Smoked Tri Tip Recipe

This smoked tri tip recipe is something I threw together quickly the other day and it turned out great. Tri-tip is a cut with a lot of versatility. While on the one hand it can be cooked practically like a steak, with a good sear and brief roasting that leaves the middle medium rare, on the other hand it is well suited to slower roasting, smoking or braising to let the meat start to soften. You can also use just about any type of flavoring ingredients to achieve a wide range of flavors from simple salt and pepper to really let the meat shine, to southwestern bbq, to Asian styles like teriyaki and bulgogi.

In this tri tip recipe I smoked the whole tri tip for a little over three hours which was enough to give it a nice smokey flavor and a tender texture while retaining a bit of “tooth”. On the other hand, if you really want to go all out smoking, you can reduce the cooking heat even further and slow smoke it for many hours longer, really infusing a rich smoke flavor and letting the meat soften to the point that it is almost falling apart tender.

What you will need:

I didn’t reinvent the wheel for this tri tip recipe. A good cut of tri tip is delicious all by itself but I was in the mood for a slightly spicy Mexican or Southwest style spicy rub. I basically used a time-tested favorite of mine that I usually use for skirt steak and cut up for tacos, burritos or fajitas. I say basically because I threw it together without measuring exact amounts and it turned out delicious as always. You can find the recipe for the spice rub on the Skirt Steak Recipe page. If you are lazy, or just don’t have much time, you can really use any spice mix to rub on the tri tip. Paul Prudhomme’s meat magic is great, as are a number of other spice mixes (just add a bit of cayenne or chili powder to add a bit more kick).

In addition to the spice rub, you’ll obviously need a whole tri tip and you’ll also need some good smoking wood, ideally large chunks but chips will do in a pinch. I used mesquite wood with this tri tip recipe which gives a nice smokey but sweet flavor and aroma. However, with this recipe you could use other woods instead. Try hickory, pecan, oak or even maple for a change.

How to cook this Smoked Tri Tip Recipe:

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  1. For starters, combine all the spice rub ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Then rub the spice mix all over the meat. When I say rub, I really mean rub, don’t just pour it on there, really use your fingers to rub the mix into every surface, every nook and cranny of the meat. You can then seal the meat in a ziploc bag or a bowl covered with plastic wrap and let it marinate. Because you’ll be slow cooking and smoking the tri tip, you don’t have to let it marinate that long, but at least a few hours is nice. You can leave it up to 2 days if you want. Here is what the meat looks like after being “rubbed”:
  2. Next, prepare a grill for slow smoking. If using a charcoal grill, get your charcoal going and up to the heat you are shooting for and then adjust the vents on the grill lid and base to maintain that temperature. For most grills, this will mean closing the vents partially or close to completely to keep the heat down. I maintained about a 250 degree temp throughout the cooking for this one. If you have a higher heat, it will cook faster and you won’t get as much smoke flavor. If you want to really slow smoke it you can go even lower and smoke it many hours longer.

    tri tip recipe 3
  3. Just a bit before throwing the meat on the grill add abundant smoking wood to the charcoal and let it start to smoke. When you start to get a nice rich, thick, aromatic smoke, you are ready.
  4. Place the marinated tri tip on the grill. Ideally, even at the low temperature, you want to avoid too much direct heat so try to move the meat to a part of the grill which as indirect heat. Close the lid and double check periodically that your temperature is stable, adjusting the vents (or burners if you are using a gas grill) as needed to raise or lower the temp.

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  5. For this smoked tri tip recipe, I let my tri tip smoke at 250 degrees for a little over 3 hours. Again, this is a matter of preference. If you really want it smokey and want the meat almost fall-apart tender, adjust the heat a bit lower (around 175 to 225) and cook it longer (at the lower end of that spectrum you can smoke it for 12 hours or more if you really want to!). As it cooks, check back periodically to ensure the temperature is stable, adding charcoal as needed if the temp starts to drift. Additionally, if you notice the smoke supply slowing up, throw a couple more handfuls of smoking wood on there.
  6. Once the meat is done to your liking, take it off the grill and cover it with tin foil to let it rest for at least 5 min, up to 20. Then simply slice it up with a sharp carving knife, cutting across the grain for the most tender bites of meat. Serve with your favorite sides (rice, veggies, beans, etc.) and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy this smoked tri-tip recipe!

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