Delicious beef tri-tip smoked low and slow on your Traeger or favorite pellet grill. This underrated barbecue smoked meat cut is tender and packed full of beefy flavor.
This pellet grill smoked tri-tip is tender and bursting with flavor. From the bottom sirloin of the steer, this tri-tip is lean but boasts an incredibly bold flavor and unique texture. And because it’s so lean, tri-tip only needs a short time on the smoker, meaning you can easily rustle this recipe up in an evening.
From beef trimming to choosing the best wood pellets, discover how to smoke tri-tip on your pellet grill today.
What is Tri-Tip?
An integral part of Santa Maria barbecue, tri-tip is a beef cut from the bottom sirloin subprimal known for its unique triangle shape and rich, beefy flavor. Typically only about 2-3 pounds in weight, it might not seem like much but there’s a lot packed into each tri-tip cut.
Tri-tip boasts a strong, rich, beefy flavor that’s unlike any other beef cut. Thanks to its low fat content, tri-tip steak can be chewy so it will need to be sliced carefully against the grain to ensure it’s not too tough. Get it right though, and you’ll have a cut of beef that’s just as delicious and tender as any other.
Because it’s so lean, tri-tip is usually used for more hot-and-fast cooking techniques, like grilling. However, with the right seasoning and a little care, we can smoke tri-tip to lock in that beefy flavor with extra smoky flavor and tenderness.
How to Smoke Tri-Tip on a Pellet Grill
Ready to make this Santa Maria-style barbecue classic? Here are the basic steps to making the best beef tri-tip on your pellet grill.
- Fire Up: Load up your pellet grill with wood pellets and start it up to the standard 225°F (107°C) smoking temperature
- Season: Form the dry rub by combining the salt, black pepper, smoked paprika and garlic powder in a small bowl. Then, generously apply it to the trimmed tri-tip, covering all sides.
- Smoke: With your pellet grill at target temperature, place the tri-tip on your grill’s grates and leave to smoke to a medium-rare internal temperature of 125°F (52°)
- Sear: Once it hits medium-rare, pull the tri-tip from the smoke and put in an oiled cast iron skillet over high heat. Sear for just a couple of minutes on each side to create a delicious seared finish.
- Rest: Let the tri-tip rest for 10 minutes to help it keep its moisture and flavors
- Serve: Slice the smoked tri-tip against the grain for the best results, keeping its texture and shape
For our dry rub seasoning, we use a quick homemade blend that takes just seconds to throw together. Many people have their own preferred seasoning or prefer to use just salt and pepper, but this blend adds a little bit of added smoky-sweet from the paprika, as well as a little added flavor depth from the garlic powder. The ingredients are:
- Kosher Salt: A dry rub staple that enhances the tri-tip’s natural flavors, as well as helps break down some of the meat’s proteins to make it more tender
- Black Pepper: For a very subtle dash of warmth and flavor complexity
- Smoked Paprika: Adds a light touch of sweetness that helps balance the other rub ingredients, as well as an extra layer of smoky flavor
- Garlic Powder: Helps enhance the beef’s rich flavors, as well as gives the smoked tri-tip that little bit more of an enticing aroma once it’s served up
To make it, simply blend all the ingredients in a small bowl. Use either a fork or whisk to mix them (I prefer a fork because it’s then easier to crush any lumps that appear).
When ready to apply, pat the tri-tip surface with paper towels and then cover all sides of the roast with the dry rub blend. We’re now ready to smoke!
Smoking Wood Pellets
The best type of wood pellets to use for smoking tri-tip are either oakwood or hickory. Oakwood in particular tends to have a longer and more consistent burn rate than other types of wood pellets, and also provides the right amount of smoky flavor without being too bitter, allowing the naturally strong and beefy flavors of tri-tip to come through.
Hickory is also a solid choice, and a widely used ‘default’ wood for barbecue, however it can be a little strong for some people’s tastes.
If you have a Traeger pellet grill, I’m a big fan of their Signature Blend pellets, which is a good all-purpose backup blend to have at hand. The blend uses hickory, cherry and maple, which may sound a little sweet for this beef recipe, but in fact has a really nice balance that works well. You can find them here on Amazon.
Times & Temperatures
Tri-tip requires about 30 minutes per pound of beef at 225°F to be cooked to a medium-rare internal temperature of 130-135°F (54-57°C). This gives us a smoke time of about 90 minutes for a 3lb cut of tri-tip, but this time will vary depending on factors like the size of your tri-tip roast, your preferred level of doneness, and even your pellet grill’s performance.
When gauging the internal temperature of your tri-tip, always use a digital meat thermometer. While some people swear by judging on texture or even appearance, a thermometer is the best way to guarantee the best results.
Ready to get going? Check out our quick tips to help you smoke the best tri-tip on your pellet grill:
- Use a meat thermometer to gauge when your tri-tip is done instead of simply going by time. Make sure you insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the tri-tip.
- Don’t forget to rest! To keep as much flavor, texture and moisture as possible, make sure that after pulling your tri-tip from the smoker, you let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Because tri-tip is so lean, moisture retention is key. Try creating a water pan by filling a disposable aluminum tray with water and placing it on your pellet grill’s grates. The steam generated from the water will help stabilize temperatures and add moisture to the chamber environment.