5 Best Woods for Smoking Tri-Tip [Oak, Hickory, Pecan & More]

The best smoking wood for beef tri-tip, from sweet applewood to deep hickory and mesquite. Find the right smoking wood for your next barbecue session today.

5 Best Woods for Smoking Tri-Tip [Oak, Hickory, Pecan & More]

Tri-tip is a lesser-known cut of beef that could be your secret weapon at your next barbecue. It is a triangular cut from the bottom of the sirloin that tapers towards a fine point. Although most popular in California, tri-tip is an excellent choice for meat that delivers a taste like brisket but cooks faster.

Smoking tri-tip is a great way to prepare this delicious cut of meat and using the right type of wood will take your smoked tri-tip to the next level. Traditionally, tri-tip is usually smoked over oak, but other types of wood such as pecan and apple also go well with this versatile meat.

Here is your guide to everything you need to know about pairing tri-tip with the right wood.

smoked beef tri-tip charcoal smoker grates

Oak

Oakwood comes from the durable, temperate oak tree. Most smoke masters that are hardcore traditionalists prepare tri-tip over oak, specifically red oak. One reason behind this is the way that oak smoking wood burns. Tri-tip is a meat that likes to smoke low and slow. Oak logs and chunks burn slowly and steadily, often lasting for hours without needing to be replenished. This makes oak a great choice for any cut of meat that requires a longer smoking time.

The flavor that oak smoke produces also goes perfectly with tri-tip. Oak smoke is smokey without being bitter, pairing well with the rich flavors of tri-tip.

If you are making Santa Maria-style tri-tip, then use red oak. Red oak is the traditional wood for this type of California barbecue. California may not be the first state you think of when you think of barbecue traditions, but it has a rich legacy all the same.

Hickory

Hickory is one of the strongest hardback woods from the United States. If you can’t get your hands on oak chunks for smoking tri-tip, then hickory is another good choice. Hickory burns similarly to oak in that it has a steady smoke and burns for a long time. That makes it good for cuts of meat that need a bit more time on the smoker, including brisket and tri-tip.

Some hickory chunks have the advantage over oak chunks because they light up faster, making hickory a better choice if you are in a hurry and don’t want to spend a lot of time fiddling around with preparing your smoker.

Hickory has a more intense flavor than oak. It is sweet and rich, almost like bacon. Tri-tip is a robust cut of meat that won’t get overpowered by this flavorful wood, so if you want to add extra power to your smoked tri-tip, add some hickory.

Mesquite

Mesquite lumber comes from a dry tree native to the Southwestern United States. Wood from this tree produces a lot of smoke with a powerful, earthy flavor. Many of Texas’s most famous pitmasters use this wood in their cooking.

If you want to impart an intense flavor into your tri-tip, then mesquite is a great wood to do so with because its smoke is one of the most flavorful out there. You don’t have to worry about overpowering the tri-tip as it has a robust flavor and texture of its own.

However, mesquite is somewhat difficult to manage and not recommended if you’re a newcomer to smoking meats. You don’t want to wind up choking on clouds of smoke!

Pecan

Pecan is technically a type of hickory wood, but it has a milder, sweeter flavor. Its smoke is slightly nutty, making sense because it produces the famous pecan nuts. 

Pecan wood has a sweet flavor like hickory, but it is much milder and subtler. If you want to impart more flavor into your tri-tip without overpowering it, then pecan wood is a great way to do so. It is hard enough to do the low-and-slow burn that tri-tip prefers.

Apple

Applewood comes from the apple tree, a type of hardwood fruit tree native to Central Asia now widespread in North America. 

Like pecan, applewood has a mild, sweet flavor that can enhance your tri-tip without being as strong as hickory or mesquite. However, it is less dense than hickory or oak, so it may not produce as steady a supply of smoke.


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