This is a phenomenal two ingredient Smoked Santa Maria Tri-Tip recipe. The first part of the recipe is a low-and-slow cook, and the second part is a hot searing. You’ll love the flavors!
🍽️ Why This Works
Two Ingredients | Seriously, just two! That is my favorite kind of meal! Choose the same seasoning and Grill Tri Tip instead of smoking it for your next bbq.
Hands-Off | This recipe is very forgiving and doesn’t require a lot of attention. With 5 minutes of prep time and low temperature smoking, you’ll have plenty of time to get other projects done!
Tri Tip: We signed up for a Butcher Box delivery and were fortunate enough to have this come. It is a triangular shape and comes from the “tip” of the sirloin.
Smoked Pepper: I had some bourbon barrel smoked Malabar pepper I was dying to use. The flavors smelled so good!
What Is Tri Tip?
Tri Tip is a triangular cut of beef located in the lower part of the sirloin primal cut. This small muscle called the tensor fasciae latae is on the lean side and tender at the same time, if cooked properly.
A whole untrimmed tri tip weighs up to 5 pounds and includes a layer of fat and another layer of silver skin. The trimmed version, which is the one usually available in grocery stores and at the butcher, weighs 2-3 pounds.
The Santa Maria style is a very popular smoked tri tip recipe as the simple seasoning perfectly complements this flavorful roast.
Step One: Heat your grill to 200-225 degrees. This will be a low-and-slow recipe to start, so set up the grill for indirect heat. I added the plate setter to the Kamado grill.
Step Two: Add wood chips to the grill. I used a Hickory, as the strong flavor complements the beef. If you aren’t sure about meat/wood pairing, make sure to check out the Smoking Cheat Sheet as a great guide.
Step Three: Prepare the dry rub and transfer to a small bowl. I used a bourbon smoked peppercorn, but the texture was more coarse than I wanted. I put it in the food processor and pulsed it a few times, but it didn’t grind down to the level I wanted, so I broke out the coffee grinder. That worked perfectly!
Step Four: Coat the entire tri tip with the black pepper (or whatever rub you choose). Make sure to get all sides.
Step Five: Place the tri tip roast directly on the grill grates. Smoke it for about 30 minutes and then check the temperature to see how far it has come. Temps can raise quickly and you don’t want to overcook the meat. Remember that it’s all about the temperature, not necessarily about the amount of time on the grill.
Step Six: Remove the tri tip when the temperature is about 10 degrees lower than the desired end temperature (see below for doneness guidelines).
Note: A little goes a long way. A small trickle of smoke is extremely effective for a longer grill time. Too much, and it will become overpowering!
Step Seven: Set up the smoker for direct heat. Bring the temperature up to 400-425ºF and place the tri tip back on the grill to sear for 3-4 minutes on each side. This will give you a flavorful crusty bark.
Remove the meat, bring it inside and loosely wrap in foil then let it rest for 10-15 minutes. The temperature at this point will be dialed in!
Note: Do not skip the resting phase. It will lengthen the total time but it’s worth it. During rest, the juices are redistributed and if you slice the steak too soon, they’ll leak.
⏲️How Long To Smoke Tri Tip
As I already mentioned, the cook time depends on the internal temperature of the tri tip. The value will be different depending on your preferred level of doneness.
Below you’ll find internal temperatures at which you need to remove the steak from heat for both smoking and searing stages.
Smoking the tri tip should end when the tri tip’s internal temp is lower than the target temperature by 5-10 degrees. Use the guidelines below to pull it off the grill based on how done you like it:
|Doneness||Internal Temperature (ºF)|
The searing part should be fast, no longer than 3-4 minutes per side. The temperatures below are the final internal temperature your tri tip should have at the end of the cooking process:
|Doneness||Internal Temperature (ºF)|
Note: For the best flavor and texture cook the tri tip as you would any other steak: medium-rare to medium. It can easily become chewy if overcooked.
❗ Expert Tips
Trim the excess fat off of the meat before rubbing on the pepper. This can take 5-10 minutes, but it is worth it. We like to use kitchen shears as it can cut really close to the meat although a sharp knife will also get the job done.
Monitor the temperature with a wireless meat thermometer. This is the best way to make sure that you end up with the desired final temperature.
Use whatever rub you like or create your own tri tip seasoning. This is more about learning the “how to” rather than the actual use of the Bourbon Smoked Peppercorn. We didn’t use salt for this one but you totally dry brine the tri tip while you get the smoker ready. You can even get fancy and go for kosher salt.
If you choose to reverse sear the tri tip steak in a cast iron skillet, it’s a good idea to also use some butter. The milk proteins will help the steak brown faster, and get the nice crust we all want.
In a hurry? Try this grilled marinated tri tip that’s ready in about 15 minutes. This way you get to relax and spend more time with your friends and family!
Save some of the tri tip and grind it up to make nachos! Smoked Tri Tip Nachos were amazing! We test out a lot of our recipes into secondary ones and this is one that will be produced into a post soon.
The smoked peppercorn sent these nachos into the stratosphere. We ground up some tri tip, added some seasoning to it and then piled on a huge sheet pan of nachos. There wasn’t a chip left on the pan.
Our super simple seasoning consisted only of ground Bourbon peppercorn. It’s great if you want to enjoy the natural flavor of the meat or you’re on a low sodium diet.
Tri tip pairs well with other spices, though. Try our all-purpose dry rub or create a different combination for unexpected results!
These ingredients are great for grilled meats and tri tip makes no exception:
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Chili powder
- Brown sugar
Plan on 30 minutes per pound. This assumes an indirect heat. It is best to use a meat thermometer to determine when to remove it.
Absolutely! The hot sear will seal the out layer of the meat, and provide a wonderful flavor while keeping the juices locked inside. Make sure to keep the grill at 400-425 when searing.
The key is the way you slice it. There are two general rules to follow: 1) Cut against the grain (Note that the grain changes direction at the seam in the meat), and 2) Slice thinly. Follow those two tips for a perfect cut!
Both are flavorful cuts and there’s no definitive winner in the brisket vs tri tip competition. Brisket is larger and fattier than tri tip. It’s also less tender and requires a much longer smoking time of 12 hours of more, compared to tri tip which is ready in about 1 hour.
Choose brisket if you want to feed a crowd and enjoy an incredibly rich, smoky flavor. Go for the tri tip if you want a juicy steak that smokes very fast.
Tried this recipe? Please leave a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page. You can also stay in touch with me through social media by following me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook!
Smoked Santa Maria Tri Tip
- 2 lbs Santa Maria Tri Tip
- ¼ cup Rub We used a ground Bourbon Peppercorn
- Heat the grill to 200-225 degrees. This will be a low-and-slow recipe to start, so set up the grill for indirect heat. I added the plate setter to my grill.
- Add wood chips to the grill. I used a Hickory as the strong flavor will complement the beef.
- Trim off the fat from the Tri Tip. We suggest using kitchen shears as they will get close ad it is really easy.
- Prepare the dry rub. If the rub is more coarse than you like, put it in the food processor and pulse it a few times. A dedicated coffee grinder works well too.
- Coat the entire tri tip with the pepper (or whatever rub you choose). Make sure to get all sides.
- Place the meat on the grill and set the timer for about 30 minutes. I suggest you go out to check to see how it is going and gauge a first temperature check. Smokers heat up, go down and cooking is gauged by temperature, not necessarily 100% by time. Check early so you aren't disappointed.
- Remove the tri tip when the temperature is about 10 degrees lower than the desired end temperature.
- Set up the grill for direct heat. Bring the temperature up to 400-425 and place the tri tip back on the grill to sear for 3-4 minutes on each side.
- Remove the meat, bring it inside and tent it is foil to let it rest for 10-15 minutes. The temperature at this point will be dialed in!