This Smoked Tri Tip steak is coated with a delicious homemade rub that builds a flavorful crust as it smokes to a perfectly tender juicy meat in just 2 hours.
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If you love Tri tip steak and you have a smoker, you’ll really love this recipe for Smoked Tri Tip. It’s one of my favorite cuts of beef and smoked is a really great way to enjoy it.
What is Tri Tip?
Tri Tip is cut from the bottom sirloin and can be found in many grocery stores on the West coast of the United States, and often at Costco. It was made popular in Santa Maria, California, in the 1950s when the Santa Maria rub was also created.
The cut of meat alone is very tender and is best when cooked at low heat and served at medium rare. That’s why a smoker does some a great job with this cut. It’s a very low, slow way of cooking that imparts a lot of flavor.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Tri Tip – You can find a tri tip roast at the grocery if you live on the west coast, otherwise you’ll probably need to ask for it from your butcher. I usually cook a 3-pound roast, which is the most typical size. At Costco, you can usually find tri tip as strip steaks, around 6-8 ounces each. You can still cook them on the smoker, but they will take a lot less time.
- Seasoning rub (either store-bought or homemade) – My homemade rub includes brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, chili powder, onion powder, and garlic powder. It’s easy to mix up and can last for a few months, so you can use it for lots of other things.
Yep, that’s all you need! It’s a super simple, but very delicious way to season tri tip that you’ll roast in the oven.
What Size Tri Tip to Buy
Tri-tip roasts range from 1 1/2 pounds to 4 pounds.
- A 1 1/2 pound roast will serve around 3 people, depending on appetite.
- A 3-pound roast will serve about 6 people.
- A 4-pound roast will serve about 8 people.
I try to buy a 2 1/2 to 3-pound roast so there’s some left overs for the two of us. It’s great the first day as a main dish with a side dish like smoked cauliflower or smoked vegetables. The next day you can use it for steak sandwiches or steak quesadillas.
What Smokers We Use
Did you know that Traeger created the original wood-pellet grill? The Pro Series 22 is the one most people choose because it’s compact, yet has plenty of space for cooking. You can use any type of wood pellets you like. See the Traeger Series 22 Grill on Amazon.
How to Trim a Tri Tip
In case you bought a tri tip that hasn’t yet been trimmed, you can do this yourself quite easily. First, trim off any large layer of fat, down to 1/4″ of fat at most, on one side. Be sure to use a sharp knife for this!
Next, remove any silver skin or tough membrane that covers the meat’s surface. Not all tri tip roasts that you buy will still have this membrane on it, if you see a thin opaque layer over the meat, you’ll want to remove it because it’s tough. Make sure to use caution when doing this as you don’t want to accidentally cut into the meat.
How Long to Cook a Tri Tip on the Smoker
The cooking time will vary based on the size of the roast. The best way to make sure the meat is cooked to your preference is to use a digital thermometer to test the meat, like this amazing Thermoworks one.
If you have a digital thermometer that can be left in the meat while it cooks, that’s the best way to ensure it doesn’t over cook. Most smokers come with an internal thermometer.
Depending on your personal preference, you might want to smoke the meat then do a sear on the meat to get a nice crusted texture on it. I do this about half the time. Sometimes smoking alone is good enough for me, sometimes I sear it.
Here are the temps to look for:
Take the tri tip roast off the smoker and either sear immediately or let rest for 10 minutes:
- Rare: 115-120 degrees F
- Medium Rare: 125-130 degrees F
- Medium: 135-140 degrees F
- Medium Well: 145-150 degrees F
- Well Done: 150-155 degrees F
When searing, take the tri tip off the grill when it reaches these temps:
- Rare: 125 degrees F
- Medium Rare: 135 degrees F
- Medium: 145 degrees F
- Medium Well: 155 degrees F
- Well Done: 160 degrees F
How to Make Smoked Tri Tip
Step One: Preparing the Tri-Tip
You might notice when purchasing Tri Tip that it can be prepared in a few different ways by the butcher. It will come either trimmed or untrimmed.
- Untrimmed means it has a thick fat cap on one side that you can choose to leave on or remove.
- Trimmed often has no fat at all.
If you are buying from your butcher, ask for one with fat on one side that has been trimmed down to 1/4 inch. The fat will keep it from drying out on the smoker.
If there’s fat on both sides of the roast you’ve purchased, that’s okay. You can trim it off yourself to how you want it. You’ll also noticed that there is a silver membrane along one side of the meat that should be removed. It’s a bit tough when cooked and makes the meat less tender.
To remove it, just grab one end and pull. It might come off easily. If not, you can use a paring knife to help peel it off. If you end up having to leave it on because it’s being stubborn, that’s okay too.
Step Two: Dry Rub
You can choose what type of rub you put on the tri tip. There are so many great store-bought seasonings and rubs you can use for beef. If you have a favorite one, stick with that. I personally prefer my homemade dry rub.
Homemade Dry Rub
This recipe makes a bit more than you’ll use on one tri tip, but you can save it to use on something else if you have some leftover. How much you use will depend on the size of your roast and how flavorful you want it to be. I like a lot of flavor.
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
Mix together these spices and rub it all over the tri tip to form a thick crust. Rest the meat in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to over night to allow the rub flavors to sink into the meat.
Santa Maria Rub
The most “authentic” way to make tri tip is with a Santa Maria rub. It’s just three ingredients: salt, pepper and garlic powder. Hard to believe that the original rub that has become so famous includes just 3 ingredients, but it’s true.
- 1 Tbsp Kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp finely ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder or 2 tsp garlic salt
Step Three: Smoke the Tri Tip
You want to smoke your tri tip at a low temperature for the best results. It benefits from a slower cook.
I have a Z Grills Smoker (similar to a Traeger Grill), which has a Smoke setting. I preheat my grill using this setting, which fluctuates from 160°F to 225°F.
I let it preheat for 15 minutes, then smoke the tri tip on this Smoke setting for 50 minutes. Then I turn up the heat to 225°F for 1 hour and 15 minutes. During this time, I baste it with additional rub mixed with olive oil two times.
When the tri tip reaches your desired internal temperature, take it off the smoker and tent it under foil for 15 minutes so the carry-over cooking brings it up to 135°F.
If you don’t have a smoke setting, pre-heat the grill and set it to 225°F. Smoking the tri tip at 225°F the entire time will likely take a bit less time, around 1 hour and 30 minutes. Always check the internal temperature with a digital thermometer to be sure.
You don’t want the heat of the grill to go over 250°. This will keep the heat low enough to slow cook the tri tip and impart a lot of smoke flavor.
Once you’ve tented the meat for 15 minutes, it’s ready to slice and serve. Be sure to slice the meat against the grain for the most tender slices.
How to Reheat Tri Tip
There are several ways to reheat tri-tip, but the best method depends on your personal preference and the equipment you have available. Here are a few options:
- Oven: Preheat your oven to 325°F. Place the tri-tip in an oven-safe dish and cover it with foil to prevent it from drying out. Reheat for about 10-15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 130°F.
- Sous vide: If you have a sous vide machine, you can reheat the tri-tip by placing it in a vacuum-sealed bag and heating it in the sous vide water bath at 130°F for about 30 minutes.
- Microwave: Place the tri-tip on a microwave-safe plate and cover it with a damp paper towel. Microwave on high for 30-second intervals until it reaches your desired temperature.
- Grill: Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Brush the tri-tip with a little oil and grill it for a few minutes on each side until it is heated through.
- Air fryer: Preheat your air fryer to 350°F. Slice the tri-tip into even pieces and place them in a single layer in the air fryer basket. Brush the tri-tip with a little oil to prevent it from drying out. Cook the tri-tip for 5-7 minutes, flipping halfway through, until it is heated through and crispy on the outside.
No matter which method you choose, be sure to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the tri-tip before serving.
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Best Smoked Tri Tip
- 3 pound tri tip roast
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the dry rub
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- Trim fat on tri tip to 1/4″ and remove membrane, if necessary.
- Mix the seasonings in a bowl. Season the tri tip with the dry rub, reserving 1 tablespoon for later. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight if possible.
- Preheat the smoker to 225°F, set the tri tip directly on the grill and close the lid.
- Mix the remaining dry rub with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Smoke the tri tip for about 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours, basting twice during cooking with the olive oil/rub mixture.
- The roast is done when the internal temperature reaches 125°F for medium rare or 135°F for medium.
- Take the meat off the grill and let it rest for 15 minutes wrapped with tin foil. This allows the meat to come up to the proper temperature.
- To serve, slice the roast against the grain in thin slices.
- Choose the right wood: Use a hardwood such as oak or hickory for your smoker. These woods provide a strong flavor without overpowering the meat’s natural taste.
- Prep the meat: Rub the tri-tip with olive oil and seasonings of your choice at least an hour before smoking. This will allow the flavors to penetrate deeper into the meat for a richer flavor.
- Low & slow: Smoke the tri-tip on low heat, around 225°F (107°C) for two to four hours, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 155-165°F (68-74°C).
- Let rest: Transfer the smoked tri-tip to a cutting board or plate and cover it with foil for 15 minutes before slicing so that its natural juices can redistribute throughout the meat for added flavor and tenderness.
🥧 If you’re interested in more great recipes, I share all my favorite recipes at A Food Lover’s Kitchen, Instant Pot recipes over at A Pressure Cooker Kitchen, air fryer recipes at Air Fry Anytime, and cocktails and drinks at Savored Sips. Check it out today!
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Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.