-natural gourmet blend smoker pellets. This wood blend combines hickory, maple, cherry, and oak resulting in an unstoppable force when smoking slabs of beef.
The aroma from the dry rub and the wood while cooking is incredible and makes your mouth water just thinking about it. Smoking meat is the best way to retain the juices, keep the tri-tip tender throughout, and create that fantastic 1-2 mm bark we all love.
Typically, when you buy a tri-tip, it already has the fat cap removed. However, if you buy it with the fat cap on, do not worry. As a general rule:
- heat source from top = fat side up
- heat source from bottom = fat side down
What you need
I am using a 3 lb tri-tip for this recipe. Although you can use a smaller one, I don't recommend using anything smaller than 2 pounds.
You can use your favorite marinade or dry rub to flavor the tri-tip if you wish, but the marinade I use here infuses the meat while it cooks to keep it moist, and the smokey BBQ rub tastes fantastic in a smoker!
3 - 4 lb Tri-Tip (nice family size, ready in 2 hours)
- Meat Probe - amazing and under $40
- Meat Injector - handy and under $15
- BBQ Smoker - Traeger smokers range from $400 - $2,000
- Wood Pellets - Wood pellets range from $15 - $70
- 1 cup beef stock
- 2 Tablespoons BBQ sauce
- 2 Tablespoons BBQ rub
- 1 Teaspoon + 1 Tablespoon salt
- 1 Teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 Teaspoon minced onion
- 1 Teaspoon sugar
Homemade BBQ rub
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 ½ teaspoons black pepper freshly ground
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- ¾ teaspoon mustard powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine and store for up to 4 months in an airtight container in a cool dry place. I store mine in my pantry.
How to make Smoked Tri-tip
This brisket-style smoked tri-tip recipe is easy, gives the roast a nice crust and delicious juices running throughout the meat. Smoking tri-tip requires a few hours of your time, but don't worry; you can do some gardening, have a few beers, or sit back and relax as the smoker's aroma fills the air.
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 4 Hours
Rest Time: 30 min
Follow the steps for the perfect smoked tri-tip with fantastic bark. As a general rule, plan for 25-30 minutes per pound at 225°F (107°C).
Sprinkle a tablespoon of salt over the trip tip on the front and the back, then rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat your pellet smoker to 225°F (107°C). This usually takes 30-45 minutes.
Now it's time to make the marinade. Combine the garlic powder, salt, sugar, beef stock, minced onion, and BBQ sauce.
Load up your injector and inject half the marinade into several tri-tip parts to infuse the meat while it cooks. I inject in a grid pattern and use the excess liquid to coat the outside of the tri-tip.
Next, smother the tri-tip in your favorite BBQ rub or try mine above, ensuring the rub covers every part of the meat.
Place tri-tip in the middle of the grill and insert the meat thermometer. Close the lid and smoke until the internal temperature is within 5-10 degrees of your target final temperature (115°F for rare, 125°F for medium-rare, 135°F for medium, 145°F for medium-well, 150°F for well done).
Every 30 minutes, baste the top of the meat with your leftover marinade. Aim to do this twice as a typical 3 lb tri-tip takes 90 minutes to smoke.
- 30 min mark - baste with marinade
- 60 min mark - baste with marinade
Do this as quickly as possible and close the lid immediately after you finish basting to avoid losing heat and smoke.
Increase the heat to 450-500°F and smoke for another 30 minutes or until the internal temp reaches your desired doneness. This stage of smoking helps create the bark or the gorgeous crust we all know and love. I pull mine off between 135°F, which is medium-rare.
Let it rest for at least 15 minutes. Slice against the grain for best results and enjoy the juicy, tender smoked tri-tip!
How to make summary
- fill pellet hopper, preheat smoker to 225°F (107°C)
- prep tri-tip (inject marinade, apply dry rub)
- place tri-tip in center of smoker, insert meat probe, close lid
- 30 min mark, open lid, baste tri-tip, close lid
- 60 min mark, open lid, baste tri-tip, close lid, increase temp to 450-500°F
- smoke until desired internal temp, I aim for 135°F, remove from smoker
- let rest at least 15 min, longer if possible
- If you can't find a tri-tip cut, ask your butcher for a similar cut of meat. The recipe works equally well with brisket or top sirloin.
- This recipe uses my homemade marinade and rub mentioned above, but you can use your favorite Smokey BBQ rub or marinade.
- Let your smoked tri-tip sit and rest for at least 15 minutes and up to half an hour. Allowing the meat to rest after cooking will allow the flavor to absorb into the beef and keep it juicy and tender.
- Point the thicker side of the tri-tip towards the fire (the pellet box).
- A water pan helps maintain moisture. If you have room add a water pan.
- If you're looking, you ain't cooking. If the lids open, you're losing heat, your losing smoke. You can't rush it, and you have to be patient.
My fav BBQ smoker
I am currently in love with Traeger's pro line and enjoy using the Pro 575, typically around $800. However, I'm confident you can recreate this recipe regardless of the smoker's brand. Other top smokers include Masterbuilt, Weber, Z Grills, and Pit Boss, to name a few.
My fav wood pellets
While I love Traeger's smokers, I'm not a fan of their pellets. Unfortunately, they use far too many fillers, binders, and flavor oils. I'm a huge fan of Bear Mountain's all-natural gourmet blend (a custom blend of hickory, maple, cherry, and oak) and regularly buy the 40 lb bags. I've also purchased a few 20 lb bags of mesquite.
- very little sawdust in the bag
- very consistent heat and smoke
- tastes like all of the woods you like, with a touch of sweetness
If you love smoking brisket, tri-tip, ribs, and so on, then check out Bear Mountain BBQ; you won't be disappointed.
The great thing with smoked meat like tri-tip, sirloin steak, and brisket beef is that you can use various flavors to infuse the meat. Many championship BBQers use salt and pepper as their brisket rub, while ingredients like garlic powder, sugar, olive oil, or soy sauce are common.
You can also buy ready-made BBQ rubs like Traegers BBQ Coffee Rub and BBQ marinades from the grocery store to use to flavor the tri-tip. Alternatively, you can make your favorite rubs and marinades at home to infuse the meat.
What to serve with
Tri-tip is the perfect cut of meat to serve with potatoes, veggies, salads, or rice. And it works amazingly well all on its own as a sandwich with toasted bun, sauce smoked tri-tip, thin-sliced onion, and pickle on the side.
This cauliflower steak recipe with bacon and cheese would pair perfectly with a perfectly smoked tri-tip.
Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
This bacon wrapped asparagus recipe is another great option! And you could easily add these to your smoker for a flavor boost.
Fries, slaw, and BBQ sauce
My family loves this combo of homemade slaw and crispy fries; it completes a perfectly cooked medium rare tri-tip and sauce for dipping.
My favorite potato salad recipe and combines mayo, Dijon, paprika, and a touch of dill for an epic potato salad.
What is Tri-Tip?
Tri-tip is a tender cut of meat that is rich in flavor and juicy like a brisket. Tri-tip comes in a triangular shape from the bottom sirloin. It is a lean cut with low-fat content, just some marbling running through the meat.
This kind of beef is perfect as a roast in an oven or cooked on a pellet smoker. This cut of meat is relatively cheap compared to similar cuts like brisket and sirloin and is perfect for people that want to smoke tri-tip in half the time and still enjoy great results.
The average time it takes to smoke tri-tip is 2 hours, depending on how you eat your beef, which is 50-70% less time than it takes a brisket to cook in a smoker.
What is the best tri-tip dry rub for smoking?
The best rub for smoked tri-tip is a mixture of BBQ seasoning. Most seasonings that you find combine garlic powder, onion powder, chili, sugar (brown or white), herbs, and other ingredients that give a BBQ rub that signature smokey flavor.
I have also used sweet rubs with a mixture of brown sugar, mint, sweet paprika, cayenne pepper, and cracked black pepper, which tasted fantastic smoked for 3 hours on a tri-tip roast.
If you are not the creative type, a bough BBQ rub like Traegers Coffee Rub is exceptional.
How to slice tri-tip?
Perfectly smoked tri-tip is super tender, juicy, and easy to slice. Once the smoked tri-tip has rested, locate the two grains intersect, and slice against the grain (cutting vertically). You want to make sure that each slice is cut thin so that each piece melts in your mouth and has a tender texture!
If part of the meat is thicker than the other side, you should cut the thin end first against the grain, and then as you get nearer to the thicker side, rotate it 90 degrees and carry on slicing against the grain. If you cut with the grain, it may result in chewy pieces of smoked tri-tip.
How long does it take to smoke tri-tip?
A meat probe is essential for monitoring the meat's internal temperature. Aim for 25-30 minutes per pound, which means 90 minutes for a 3 lb tri-tip.
The most important piece of equipment for checking the internal temperature is a meat probe. Using a probe takes the guesswork of how cooked the tri-tip is, making it easier to get the perfect smoked beef every time.
Always make sure to cook your tri-tip to the temperature of the meat and not the time.
Internal temperature chart
Perfectly smoked tri-tip is tender and juicy, and knowing if the meat is medium-rare or well done without cutting requires a thermometer to check the smoked tri-tip internal temp.
With your smoker at 225°F (107°C), follow this internal doneness guide:
- Rare: 120-125°F (49-52°C)
- Medium Rare: 130-135°F (54-57°C)
- Medium: 140-145°F (60-63°C)
- Medium Well: 150-155°F (65-68°C)
- Well Done: 160-165°F (71-73°C)
I love smoked tri-tip because I can eat it for days after it is smoked. You can make sandwiches and other meals with it for meal prep, as well as making beef jerky!
You can store smoked meat in the fridge for up to a week, but I only recommend 4 or 5 days for maximum freshness and flavor. Let the tri-tip cool, wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it in an airtight container in the fridge.
To reheat the smoked tri-tip, preheat a grill, slice, and quickly char each side before serving. Alternatively, you can slice it cold and eat it, which I tend to do more often than not.
I hope after reading this, it has enticed you to buy a tri-tip roast to cook in your smoker. If you do not have a smoker yet, I highly recommend buying one, it is an excellent investment, and meats or fish will taste 100 times better when smoked at the right temperature and with the right wood.
The rub and injection mixture used in the recipe works well with smoked tri-tip and brisket, but feel free to experiment with rub ingredients and create your legendary flavors!
- Meat Injector
- Wood Pellets
- Meat Probe
- 3 lb Tri-tip
- 1 cup beef stock
- 2 tablespoon BBQ sauce
- 2 tablespoon BBQ rub
- 1 teaspoon sale - + 1 Tbsp
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon minced onion
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Combine ingredients thoroughly
Homemade BBQ Rub
- Combine ingredients thoroughly
How to smoke Tri-Tip
- Sprinkle a tablespoon of salt over the trip tip on the front and the back, then rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Preheat your pellet smoker to 225°F (107°C). This usually takes 30-45 minutes.
- Load up your injector and inject half the marinade into several tri-tip parts to infuse the meat while it cooks. I inject in a grid pattern and use the excess liquid to coat the outside of the tri-tip.
- Next, smother the tri-tip in your favorite BBQ rub or try mine above, ensuring the rub covers every part of the meat.
- Place tri-tip in the middle of the grill and insert the meat thermometer. Close the lid and smoke for 30 minutes.
- Open the lid and baste the top of the meat. Close the lid and smoke for 30 minutes.
- Repeat every 30 minutes until the internal temperature is within 5-10 degrees of your target final temperature (115°F for rare, 125°F for medium-rare, 135°F for medium, 145°F for medium-well, 150°F for well done).I moved to the next step at 125°F, adjust the above to your liking.
- Increase the heat to 450-500°F and smoke for another 30 minutes or until the internal temp reaches your desired doneness. This stage of smoking helps create the bark or the gorgeous crust we all know and love.I pull mine off between 135°F, which is medium-rare.
- Let it rest for at least 15 minutes. Slice against the grain for best results and enjoy the juicy, tender smoked tri-tip!
What do you think?
Let me know what you think of my smoked tri-tip recipe in the comments. If you enjoyed this recipe, please share it, pin it or tag me. If you enjoy cuts of beef, I highly recommend my bottom round roast recipe on your smoker!