So you have just bought a sumptuous tri-tip steak and want to cook it at home. You love the smoked flavor, but the steak is raw and you don’t know how to smoke it at home. Have no fear, we are here to talk you through the whole process.
Tri-tip is a triangular cut of steak, as the name suggests. It is cut from the bottom sirloin subprimal cut and is from a muscle known as the tensor fasciae latae. When the steak is untripped, it generally weighs approximately 5 pounds.
It is a relatively inexpensive and incredibly flavorful cut of meat. The meat is highly marbled with fat, meaning that it remains succulent during cooking.
Tri-tip is also referred to as Newport steak, Santa Maria steak, bottom sirloin tip, triangle steak, and triangle tip. It is believed that the cut has existed since around 1915, and has been commonly known as tri-tip since 1964.
In the Central Valley area and the Central Coast of California, this cut is extremely popular. It is integral to Santa Maria barbecue and the left strip of fat is commonly left on to add flavor.
What do you need to smoke tri-tip?
You should get some kind of spice rub to apply to the exterior of the meat. Generally speaking, smoked tri-tip has a barbecue spice rub applied before cooking.
It is incredibly easy to make a unique spice rub that is flavored to cater to your family’s personal taste. Alternatively, you can purchase a premade spice mix from the store and use this.
You will also need a smoker and a meat thermometer. These are integral to smoking tri-tip at home. The meat thermometer ensures that the meat is cooked correctly and does not end up over- or undercooked.
You should also have some aluminum foil on hand for resting the meat.
What wood should you use to smoke tri-tip?
Tri-tip beef is traditionally cooked using red oak wood as the kindling. This is sometimes referred to as the king of oaks and hardwood. It has a strong flavor, but this does not overpower the natural flavors of the meat.
Other good wood choices are hickory, cherry wood, applewood, and pecan.
To find wood that is suitable for smoking, you should allow it to season before burning. This is a process of slowly drying wood to reduce the moisture content, making it burn better.
This process is traditionally done through air drying, but can also be done in a kiln for a faster result.
The goal is to reduce the moisture content to a maximum of 20% moisture before burning. When the wood has been freshly cut, the moisture content can be up to 50%. Seasoned wood is more efficient and produces far less smoke than burning wet wood.
It also helps to maintain the life and health of your stove and reduces the dirt build-up.
How long should you smoke tri-tip?
The time needed to smoke tri-tip depends on the size of the cut. You should set aside at least 30 minutes of smoking time for every pound of beef.
The best way to ascertain whether your tri-tip is cooked correctly is to use your digital thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the thickest area of your beef.
The internal temperature you are aiming for depends on how you like your beef to be cooked. A rare cut should have an internal temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and a medium-rare should be 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
For a medium steak, aim for 145 degrees Fahrenheit, medium-well is 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and well done should be 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Be aware that well-done steak is much more susceptible to being dry and tough when cooked.
Following smoking, your tri-tip will need to rest for at least 20 minutes before you cut into it. Be sure to allocate time for this resting period too.
How do you smoke tri-tip?
The first thing that you need to do when preparing a tri-tip for smoking is to work out the weight of the cut. This dictates the cooking time and is vital information to know.
We recommend trimming off any excess fat and silverskin (the tough connective tissue) prior to weighing the meat.
Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit while you are preparing the meat. Gently rub the outside of the meat with some olive oil to help the spice rub stick to it.
Grab your barbecue spice rub and generously coat the entire exterior surface of your tri-tip. If you have a digital thermometer with a remote, you can insert the probe into the thickest section of your tri-tip now. If not, skip over this step.
Work out the cooking time according to the weight of your tri-tip. Let’s say ours weighs 3.5 pounds. This means that the cooking time will be roughly 105 minutes, or 1 and ¾ hours.
It is wise to keep an eye on the internal temperature of the meat throughout the cooking process.
We recommend taking the meat out of the smoker when the temperature measurement is 5 degrees below what you are aiming for. This is because the tri-tip continues to cook as it rests due to the residual heat.
When you are getting close to the end of the cooking period, preheat your oven’s broiler. Take the tri-tip out of your smoker and broil for 5-6 minutes, until there is a brown crust all around the outside.
Grab some aluminum foil and wrap the meat tightly in it, leaving no gaps. Place the meat to one side and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.
When you are ready to serve, unwrap the aluminum foil. Thinly slice the cut of beef across the grain, as this will give you the most tender slices.
If you have cooked your tri-tip early and want it to stay warm for later, a good hack is to keep it wrapped in the foil. Place in an empty cooler and close the lid – this will keep the meat warm for an additional hour or two.