The tri-tip is gaining momentum as a favorite beef cut for smoking, grilling, roasting, and cooking. And there is a logical reason for that – this is an affordable and yet flavorful piece of meat that can become the star of any dish.
Our recommendation is to use reverse sear for preparing the tri-tip. This method will bring out the very best of this superb cut of meat.
Learn more about tri-tip
Tri-tip is a beef cut that is kind of in the middle between brisket and sirloin, and even better – it is cheaper than the other two popular beef cuts.
The tri-tip is a triangular-shaped, boneless, tender beef cut that is separated from the sirloin’s ball tip and flap by the bottom sirloin.
Trip-tip is a great beef cut for reverse searing because it has greater intramuscular fat marbling than sirloin and less marbling than brisket.
When smoked or cooked, the tri-tip can be enjoyed in the form of sandwiches, salads, tacos, and of course as the main dish with sides like sweet corn and zucchini.
The cut was popularized in California in the 1950s and is hugely popular on the West Coast but has gradually gained a big following around the country as well.
Here is more about the reverse sear method
Reverse searing is a perfect method to prepare all lean beef cuts because it ensures that the meat is cooked evenly on the inside and that a beautiful crust is formed on the outside without the meat drying out in the process.
Reverse searing involves low and slow cooking of the meat and then searing it at a high temperature.
It is called reverse searing because the more typical way to prepare meat is the other way around – by searing it first and then cooking it.
But with reverse searing, the meat is cooked to perfection slowly, and the searing at the end helps lock in all of the juices and flavors without leaving the meat dry and tough.
Tri-tip is one of the cuts which are great for this cooking method.
It is a cut that includes the meeting point of three separate parts of a muscle and comes with a rich beefy flavor but is tougher and leaner than other cuts.
With this cooking method, you will tenderize the meat, and add more flavor to it by marinating and smoking it, and then when the connective tissues and muscle fibers break down and the meat becomes tender, this entire flavor is sealed inside the cut via searing.
Here is a step-by-step guide for reverse searing tri-tip.
Prepare the meat for smoking
Take the tri-tip out of the fridge and carefully trim it by removing any silver skin or surface fat, which can inhibit the penetration of the marinade or the smoke into the meat.
If you are having trouble finding tri-tip at your local store or butcher’s shop, you can order it online by one of the reputable online butchers and meat stores, such as Porter Road. You can buy the perfect dry-aged tri-tip at a reasonable price here. Plus, it comes hand-trimmed and ready to cook.
When the meat is trimmed and ready, place it in a large ziplock bag and add the marinade of your choice. One of our favorites is the SOW Smoke on Wheels BBQ Marinade, but you can buy or, even better – make any marinade to your personal liking.
Seal the bag and put the meat back in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.
If you are in a hurry, you can skip the marinating, but if you have the time – this step will help make the meat tenderer and at the same time add more flavor to it.
Set up your smoker for reverse searing
While your meat is in the fridge, you can start prepping the smoker. Follow the directions of the manufacturer to set it to a temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need to keep this temperature as steady as possible so that the tri-tip cooks evenly and gradually.
Just like brisket, this is a beefy cut, so you should pick smoking wood which will help add flavor to the meat for the relatively short time it will spend in the smoker. The most suitable hardwoods for smoking tri-tip are oak, pecan, or hickory. They will infuse the meat with a strong flavor but without overpowering it, as the tri-tip takes only about 1-2 hours to cook in a smoker.
If you prefer fruitwoods, keep in mind that they are more delicate, and the short smoking time may not be enough for the flavors to properly penetrate the meat.
Our recommendation is to combine a few chunks of hickory wood with oak lump charcoal like the Royal Oak for smoking the tri-tip.
How to smoke the tri-tip?
Take the meat out of the bag, and pat it down with paper towels to dry it and remove the excess liquid.
You can then proceed to season the meat with a dry rub of your choice or use some kosher salt, powder garlic, and coarse ground pepper. Make sure you sprinkle the rub thoroughly and then run it in the meat.
When the smoker has reached 250 degrees F, you can place the tri-tip inside it. Keep it in until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. You can monitor the temperature by using a reliable meat thermometer.
Once the desired doneness is reached, take the tri-tip out and cover it with aluminum foil.
Now that the meat is resting, you can get ready for the final step – the searing.
When it comes time for searing the tri-tip?
Set the grill at a temperature of 500 degrees Fahrenheit at direct heat. If you don’t have a suitable gas or charcoal grill with direct heating, you can use a cast iron pan and the stovetop for the searing.
While some smokers can be used as direct heat cookers, others cannot. Or, if you have a suitable grill, you can use it for the searing only as it will take minimal quantities of fuel to reach searing temperatures. One such grill is the Kamado-style Char-Griller Charcoal grill.
Proceed to grill the smoked tri-tip on both sides in order to achieve beautiful sear marks and so that the flavors are all sealed inside it.
Sear the tri-tip until its internal temperature reaches 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Let the tri-tip rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving it. After 10 minutes are over, the temperature of the meat should be 135 degrees Fahrenheit – which is the perfect medium-rare internal temperature for succulent tri-tip.
One important detail about tri-tip is that the cut consists of two different muscle grain patterns, so make sure that you cut the meat at the point where the two patterns meet and then proceed to slice each part – always against the grain (perpendicular to the grain).
How to serve the tri-tip?
The reverse sear tri-tip can be served as a roast or steak, or you can make tri-tip sandwiches, French dip, and even salads with it.
It is versatile and can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes and ways. Best of all, you can freeze the leftovers and enjoy them in the future as well.
Our favorite recipe for reverse-seared tri-tip
Tri-tip – one 2-3 lbs. cut
A bottle of the marinade of your choice
Your preferred dry BBQ rub, seasoning or kosher salt, granulated garlic, and pepper for the seasoning
Suitable hardwood chunks or charcoal lumps for smoking (oak, pecan, and hickory are the most suitable hardwoods for tri-tip)
Step-by-step instructions for reverse sear tri-tip
- Trim any surface fat and silver skin from the tri-tip
- Place the meat in a ziplock bag and add a bottle of your preferred marinade. Try to remove as much air as possible and seal it
- Let the meat marinate in the fridge for 1-2 hours
- Get the smoker ready by preheating it to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, add the hardwood of your choice
- Take the meat out of the marinade and dry it with paper towels
- Apply your preferred BBQ rub, or season the meat with kosher salt, ground pepper, and some granulated garlic, and press it into the meat with your hand open
- Let the meat sit for up to 30 minutes at room temperature
- Place it in the smoker and let it smoke until its internal temperature reaches 110 degrees Fahrenheit
- Take it out of the smoker and tent it with aluminum foil, and let it rest
- Heat up the grill or stovetop to 500 degrees Fahrenheit
- Sear the meat on both sides until the internal temperature reaches 125 degrees Fahrenheit, and it gets beautiful grill marks
- Let the roast rest for 10 minutes until it reaches 135 degrees Fahrenheit, which is medium-rare
- Find where the two different parts of the muscle intersect and cut the meat to separate the two different grain patterns
- Slice each of the two pieces against the grain
- Serve as you prefer, and enjoy!
If you ever end up with some leftover seared tri-tip, make sure to use it for these delicious Tri-Tip cheesesteak sandwiches