Smoked beef tri-tip will soon be your new favorite barbecue steak. Usually cooked on the grill, preparing it on the backyard smoker produces an unparalleled cut of flavorful and tender smoked beef. Learn how to prepare, dry brine, and smoke tri-tip with our barbecue guide and recipe.
Tri-tip is one of the most tender and flavorful cuts of beef for smoking. From the beef’s bottom sirloin, it has an unrivaled mouthfeel and hearty flavor.
While beef tri-tip is usually grilled over high heat or reverse seared, it is incredible when smoked. Because it’s a lean cut of beef and low in fat content, It can be difficult to get right on the smoker. But if you nail it, you’ll have a beautifully tender plate of tri-tip that’s great by itself or as part of a beef sandwich.
For our smoked tri-tip recipe, we trim and prepared with a simple dry brine followed by a simple BBQ spice rub. We then smoke it over indirect heat for about 2 hoiurs until tender and juicy.
What is tri-tip?
Beef tri-tip is a flavorful and tender cut of meat from the bottom sirloin of the cow. It’s usually about eight inches in length and weighs between two and three pounds. It has a unique triangular shape to it and tapers at one end. It’s lean and low in connective tissue and fat.
Its flavor is unlike any other cut of beef. It boasts a strong, rich, beefy flavor. Thanks to its low fat content, tri-tip steak can be very chewy and will need to be sliced carefully to ensure it’s not too tough. Get it right though, and you’ll have a cut of beef that’s as delicious and tender as any other.
Traditional Santa Maria tri-tip originates from a town with the same name, in California’s Central Coast region. Tri-tip steak is a specialty in the area and was originally cooked on the unique Santa Maria grill. It has a grate that’s controlled by its wheel-pulley system, where you can raise or lower it to bring the meat closer to the fire.
Purpose-made Santa Maria grills are difficult and expensive to buy, but you can build your own Santa Maria grill at a fraction of the cost. If you’re a DIY grill fan, you’ll love the project. The clever grill cooks tri-tip as it was intended, and helps to make it more tender.
Where to buy
Tri-tip can be difficult to buy, depending on where you are. Due to its Californian origins, people in the southern region of the state might find it easier, but otherwise you may need to visit a specialist butcher or reserve ahead.
The good news is that there are some fantastic online vendors who sell fresh tri-tip, and can deliver across North America.
Times & temperatures
Smoked tri-tip needs about 2 hours to cook at 225°F (107°C) to a medium-rare internal temperature of 130-135°F. This time will vary depending on meat size, smoker heat retention, and preferred doneness.
Always use a meat thermometer to test the internal temperature of your meat. I know some people swear by judging on texture or even appearance, but a thermometer is the best way to guarantee the best results.