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Ideal as a barbecue main dish, Smoked Tri-Tip is hearty, juicy, and surprisingly simple. With just 3 ingredients, learn how to smoke tri-tip to tender perfection.

Tri-tip slices on a metal serving tray.

Perhaps you’ve grilled tri-tip at home, and maybe you’ve ordered a smoked version of the same meat at your local barbecue restaurant. But have you ever made Smoked Tri-Tip at home?

Yes, I know it can sound intimidating, but I’m here to bust some myths: smoking a tri-tip doesn’t require 12 hours and constant monitoring. And no, you don’t have to be a blue ribbon barbecue master or have a whole kitchen full of ingredients to make this smoked beef possible (and delicious.). It’s easy to master how to cook Smoked Tri-Tip, and with my method, you need just 3 ingredients and 2 hours. That’s even faster than much faster than the Slow Cooker Baked Beans that I recommend serving this entree alongside!

Before we dive in, let’s go back to basics and review how to use a charcoal smoker, including everything you need to know about smoking with hardwood as well as how to clean a smoker. Then read on for exactly how to create succulent Smoked Tri-Tip this weekend.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient and equipment notes
  3. Step by step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Recipe FAQs
  6. Smoked Tri-Tip Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for smoked tri-tip.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient and equipment notes

  • Tri-tip: Tri-tip, also know as triangle tip, triangle steak, triangle roast, bottom sirloin steak, Santa Maria steak, or Newport steak, is a small, boneless, triangular cut from the sirloin of beef. It usually weighs about 2 to 4 pounds, and resembles a thick, slightly lopsided boomerang that is marbled with just enough fat to lend flavor, tenderness and juiciness. No matter what you call it, it’s a fabulous, economical cut of beef that’s worth searching out and is ideal for smoking low and slow.
  • Dry rub: Store-bought or DIY. To recreate my favorite Homemade Dry Rub for Smoked Tri-Tip, in a medium bowl or jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine ½ cup light brown sugar, 3 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon ground New Mexico chili (or ancho chili), 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chilies (optional), 1 teaspoon ground mustard powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon coriander, ½ teaspoon thyme (crushed). Store in an airtight container.
  • A smoker: Electric, pellet, kamodo, hybrid; any model you have access to will work here.
  • An instant-read probe thermometer: This will help you in your ideal doneness level (see “Recipe FAQs” below).
  • Wood chips: Hardwood chips infuses the smoked meat with even more flavor.  Hickory wood chips work great for this recipe. (For more options, see “Recipe FAQs”.)

Step by step instructions

  1. Preheat smoker to between 200 and 225 degrees, according to manufacturer directions. With a pastry brush, coat the tri-tip with yellow mustard, covering all sides.
Tri tip with mustard rubbed on it on a foil covered baking sheet.
  1. Rub dry rub generously over roast. Place tri-tip on a baking rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Allow to sit at room temperature as the smoker heats up.
Tri tip with rub on it before being smoked.
  1. Once the smoker has reached temperature, between 200 to 225 degrees, add the tri-tip directly on the grate, and place the lid on the smoker After 1 hour, check the internal temperature using a digital thermometer. Once the tri-tip reaches between 130 and 135 degrees at the thickest part, transfer the meat to a dish and cover loosely with foil.
An overhead shot of smoked tri tip wrapped in tin foil.
  1. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes. Slicing thinly across the grain and serve.
An overhead shot of slices of smoked tri tip on a sliver tray.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This Smoked Tri-Tip recipe makes enough to generously feed 6 adults with five to seven slices of smoked beef.
  • Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Make ahead: You can easily make Smoked Tri Tip ahead of time. It’s easier to slice when cold, so feel free to save that for the day you want to serve it. Just reheat it in a slow cooker with enough water to cover the bottom (on the stove works too), aiming for 165 degrees.
  • Freezer: Pack sliced, cooled tri tip into freezer-safe bags. Label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat to 165 degrees.

Recipe FAQs

Is tri-tip the same as brisket or flank steak?

While all of these cuts are tasty portions of beef, they have distinct differences. Tri-tip is part of the sirloin, near the bottom by the hip.

Brisket is a giant cut, ranging in size from 12 to 20 pounds, from the breast area. Most people know it and love it, but it’s an enormous cut with a looser grain and much more marbling. Try it in my Slow Cooker Beef Brisket or Classic Pot Roast recipes.

Flank steak comes from the lower abdomen. Since it’s very lean, it isn’t as tender as tri-tip, so it benefits from marinating and shouldn’t be overcooked. Give this a shot in my Beef Gyros, Midwest Pepper Steak, or Steak Fajitas.

What is the ideal temperature for Smoked Tri-Tip?

Since tri-tip doesn’t have a lot of connective tissue that has to break down (unlike a pot roast, for example), you can cook it the same way you cook a steak. Here’s how to decode those temperatures into terms similar to steak doneness:
130-135 degrees for medium-rare
135-145 degrees for medium
145-150 degrees for medium-well
150+ for well done

Why do I need to rest Smoked Tri-Tip before slicing?

Allowing the Smoked Tri-Tip (or any sizable portion of grilled, smoked, or roasted meat) allows the temperature to cool down enough so the juices (and flavor) don’t spill out all over your cutting board. Tent the meat with foil to keep it warm, set a timer for 15 minutes, then proceed with slicing.

How should I slice Smoked Tri-Tip?

For best results, it’s essential to cut the smoked beef against the grain of the meat fibers. Otherwise, you’ll likely wind up with chewier, less tender meat. The first cut to make is where the boomerang shape of the cut meets in the middle. The grain changes direction there, fanning out from the middle, so it’s helpful to cut the tri-tip into two pieces first. Then, you can eyeball the grain of each piece and make slices into each cut; much like beef tenderloin.

What is the best kind of wood for Smoked Tri-Tip?

I used hickory with this tri-tip. You could also opt for red oak, maple, mesquite, pecan, apple, or cherry if you have easy access to those instead.

Tri Tip

Today I’ll let you in on a California secret: The humble tri-tip. Part steak, part roast, and totally, absolutely, 100% delicious. This little-known cut of meat that’s sure to be the next big thing at…

40 minutes
View Recipe

Keep that smoker going

Slices of smoked tri tip on a serving platter.

Smoked Tri-Tip

Ideal as a barbecue main dish, Smoked Tri-Tip is hearty, juicy, and surprisingly simple. With just 3 ingredients, learn how to smoke tri-tip to tender perfection.
4.20 from 5 votes
Prep Time 40 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs
Resting 15 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 40 mins
Servings 6 servings (5-7 slices each)
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 8

Ingredients 

  • 2 ½ to 3 pounds tri-tip (see note 1)
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard or Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons homemade dry rub or store-bought (see note 2)

Instructions 

  • Preheat smoker to between 200 and 225 degrees, according to manufacturer directions. With a pastry brush, coat the tri-tip with yellow mustard, covering all sides.
  • Rub dry rub generously over roast. Place tri-tip on a baking rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Allow to sit at room temperature as the smoker heats up.
  • Once the smoker has reached temperature, between 200 to 225 degrees, add the tri-tip directly on the grate, and place the lid on the smoker
  • After 1 hour, check the internal temperature using a digital thermometer. Once the tri-tip reaches between 130 and 135 degrees at the thickest part, transfer the meat to a dish and cover loosely with foil.
  • Let the meat rest for 15 minutes. Slicing thinly across the grain and serve.

Notes

  1. Tri-tip: Tri-tip, also know as triangle tip, triangle steak, triangle roast, bottom sirloin steak, Santa Maria steak, or Newport steak, is a small, boneless, triangular cut from the sirloin of beef. It usually weighs about 2 to 4 pounds, and resembles a thick, slightly lopsided boomerang that is marbled with just enough fat to lend flavor, tenderness and juiciness. No matter what you call it, it’s a fabulous, economical cut of beef that’s worth searching out and is ideal for smoking low and slow.
  2. Dry rub: Store-bought or DIY. To recreate my favorite Homemade Dry Rub for Smoked Tri-Tip, in a medium bowl or jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine ½ cup light brown sugar, 3 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon ground New Mexico chili (or ancho chili), 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chilies (optional), 1 teaspoon ground mustard powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon coriander, ½ teaspoon thyme (crushed). Store in an airtight container.
  3. Yield: This Smoked Tri-Tip recipe makes enough to generously feed 6 adults with five to seven slices of smoked beef.
  4. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  5. Make ahead: You can easily make Smoked Tri Tip ahead of time. It’s easier to slice when cold, so feel free to save that for the day you want to serve it. Just reheat it in a slow cooker with enough water to cover the bottom (on the stove works too), aiming for 165 degrees.
  6. Freezer: Pack sliced, cooled tri tip into freezer-safe bags. Label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat to 165 degrees.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 8kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 1gFat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 56mgPotassium: 18mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 39IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 17mgIron: 1mg
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Executive Chef and CEO at | Website | + posts

Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.

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Comments

  1. 3 lb. Tri tip was every bit of 3 hours on the smoker at 225 deg. Barely getting started at 30 min per lb…1 star