Do you want a great BBQ, but don’t want to break the bank on a huge piece of meat or spend all day at the cooker? Cook tri tip! Tri tip is an economical cut that is deliciously beefy. Like skirt steak, you have to make sure you cut it correctly, but it has a much more steak-like texture that is hard to resist. Here at the beginning of grill/BBQ season, it’s a great way to get back into the swing of smoking outdoors if you haven’t been doing any winter cooking. Tri tip is quickly gaining in popularity, so grab one at your local market and be the first to introduce it to your neighbors!
What is the tri tip?
Tri tip is the cow’s tensor faciae latae muscle, which is found at the bottom end of the sirloin, below and in front of the hip of the cow. It is called tri tip in reference to its triangular shape and the fact that it comes from the tip of the sirloin primal. It is sometimes called Santa Maria Steak, but that is actually a specific preparation of this muscle, not the muscle itself.
This cut is a delight because of its lean tenderness, juiciness, flavor, and relatively low cost. Because of its low ratio of connective tissue, it is as tender as—or even more tender than—a strip steak. And juicy? I don’t know if I know a juicier cut, honestly. As I slice this roast after a rest, juice positively pours out of it, and yet the flesh is not dried by moisture loss. With a price point well below that of most steaks, it may offer the best value on the whole cow for steak.
How to cook tri tip
As noted above, the tri-tip is sometimes called a Santa Maria Steak, and that steak is a part of the traditional central-California barbecue. It is great grilled or cooked on a rotisserie, and, judging by the internet, most people roast it in the oven like, well, a roast. Don’t get me wrong, those are all wonderful ideas. But we think one of the best ways to cook this delicious cut of meat is to smoke it. Following the guidelines put forward by Smokingmeat.com and How to BBQ Right, we decided to cook out tri tip a bit lower and slower than you would in an oven to get smoky, rich taste, and then reverse seared the meat on the grill to get those Maillard-browned flavors that we love so much. We set our smoker for 220°F (104°C).
What temperature to cook tri tip to?
No matter how you cook it, this is a cut of meat that you will want to cook like a quality roast or a steak: shoot for 130°–145°F (54°–63°C), and have rosy, juicy tender meat. To make sure we hit this, and are smoking in the appropriate temperature range, we recommend a leave-in probe thermometer like the SmokeTM, with its wide array of available Pro-Series probes.
ThermoWorks-Approved Table of Chef-Recommended Temperatures
|Rare||Medium Rare||Medium||Medium Well||Well Done|
|Beef, Veal & Lamb
Roasts, Steaks & Chops
|120°-130°F (49-54°C)||130°-135°F (54-57°C)||135°-145°F (57-63°C)||145°-155°F (63-68°C)||155°F (68°C) and up|
Slicing tri tip
While the tri tip is a steak-like cut, it has very long muscle fibers, and long muscle fibers mean stringy, chewy steak if you don’t handle them correctly. You have to cut across the grain of the meat fibers to shorten the individual fiber pieces you’ll be eating. Look at the clip below for tips on cutting the tri tip.
As you can see the grain of the meat runs radially from the ‘outside’ corner. To deal with this, we recommend cutting from the said corner toward the crook of the meat, then slice each piece against its grain. You could start at the thinnest corner and cut perpendicular to the grain as you move along, adjusting your knife angle a little bit each time, but the two-chunks method really is easier to get slices that are perpendicular to the grain.
Smoked tri tip recipe
- 1 Tri tip roast, trimmed
- 2-3 Tbsp Dijon or brown mustard
- 4-5 Tbsp your favorite BBQ rub, or a 50/50 mix of salt and black pepper
- Heat your smoker to 220°F (104°C).
- Rub the roast all over with the mustard and then the rub.
- Insert the penetration probe into the tri tip and set the meat probe for 110°F (52°C) for medium-rare or 115°F (54°C) for medium. Yes, those temps are low, but we’ll be searing it and raising the temps on the grill.
- Set up the Smoke’s air probe, with the high alarm set to 245°F (118°C) and the low alarm set to195°F (91°C).
- Place the meat in the smoker.
- Close the smoker and cook the tri tip.
- Keep an eye on the temperature, and when the meat temp hits about 90°F (32°C), preheat a grill to very hot for reverse searing.
- When your meat alarm sounds, verify the temperature with a Thermapen® Mk4 to be sure the meat has reached the temperature you are looking for.
- Place the tri tip on the grill for a few minutes on each side to give it some yummy Maillard browning and caramelization.
- Check the internal temp with the Thermapen again, to be sure you end up at 130°–135°F (54–57°C) for medium-rare or 135°–145°F (57–63°C) for medium.
- Allow the roast to rest for 10 minutes to allow carryover cooking to finish and for the proteins to reabsorb the juices in the meat.
- Slice your tri tip and enjoy! In this case, we have made a superior steak sandwich, served with potato chips because BBQ season has begun!
When it comes a quality cut at a great price, you cannot beat the tri tip. This beef cut is sweeping through the BBQ and grilling world—and with good cause! Try one this weekend, and use your Smoke and Thermapen Mk4 to make sure you get the very best out of this tasty, tender piece of meat!
Read more about tri tip at Smoked Tri-tip Roast by SmokingMeat.com
and at Smoked Tri Tip Recipe by HowToBBQRight.com