Smoked Tri-Tip | Smoker or Grill
This smoked tri-tip roast is cooked low-and-slow and reverse-seared for juicy, tender steak every single time! Made with homemade dry rub, this tri-tip can be easily made on a smoker or a gas grill. This is the perfect recipe for beginner BBQ-ers!
As a west coast girlie who was born in raised in Las Vegas, there are two main benefits that I am particularly fond of. The first is that you can pretty much find a 24/7 diner/liquor store/burger joint in any major city. And the second is that tri-tip is readily available at all times.
We all know I love a good steak whether it’s reverse-seared and covered in peppercorn sauce or in the form of beef Wellington bites. But when it’s warm out and the sun is shining, tri-tip is the go-to each and every time.
After testing this recipe multiple ways and many, many times, I think I’ve finally settled on the best tri-tip recipe. (Shout out to my dad for letting me borrow his smoker and helping me develop this recipe!) Also, if you don’t have a smoker, don’t worry. I have a gas grill hack that works great too!
Why you’ll love this recipe
I love that tri-tip is gaining popularity outside the west coast, because honestly, it’s so underrated. I can’t tell you how many summer nights I spent grilling tri-tip with my dad growing up. But, smoking tri-tip also makes it juicy, tender, and so flavorful. Plus, it’s a pretty affordable cut which makes it easy to serve steak to friends and family! Here’s why you’ll love this recipe:
- This tri-tip is tender, smoky, juicy, and full of flavor.
- It’s such an easy recipe for dinner parties or BBQs.
- You can use this tri-tip in sandwiches, tacos, & more!
- This recipe can be made in a smoker or on a gas grill.
What is tri-tip?
Tri-tip is primarily a west coast thing, but luckily, it’s starting to make its way to other parts of the country! Tri-tip is a boomerang-shaped cut of steak that comes from the bottom of the sirloin. It has a similar taste and texture to brisket, but it’s from a completely different part of the cow. Brisket comes from the lower chest area, and tri-tip comes from the hindquarter. If you ever come across a tri-tip, make sure to grab one! It’s flavorful, tender, and perfect for grilling or smoking.
The ingredient list
You only need two ingredients to make this tri-tip! Here’s what you’ll need:
- Tri-tip – you will need between 3-5 pounds of tri-tip depending on how many people you want to serve. I like to buy it from Costco, but on the west coast, it’s usually available in the meat aisle of any grocery store. (Just make sure to buy plain tri-tip, not pre-seasoned!) If you live somewhere where tri-tip is less common, try checking out your favorite local butcher shop!
- Dry rub – I make my own tri-tip dry rub, but any beef rub you have on hand will work in this recipe.
If you don’t want to make your own dry rub, you can use any store-bought rub or marinade. Try:
- Coffee dry rub – this is a super popular option for a sweet, smoky, earthy option.
- Santa Maria rub – the most traditional option. This rub is usually a mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and sometimes herbs like rosemary or parsley. But, the ingredients may be different depending on the recipe or store-bought rub.
- Marinade – I recommend a soy sauce or balsamic vinegar-based marinade. For a store-bought option, try Mr. Yoshida’s. So good!
Seasoning & marinating
No matter which cooking method you choose, the first thing you’ll want to do is give the tri-tip a good seasoning and marinating sesh. Here’s how:
- Start by trimming any fat or silver skin off of the tri-tip. Then, pat it dry with paper towels.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of dry rub on the roast.
- Use clean hands to pat the rub evenly on the tri-tip. Flip it over and repeat it on the other side.
- Place the steak into a zipper bag or large airtight container. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.
- When you’re ready to smoke, remove the roast from the fridge and let it come to room temp for about 30 minutes. Now you’re ready to smoke!
How to smoke on a smoker
I used a Traeger to make this tri-tip but any smoker will work! Just make sure to follow the manufacturer instructions for set up.
- While the tri-tip warms up, set up your smoker with wood pellets or wood chips (depending on what your smoker uses). Then, preheat the smoker to 225°F with the lid closed for about 15-30 minutes. If your smoker has a water pan, go ahead and fill it at this point!
- Place the seasoned tri-tip on the grates of the smoker. Then, insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the tri-tip.
- Close the lid, and cook for 1 1/2-2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 120-125°F. Keep a close eye on the temperature to make sure the steak doesn’t overcook!
- While the tri-tip is smoking, continue adding wood pellets or wood chips to keep the smoke going, if necessary.
- Once the tri-tip hits 120-125°F, remove it from the smoker. Then, sear it on the smoker, grill, or in a cast iron until it reaches 130-135°F for medium-rare.
- Let the tri-tip rest for 10-15 minutes. Lastly, slice against the grain and enjoy!
How to smoke tri-tip on a grill
While smoking on a gas grill won’t give you the exact same results of a smoker, it’s a great option if you don’t have a smoker. Just a head’s up that you’ll need to monitor the temperature of the grill more often than you would with a traditional smoker. Here’s how to do it!
- While the tri-tip comes to room temp, start prepping your indirect heat set up. Pour some wood chips into a smoker box and fill a heat-safe pan with water. Place both over the direct flame of the grill. (Full indirect heat set-up instructions below!)
- Once the grill reaches 225-250°F, place the tri-tip on the grill grates over the indirect heat on the cool side of the grill. Insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the tri-tip.
- Close the lid, and cook for 1 1/2-2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 120-125°F.
- While the tri-tip cooks, keep a close eye on the temp of the grill. Don’t let it get below 225°F or above 250°F. You want it to cook low-and-slow!
- Add more wood chips to the smoker box if they burn out. Also, pay close attention to the water pan and add more water if you need to!
- Once the tri-tip reaches 120-125°F, remove it from the grill. Then, sear it on the grill or in a cast iron skillet until it reaches 130-135°F for medium-rare.
- Let the tri-tip rest for 10-15 minutes. Then, slice against the grain and enjoy!
Indirect heat set up
To properly smoke on a gas grill, you will need to create an indirect heat set up. This means that you will want one hot side of the grill and one cool side. You’ll also want to start with a clean grill, so make sure to give it a good clean before you start. Don’t worry, this is all way easier than it sounds! Here’s how to do it:
- First, remove the grates from two of the burners. As you can see in the photo above, I removed the two farthest to the left. This will be your hot side of the grill. (If you have a 2-burner grill, you only need to remove 1 grate).
- Next, fill a smoker box with wood chips. Cover, and place it directly on the back of the exposed burner. Then, place a water pan on the exposed burner in front of the smoke box.
- Now it’s time for the thermometer set up! Insert one thermometer probe through a clip, and place it on the grates where you will be cooking the tri-tip. (In the photo above, this is the right side of the grill.) Make sure the thermometer isn’t actually touching the grate – we want it to monitor the temperature of the air, not the metal! This will be the cool side of the grill, meaning we’re not using heat.
- Once this is all set up, turn on the burners where your smoke box and water pan is set up. (Left side of the grill). Heat to medium-high.
- Lastly, close the lid. Once the thermometer registers 225-250°F, you’re ready to go! Place the tri-tip on the cool side of the grill and cook according to the directions above. Continue playing with the burners to maintain a temperature of 225-250°F.
If you’re smoking on a gas grill, you will need a couple of extra things to get that smoky flavor. This is what I recommend having on hand!
- Smoker box – since gas grills don’t have smoker boxes or pellet augers, you’ll want a smoker box to get the right flavor. You can also buy a pellet chute if you prefer wood pellets over chips! You can find smoker boxes anywhere that sells grills. But, if you can’t find a smoker box, you can also make a smoke packet (full instructions below).
- Probe thermometer – this is an absolute must. The gauges on gas grills can be off by up to 100°F. Probe thermometers are affordable and will help you determine when the tri-tip is ready to go! Buy a double probe thermometer so you have one probe for the grill and one for the tri-tip. I love this one from ThermoPro because it connects to my phone for easy monitoring!
- Water pan – you don’t have to get anything fancy for this. I just use an old cake pan, but you can also use a disposable tin pan from the grocery store! The water pan is optional but helps regulate the temperature in the grill.
DIY smoke packet
If you don’t want to buy a smoke box, a foil packet is a great hack! I would make a couple packets so that you can keep the smoke going if the first batch of chips burns out.
- To make a smoke packet, start by tearing off a large piece of tinfoil and placing it flat on the counter, short side towards you. Then, place a big handful of wood chips in the center.
- Starting with the top of the foil rectangle, fold it toward you, covering the wood chips.
- Next, grab the edge closest to you and fold it over the top fold, hot dog-style.
- Fold in the sides once, sealing the edges tightly.
- Then, fold the sides once more to make sure everything is very secure.
- Flip the foil packet over so the smooth side is on top. Use the tines of a fork to poke holes all over the top for the smoke to escape. Use it like you would a smoker box!
Searing the tri-tip
Once the steak is smoked, you’ll want to finish cooking it with a good sear. This will add extra flavor and a gorgeous crust! My personal favorite way to do this is on a grill, but you can also use a smoker or cast iron skillet.
- Smoker – once the tri-tip reaches 120-125°F, remove it from the smoker. Close the lid, crank the heat up to 450°F, and preheat for 10-15 minutes. Then, sear the tri-tip for 4-5 minutes per side until it reaches 130-135°F.
- Grill – heat the grill to 450°F. Place the tri-tip on the grill and sear for 4-5 minutes on each side until the outside is browned and it reaches 130-135°F.
- Cast iron skillet – heat some butter or a light coating of oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is very hot, sear it for 2-3 minutes per side until it’s browned and the internal temperature reaches 130-135°F.
The key to perfectly cooked tri-tip is constantly checking the temperature to make sure it’s not overcooked! I highly recommend using a thermometer to keep track of the internal temp.
|Doneness||Smoker Internal Temp||Searing Internal Temp|
*For tender, juicy tri-tip, don’t cook the steak past medium. I recommend medium rare!
Best wood for smoking
You can play around with different wood chips and pellets to find the one you like best! You can also mix different woods for a deeper flavor. Here are some great options for tri-tip!
- Hickory – this is usually what I use. It’s sweet, rich, and meaty but not overpowering.
- Oak/red oak – this is the traditional wood for tri-tip! It will give you a nice, balanced smoke.
- Mesquite – a super flavorful wood that will give you a deep, smoky flavor.
- Pecan – this is a good option for a mild, sweet smoke with a nutty taste.
When it comes to wood chips, there is a common debate of soaked or dry. While some BBQ-ers recommend soaking the wood chips for an hour before using them, I personally don’t do this. In my experience, the soaked chips have a hard time creating smoke. Instead, I just use dry chips and re-fill as needed!
How to cut a tri-tip
A secret about tri-tip is that it has two different grain directions. That means you’ll want to cut it properly against both grains for juicy tri-tip! Here’s how:
- Once the tri-tip has rested for 10-15 minutes, find the spot where the two grain directions intersect. (This is super easy to see when it’s raw, but you can usually still see it when it’s cooked too).
- Cut the steak in the dividing line where the two grain directions intersect. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be perfect!
- Now, look for the grain direction on each piece of tri-tip and slice both pieces against the grain. Slice it thinly for the most tender steak possible!
To store leftover tri-tip, place it in a zipper bag or airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3-5 days.
You can also freeze the cooked tri-tip. Store the leftover sliced tri-tip in heavy-duty airtight containers or freezer bags and freeze for up to 2-3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge before reheating.
To reheat the tri-tip, wrap it tightly in tinfoil and heat it in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 325°F. You can also microwave the slices for about 1 minute, just keep in mind they might dry out a little. I also like to reheat chopped tri-tip in my air fryer for tacos or sandwiches! Cook it at 390°F for 4-5 minutes for crispy tri-tip.
How to use this steak
While tri-tip is amazing on its own, I love using the leftovers in all kinds of recipes! These are just a few of my favorite ways:
- Tri-tip sandwiches or cheesesteaks
- Tacos, quesadillas, or burritos
- With chimichurri, BBQ, or peppercorn sauce
- In salads or lettuce wraps
Tri-tip is super versatile and goes with all kinds of side dishes! Here are some of my go-tos:
- BBQ side dishes – watermelon peach salad with feta, raw carrot salad, or antipasto tortellini salad
- Cozy sides – Simple rice pilaf with orzo or rosemary cheddar mashed potatoes
- Veggie sides – Hot honey Brussels sprouts, lemony green beans, or charred broccoli with pecorino
Tips & tricks
- You will need between 3-5 pounds of tri-tip for this recipe. I usually buy mine from Costco, which comes in packs of two tri-tips that are about 2-2 1/2 pounds each. But if you can only find one big tri-tip, that’s ok too!
- Let the tri-tip marinate in the rub for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours. This will give the meat time to soak in all of those delicious flavors!
- Keep an eye on the temperature of the smoker/grill and the steak during cooking. Cooking the meat low-and-slow is important for tender, smoky tri-tip.
- If you’re smoking with a gas grill, you may need to play around with the indirect heat set up. Since every grill cooks differently, it may take a couple of tries to figure out what works best for you!
- Make sure to let the steak rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing. This is the key to juicy, tender steak!
Do I need to spritz or wrap the tri-tip in butcher paper?
I do not spritz the tri-tip while cooking. Since it’s only smoking for a couple of hours, it doesn’t dry out during cooking. I also don’t wrap the tri-tip in butcher paper. With the short smoke time, you want to give it as much smoke as possible!
How long does it take to smoke tri-tip at 225°F?
The tri-tip smoke time will depend on the size of the roast. If you have a larger tri-tip closer to 5 pounds, it can take 2-2 1/2 hours. If you have a smaller one closer to 2-2 1/2 pounds, it may only take 60-90 minutes. Overall, I would give yourself about 2 1/2 hours total – 2 for smoking, 15 minutes for searing, and another 15 minutes for resting.
What temperature should you pull the tri-tip?
For medium rare steak, I pull the tri-tip off the smoker at 120-125°F. Then, I sear it until it reaches 130-135°F. For other levels of doneness, check out the temperature guide above!
Should I flip the tri-tip?
I honestly don’t think it’s necessary. Since the tri-tip only smokes for 1 1/2-2 hours, it’ll cook evenly. But, I do flip the tri-tip when I’m searing it to make sure it gets evenly browned.
Should I sear the roast before or after smoking?
I recommend the reverse-sear method, meaning you should smoke the steak and then sear it! This will help you control the internal temperature so it doesn’t overcook.
How to prevent tough tri-tip?
To keep the tri-tip from coming out tough, first make sure not to overcook it. I don’t recommend going past medium, or it’ll dry out the steak. After searing the roast, let it rest for 10-15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute through the tri-tip. Lastly, make sure to cut against the grain. See above for tips on cutting tri-tip!
More delicious beef recipes
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Smoked Tri-Tip | Smoker or Grill
- 3-5 pounds tri-tip roast
- 1/2 cup tri-tip dry rub, plus more as-needed
- Smoker or gas grill
- Two probe thermometer
- Smoker box (optional)
- Water pan (optional)
Season & Marinate
- To season the tri-tip, start by trimming off any extra fat and silver skin. Discard. Then, pat the tri-tip dry with paper towels.
- Sprinkle 3-4 Tablespoons of the dry rub over the top of the tri-tip. Using clean hands, pat the rub evenly on the tri-tip. Flip and repeat on the other side.
- Place the tri-tip in an airtight container or zipper bag. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours. Let the tri-tip come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking.
- While the tri-tip warms to room temperature, add wood pellets or wood chips to your smoker, depending on what your smoker uses. Then, preheat the smoker to 225°F with the lid closed for about 15-30 minutes. If your smoker has a water pan, you can go ahead and fill it at this point.
- Once the smoker is preheated, place the tri-tip on the grates of the smoker. Then, insert one probe of the thermometer into the thickest part of the tri-tip.
- Close the lid, and smoke the tri-tip for 1 1/2-2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 120-125°F. While the tri-tip is smoking, continue adding wood pellets or wood chips to keep the smoke going, if necessary. Keep a close eye on the temperature to make sure the tri-tip doesn't overcook! Once the tri-tip hits 120-125°F, remove it from the smoker.
Gas Grill Instructions
- To smoke on the grill, you first need to prep the indirect heat set up. (See the image + description in the blog post for more details).Start with a clean grill. Then, remove the grates from the 2 burners on the left. (If you have a 2-burner grill, just remove 1 grate). This will be the hot side of the grill. Next, fill a smoker box with wood chips. Cover, and place it directly on the back of the exposed burners. Then, place a water pan on the exposed burner in front of the smoke box. (You can use an old cake pan or a disposable tinfoil pan.) Fill it with water.Insert one thermometer probe through a clip, and place it on the grates on the right side of the grill. This is where you will be cooking the tri-tip. (Make sure the thermometer isn't actually touching the grate – we want it to monitor the temperature of the air, not the metal.) This will be the cool side of the grill, meaning we're not using heat. Once this is all set up, turn on the left burners where the smoke box and water pan is set up. Heat the grill to medium-high heat and close the lid. When the thermometer reaches a steady, consistent 225-250°F, you're ready to go!
- Place the tri-tip on the grill grates over the indirect heat on the cool side of the grill. Insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the tri-tip.
- Close the lid, and cook for 1 1/2-2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 120-125°F. While the tri-tip cooks, keep a close eye on the temperature of the grill. Don't let it get below 225°F or above 250°F. You want it to cook low-and-slow at a consistent, steady temperature. (You may need to play with the burners to maintain a consistent temperature).While the tri-tip smokes, make sure to add more wood chips to the smoker box if they burn out. You can also add more water to the water pan if necessary.Once the tri-tip reaches 120-125°F, remove it from the grill.
Sear & slice
- To sear the tri-tip, you have a few options. Any of them will work great, it's totally up to you!Smoker – once the tri-tip reaches 120-125°F, remove it from the smoker. Close the lid, turn the heat to 450°F, and preheat for 10-15 minutes. Then sear the tri-tip for 4-5 minutes per side until the temperature reaches 130-135°F for medium rare.Grill – heat the grill to 450°F. Place the tri-tip on the grill and sear for 4-5 minutes on each side until the outside is browned and the internal temperature reaches 130-135°F for medium rare.Cast iron skillet – heat a couple Tablespoons of butter or a light coating of oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is very hot, sear the tri-tip for 2-3 minutes per side until it's browned and the internal temperature reaches 130-135°F for medium rare.
- After searing the tri-tip, let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Then, slice the tri-tip against the grain and enjoy! (See the blog post for full details on properly cutting tri-tip.)
xo Sara Lynn
Song of the day – She’s Gone by Hall & Oates