This ultra-flavorful Smoked Tri-Tip is first cooked low and slow for about an hour in the smoker and then seared over a super hot grill. The goal of this reverse-sear method is to first infuse the wonderful smoky flavor into the meat while perfectly cooking it through. It is then quickly seared on the outside for a delicious crust.

Growing up on California’s Central Coast, tri-tip steak has always been a grilling staple. Though tri-tip is much less popular — and sometimes even unavailable — in other areas, it’s a cut that you want to get familiar with and make part of your regular grilling menu. It’s a delicious and versatile cut, and the reverse sear method in this recipe makes it easy to master.

Tri-tip was popularized on the Central California Coast and is even known as Santa Maria steak, for the city where Spanish ranchers first made tri-tip a mainstay of their barbecues. And this tri-tip just tastes like it came from California. Sitting next to an oak tree, rolling hills and your favorite glass of wine. A perfectly cooked steak, seasoned throughout, with a perfect smoky flavor. Not many things are better than that.

And if you are ever in the Santa Maria area (or even just passing through); you have to try their tri-tip.

A Little About Tri Tip

Tri-tip, also known as triangle steak, comes from the triangular bottom tip of the sirloin, a cut that weighs about 1.5 to 2.5 pounds. Prior to the 1950s, tri-tip was often ground into hamburgers or sold as stew beef, but since it’s lean and tasty tri-tip is becoming more and more popular. Aside from tri-tip, this cut goes by many names: “Santa Maria Steak”, “Newport Steak”, and “the California Cut”.

If you love tri-tip, you are going to love Picanha steak, which is the most popular steak cut in Brazil.

applying seasoning to tri tip

What You’ll Need

  • A Tri-Tip steak – Buy choice grade at minimum, and prime grade is worth the extra money. The beautiful marbling you get with prime makes for even more flavor. If you really want to splurge, try some American Wagyu beef tri-tip from Snake River Farms.
  • A Simple Tri-Tip Rub – While many Tri-Tip recipes call for marinades, high-quality meats need fewer flavor additives to be delicious. For this traditional recipe, Kosher Salt, ground black pepper and a little garlic powder are really all you need.
  • A Smoker that can also grill to sear it, or a smoker and a cast iron skillet will work great, too.
  • Wood for SmokeWood Chunks, Chips or Pellets; depending on your smoker. Red Oak is the most authentic, but I use Post Oak and chunks are available everywhere.
  • Thermoworks Smoke Alarm and Thermapen Instant-Read Thermometer
  • Basting Brush
  • Slicing Knife

How to Smoke Tri-Tip

  1. Season the Tri-Tip: Combine the dry rub ingredients (salt, pepper, garlic powder). Generously season the trimmed tri-tip with the rub on all sides. Allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare the Smoker: Set up your smoker for two-zone or indirect cooking at 225-250°F, using oak wood chunks for smoke flavor.
  3. Smoke the Tri-Tip: Place the seasoned tri-tip on the cooler side of the smoker, away from direct heat. Smoke until the internal temperature reaches 110-115°F, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Sear the Tri-Tip: Remove the tri-tip from the smoker and prepare a hot grill or cast-iron skillet for searing. Brush the tri-tip with oil or butter. Sear for 2 1/2 minutes per side.
  5. Rest and Slice: Remove tri-tip from heat and rest for 10 to 15 minutes. The internal temperature should climb to about 130 to 135° F, for perfect medium-rare.
smoked tri tip cross section

Tips for Cooking Tri-Tip

  • Season the meat with Kosher Salt as soon as you bring it home, even if it’s a few days before cooking. This will allow the salt to penetrate all the way through, making it much more flavorful and tender. Learn more about when to salt meat.
  • Temper the meat with the rub – bringing the meat to room temperature before cooking will make for more even and faster cooking.
  • Reverse sear – Grill low then sear high.
  • Quality meat + quality fire – maintaining the fire and temperature is key for tender tri-tip with the reverse sear method.
  • Study the grain prior to cooking when it is much easier to see the grain direction. Always slice across the grain for the most tender texture.
  • Tri-tip is best when cooked to cooked medium-rare (130 to 135° F)
  • Rest for 15 minutes before slicing. A longer rest is fine too.
  • To get a charcoal smoker super hot for searing; open all the vents and add some more charcoal or wood chunks. Give it time to heat the grates, as those are what really give it the sear.

The Best Wood for Smoking Tri-Tip

Red oak is traditional for grilled Santa Maria tri-tip, which is available on Amazon in chip form. I prefer post oak in larger chunk form, which is readily available locally and online. You can also use hickory or combine the two.

smoked tri tip cross section

Searing The Tri-Tip

Searing the tri-tip is an important step to adding that beautiful crust on the outside of the steak after it is smoked. You have a few options depending on your equipment:

Sear it on a hot grill – with a charcoal grill, you can finish the searing quickly with no fuss. After smoking at a low temp; open all the vents and add some more fuel to get it as hot as possible. Brush some melted butter or oil on the steak before placing it on the grill to promote browning.

Depending on the grill/smoker you are using, you may or may not have the ability to sear the tri-tip after it is cooked. If your smoker can’t get up to a suitable temperature, don’t worry, you can use a heavy bottom skillet.

Sear it in a skillet – This is the best choice if you aren’t able to get your grill super hot. A grill that isn’t hot enough will take too long to sear and overcook the steak. Use a heavy cast iron or carbon steel skillet with some canola oil and a little butter.

Related ->> Once you have your tri-tip, be sure to try our tri-tip sandwich recipe.

At What Temp is Tri Tip Done?

Medium-Rare is the optimal finished temperature is between 130 and 135ºF. This means that you will need to pull the meat from the smoker well below the desired finished temp. Not only will there be some carryover temperature rise, but you will also be searing the meat, raising the temperature. Tri Tip is like a steak with a lot of grain. It doesn’t benefit from overcooking or undercooking. Read more about optimal steak temperatures.

Cooking Tri-Tip in the Oven

While a BBQ smoker is where it’s at; this recipe can also work in the oven. Of course, it won’t get that amazing smoky flavor, but it will still be delicious. Just roast the tri-tip at a low 250° F oven until the internal temperature reaches 110°F. Then quickly sear it on all sides in a very hot cast iron skillet with some butter until the steak is browned.

Another fantastic way is to cook the tri-tip sous vide, which makes it incredibly tender. Or you can make grilled tri-tip cooked entirely on the grill using a two-zone setup.

How to Re-Heat Tri-Tip

Reheating any type of steak that is really meant to be enjoyed more on the medium-rare side is difficult to do. The best answer is to not heat it up and just enjoy it cold. If it must be heated, America’s Test Kitchen recommends placing non-sliced tri-tip on a wire rack in a low 250° F oven until the internal temp reaches 110° F, about 30 minutes.

Sides and Sauces for Tri-Tip

More Delicious Steak Recipes

Love steak? Me too! Here are some other delicious steak recipes to enjoy.

smoked tri tip on cutting board 1

Smoked Tri-Tip

Indulge in a slice of California's ranching legacy with our oak-smoked tri-tip. Slow-cooked to tender perfection, then seared for a mouthwatering crust, it promises bold flavors and succulent juiciness. Ready in just over an hour, it's a savory sensation you will be craving again and again.
4.75 from 4 votes
Print Pin Save Rate
Course: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 6


  • 1 2 1/2 to 3 lbs Whole Beef Tri-Tip , trimmed (preferably prime grade)
  • 4 Oak Wood Chunks (for a charcoal grill)
  • Neutral Oil or Melted Butter

Tri Tip Dry Rub

  • 1 tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 tbsp Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder


  • Mix the salt, pepper and garlic powder in a small bowl, then season on all sides of the tri tip with the rub. Let the seasoned meat sit out for an hour to temper while you prepare the smoker.
  • Set up your smoker for two-zone or indirect cooking and bring the temperature to 225 to 250° F.
  • Place in the tri tip in the smoker furthest away from the heat.
  • Cook until the tri tip's internal temperature is about 110° to 115° F, then remove it from the smoker and place on a baking sheet with a wire cooling rack. This will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Verify the internal temp with an instant-read thermometer.
  • Prepare the grill to sear or heat a cast iron skillet over high heat.
  • Brush some olive oil or melted butter on all sides of the tri tip. Sear for 2 1/2 minutes on the first side, then flip over for another 2 1/2 minutes. Flip back on the first side and rotate 90 degrees for another 2 1/2 minutes. Then back on the second side for 2 1/2 minutes for a total of about 5 minutes per side, 10 minutes total. The internal temperature should climb to a perfect 130° F for medium-rare.
  • Rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving and slicing against the grain.


  • It’s best to salt the tri tip when you bring it home.
  • If the seasoning isn’t sticking, simply drizzle a little oil before seasoning. 
  • This a basic rub that allows the beef and the smoke flavors to shine. Feel free to use whatever rub you prefer. 
  • Sprinkle on some coarse finishing salt on the sliced meat for flavor bombs.

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  1. 5 stars
    Have made a handful of your smoker recipes and this one is another winner. Easy, few ingredients, and ready surprisingly fast. Great option for a weeknight dinner. Used the leftovers to make a steak sandwich.

  2. 4 stars
    I smoked the tri tip following all of the instructions. It was delicious and my hubs loved it but it was a little too done. I’ll try it again and just sear it for 2.5 minutes per side the first time, and skip the 2.5 minutes the second time.

    I smoked it on my Traeger and seared it on my Weber Genesis. I know the Weber gets hotter than other grills.

    1. Glad to hear it was delicious, Carri! A super hot sear can definitely raise the temp. You can also try resting for longer before the sear to so it is already at a cooler temp.

  3. 5 stars
    I have lived in CA my whole life so TriTip is a regular cut of meat for me, but I have never had it smoked.

    I picked up a 3lb cut that was pre-rubbed with SantaMaria seasoning at the local butcher. I smoked it for one hour then grilled it as per the directions. I use the fingertip method to determine doneness so I left it on the grill a little longer than the recipe called for to allow it to reach a perfect medium rare. The flavor of the smoke came through here and there with each bite being different. This ended up with a nice flavor profile but not an overwhelming smokiness.

    The finger tip method =
    hold hand lose and pinch the fatty part of your thumb in your palm with the other hand. This is raw meat.
    Then lightly touch your index finger to the tip of your thumb and pinch the fatty part of your thumb this equals rare meat.
    Next lightly touch the middle finger to the tip of your thumb and again pinch this equals medium rare.
    Lightly touch your ring finger to your thumb and pinch and this equals medium well
    Last lightly touch the tip of your pinky finger to the tip of your thumb and pinch again and this is well done.
    You can compare the firmness from this technique to the firmness of your meat and it will give you the doneness.

    1. Thanks for your great tips on telling doneness without a thermometer. This is a good idea for a separate post. 🙂

      Glad you liked the tri-tip. Now I’m craving some too.

  4. I “discovered” tri-tip several years ago. The first one that I cooked was amazing. I cooked it just like I would a beef tender and it came out VERY similar to a beef tender. Later iterations were not as good (but still acceptable) and I chalked that up to a difference in the meat and then quit using it.’’

    This has inspired me to try it again. Back then, I regularly used a grill and had never heard the term “reverse sear.” Now, I typically smoke meats and then reverse sear them, so this won’t be much different than my current style of cooking.

    Now, all I have to do is see how to get a good tri-tip during the pandemic.

    1. Hey Bob! Yeah, the quality of the meat makes such a difference! If you can find it, buy prime grade and you can check out Snake River Farms or Crowd Cow for the good stuff.

      Reverse sear is pretty magical. And here’s a reverse sear steak recipe that goes even more in-depth on the concept. But for tri-tip, I think doing it on the grill is where it’s at.