Smoked Beef Tri Tip….the most beautiful cut of beef you’ve probably never heard of. When carved across the grain, this crescent-shaped beef roast renders the most rich, tender and satisfying slabs of steak you will ever put in your mouth.
How to Make Smoked Beef Tri Tip
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Sounds too good to be true….right?? A roast that slices and tastes like a beefy sirloin steak? How can that be? And why doesn’t everybody know about it??
Enter the tri tip roast. Very well known on the west coast, this slab of beef isn’t a cut that you’ll find in most Midwest mainstream grocery stores….at least not here where I live in NE Kansas.
We have to seek out tri tip from smaller, independent grocers, butcher shops and meat lockers. Is it worth a special trip to the butcher shop or a meat market to find and retrieve a tri tip roast?? Heck yes!!
When we butcher one of our own steers, we have to specifically ask the meat processor to be sure and provide us with the tri-tip roast. Otherwise, that piece of beef gets ground into hamburger or cut into stew meat…..such a sad, sad thing!
Things to Love About This Recipe
- Steak. Steak. Steak.
- There is no waste! Every single bit of a tri tip roast can be eaten because there are no bones involved.
- Once you get the hang of making tri tip, you’ll be making it over and over and over again. Such a keeper.
So What IS Tri Tip?
Tri tip is a crescent-shaped beef roast that comes from the lower part of the sirloin muscle. And like I stated above, because it’s not well-know here in these parts (though that is finally changing!) it most often gets ground into hamburger or cut into stew meat…..a tragedy, for sure.
But more importantly, tri tip is absolutely mouth-watering…..like a cross between a brisket and a steak….if you can believe that. Some have even claimed it be the “poor man’s prime rib” and I would totally agree.
The Fun Story Behind Beef Tri Tip and How it Came to Be
The story was told to me as this: Way back when in 1952, there was a one-armed butcher (yep, it’s true) named Bob Schutz. Bob worked in the butcher shop inside a southern California Safeway Grocery Store.
One day, Bob got this crazy-whack idea to cut off the crescent-shaped beef roast (the tri tip) from the bottom of the sirloin muscle and then roast it. His co-workers thought he was nuts and all said “It will be tough as hell…like eating shoe leather.”
Turns out, THEY WERE WRONG. After Bob pulled the tri tip off the roasting spit, he wrapped it in foil and let that roast REST.
The next thing you know, Bob is slicing that tri tip across the grain into meltingly-tender slabs of STEAK. Way to go, Bob!
How to Make Beef Tri Tip in 5 Easy Steps
- Remove the tri tip roast from refrigeration, letting it rest on the counter for a couple hours at room temperature to remove most of the chill.
- Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees F. Season the roast well with olive oil and the prepared seasoning blend, then place the roast onto the preheated smoker.
- Smoke the tri tip for about 60-90 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 125-130 degrees F. at the thickest part of the roast.
- Remove the roast from the smoker and wrap well with heavy-duty foil, then place the wrapped roast into a small cooler and let it rest for about 30 minutes. (Do not skip this step!)
- Once the tri tip has rested, remove it from the cooler and the foil, placing it on a cutting board. Slice the tri tip ACROSS THE GRAIN into slabs of heaven and dig in. (See the recipe card and the pics below to better see how to cut the roast against the grain!)
Easy Recipe Tips for Making Smoked Beef Tri Tip
Do tri tip roasts have a bone?
- They do not. And although bones lend lots of great of flavor when you’re cooking meat, the cool thing about a tri-tip roast is that you can slice the ENTIRE THING into slabs or steak since there’s nary a bone involved.
What should I look for when choosing a tri tip roast?
- Good fat marbling and one that is deep red in color. Marbling is the fat that gives the meat flavor and juiciness.
How much do tri tip roasts usually weigh?
- To begin with. a tri tip roast weighs about 5 lbs. Once it’s trimmed up by the butcher and ready to go home with you, a tri tip is going to weight anywhere from 2 – 2 1/2 lbs. (sometimes even as much as 3 lb.s) and will be about 3″ inches thick.
How do I know how much tri tip I’ll need to purchase to feed my clan?
- Great question. I’d plan for 8 oz. of raw meat per person, so if you have a 2 lb. tri tip roast, that would feed 4 people, plus allow for some leftovers.
Do I need to trim any fat from the tri tip that I purchase?
- Only if there’s a huge hunk and it’s very dense. We leave some fat on the tri tip since that insulates it a bit as it cooks and fat also provides flavor.
- Leaving too much fat on the tri tip can cause lots of flare ups on your smoker or grill when the fat drips down and for some palates, this causes too much charring on the outside of the tri tip.
What if I don’t own a smoker? What other methods can I use to make a tri tip?
- I’m so glad you asked this question. Tri tip is actually very versatile; I know lots of people who cook tri tip in different ways – a slow cooker, a cast iron skillet, the oven, and on the grill.
- To cook a tri tip on a charcoal grill, place briquettes on one side of the grill and get them going. When the coals are hot and ready, sear the tri tip roast on all sides, approx 4-5 minutes total. Now, move the roast from the direct heat (over the coals), over to the other side of the grill where there are no coals, letting the tri tip continue to cook there until the internal temperature reaches 130-135 degrees F.
Should you cook a tri tip fat-side-up or fat-side-down?
- We always smoke our tri tip fat-side-up, but I don’t think it really matters, to tell the truth!
How do I know what the internal temperature is when I’m cooking the tri tip?
- Guessing the internal temperature of ANY meat that you’re cooking is always a big mistake. The only way to know the true internal temperature in a reliable way is to use an instant-read meat thermometer that is inserted into the center of the tri tip.
To what internal temperature should a tri tip roast be cooked?
- That depends on personal preference! We like our tri tip to be medium rare when we eat it, which means it’s pink at the center of each slice.
- For a rare tri tip roast with a finished internal temperature of 130-135 degrees F., cook the tri-tip to 115-120 degrees F. internal temperature at this point of the recipe.
- For a medium rare tri tip roast with a finished internal temperature of 135-140 degrees F., cook the tri tip to 120-125 degrees F. internal temperature at this point of the recipe.
- For medium tri tip roast with a finished internal temperature of 140-145 degrees F., cook the tri tip to 125-130 degrees F. internal temperature at this point of the recipe.
Why does the recipe instruct to let the tri tip rest at room temperature for a couple hours before smoking it?
- First, this rest is important because as meat chills, the juices and fats coagulate at the very center. Letting the roast rest at room temperature helps to remove the chill from being in refrigeration so those juices and fats can make their way to the outer edges of the tri tip.
- Secondly, it’s never a good idea to slap an ice cold piece of meat onto a hot cooking surface since all that does is cool it down – just the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish.
- Lastly, meat that has rested before cooking it cooks much more evenly, resulting in a tri tip that is juicy and tender all throughout the protein fibers of the meat.
Why does the recipe instruct to wrap the tri tip in foil after it’s been smoked? And why does it go into a cooler?
- Once the tri tip has reached an internal temperature of 120 degrees F. at the thickest part of the roast, it’s time to remove it from the smoker and wrap it in foil.
- The foil wrap holds in the juices that will escape and redistribute throughout the beef tri tip as it rests in the cooler. Because the cooler is insulated, it will keep your tri tip nicely warm as it relaxes and finishes cooking during this time of beauty rest. Don’t skip this resting step, whatever you do!
Do I need to marinate my tri tip roast before smoking it?
- Many home cooks do marinate their tri tips, but we never have. We feel that if you’re smoking good quality beef and cooking it properly, the eating experience will always be delicious.
4 Actions to Avoid That Can Lead to a Tough and Chewy Tri Tip
- Cooking an ICE COLD tri-tip roast. Instead, cook the a tri-tip after it’s had time to rest at room temperature on the counter. I cannot stress this enough. Beauty rest before cooking the tri-tip is extremely critical!!!
If you can begin the cooking process with a tri-tip (or any hunk of meat, whether beef or pork, for that matter) that is not chilled, you will quickly see how much better the final results are. It is ah-mazing!!
As meat chills, everything within it (juices, fats, etc) coagulates at the very center and the protein fibers are tense. Letting the tri-tip rest for at least 1-2 hours, uncovered, on the counter will let everything at the center come out to the edges of the meat and the protein fibers can relax for the cooking process.
- Overcooking a tri tip roast to well-done. The best tri tip is cooked to to 120 degrees F. internal temperature for medium rare, then sliced into steaks with a nice tinge of pink at the center.
- Failing to slice the tri tip ACROSS the grain, but rather cutting it WITH the grain. This definitely provides a “shoe leather eating experience.” Slicing again the grain shortens the protein fibers in the meat, making it easier to chew.
- Not letting the tri tip rest after you’ve cooked it. Meat always needs beauty rest after it’s cooked so the juices can re-distribute themselves and the protein fibers of the meat can relax.
And, during this final resting time, the residual heat raises the internal temperature to the finished temperature that you desire for eating.
How to Slice a Tri Tip Roast
- Once the tri tip is removed from the smoker and has rested, place it onto a large cutting board.
- Locate where the two grains intersect, cutting the tri tip apart vertically at that intersection, splitting the roast into 2 pieces.
- Check the grain of each half to see which way the grain of the meat is running (sometimes it’s easier to look at the sides to see this), then slice ACROSS the grain – never WITH the grain.
Here is a quick video that shows (in just 30 seconds!) the proper way to slice a tri tip just in case you’re having a bit of trouble with the steps above. Once you can visually see how it’s done and then slice a tri tip or two yourself, you’ll be able to easily tell where and how to slice.
Side Dishes to Serve Along Side Smoked Beef Tri Tip Steak –
Printable Smoked Beef Tri Tip Recipe
How to Make Smoked Beef Tri Tip
- 3 lbs. Tri-Tip Beef Roast
- 1-2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 Tbs. each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, combined
- 1 tsp. granulated garlic, may substitute 2 tsp. garlic powder
Smoke the Tri-Tip Roast
- Remove the tri tip roast from refrigeration, letting it rest on the counter at room temperature for a couple of hours to remove the chill.
- Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees F.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the salt and pepper with the granulated garlic. Rub the tri-tip roast with olive oil, then sprinkle the beef liberally with the salt and pepper mixture; applying it liberally all over the roast. (This will allow a nice crust to form on the exterior of the tri tip as it smokes.)
- Place the seasoned tri-tip roast directly onto the preheated smoker grill, unwrapped, for 60-75 minutes, cooking until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees F in the thickest part of the roast for medium rare. (Keep in mind this is not the FINAL internal temperature at this point in the tri-tip cooking process!) **Also, for alternative stages of doneness (such as rare or medium well) see the notes in the body of this post for directions beneath "To what internal temperature should a tri tip roast be cooked?"
- Remove the tri-tip roast from the smoker, wrapping it tightly in heavy-duty aluminum foil; place the tri-tip into a small cooler (no ice) for approx. 30 minutes, allowing it to finish cooking as the roast rests and relaxes. (In the cooler, the cooking process will continue, raising the internal temperature of the meat another 5-10 degrees, plus this rest will also allow the beef to become extremely tender as the juices slowly redistribute into the meat.)
Slice the Tri-Tip
- Once the tri tip has rested in the cooler, place it onto a large cutting board. Locate where the two grains intersect, cutting the tri tip apart vertically, splitting it in half. Check each half of the roast to see which way the grain of the meat is running, then slice ACROSS the grain into slices of steak. Serve at once!
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