If you’re a brisket lover, you have to try making smoked tri tip like a brisket. It’s higher protein and lower fat but still juicy and tender, nearly passing the iconic brisket finger test. You get the crusty bark, perfect smoke ring, and flavors that honestly don’t make sense for a lean cut of beef like tri tip.
This would be the perfect experiment for the next time you are feeding a smaller crowd or reigning in your diet after the holidays. It could also be a stepping stone to smoking a brisket if you’ve to take on the challenge, as a lot of the skills will carry over.
I’ll walk you through everything below—from preparing the tri tip, seasoning, smoking, wrapping, resting, and slicing.
This recipe was inspired by Matt Pittman of Meat Church BBQ and his video on smoking tri tip like a brisket. If you have a Traeger, I’m sure you’re familiar with his work. If not, definitely check out his content to learn more about smoking and barbecuing.
Preparing the Tri Tip and Brisket Rub
Try to get your hands on a prime tri tip roast, which will have more marbling than choice or select grades to keep your smoked tri tip moist and flavorful. Other grades should still be tender and actually a bit leaner, but the prime roast will have the most flavor.
When it comes to preparing the tri tip, you’ll want to remove the fat cap, excess hard fat, and any silver skin.
Homemade Brisket Rub
I put together a rub to mimic the flavor of one of our favorite Austin food trucks, Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ. In a video with Eater, owner Miguel Vidal gives a brief rundown of his process. They use a traditional salt and pepper rub in tandem with an in-house red rub (they also sell it here) that’s a blend of chili powder, sugar, garlic, cayenne, paprika, and other ingredients.
Additionally, the rub calls for a little ground coffee, which I think is an underrated beef rub ingredient that really adds a noticeable punch in small amounts.
If you have a go-to brisket rub already in your pantry, go with that.
How to Smoke a Tri Tip
Smoking low and slow is definitely an atypical cooking method for tri tip. But trust me, going low and slow in the smoker creates a magical finished product.
For the first part of the cook, smoke the tri tip at 250ºF until it reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF to 170ºF or until you’re satisfied with the bark. If your tri tip stalls in the 150ºF range but has been on the smoker for 3-4 hours, it’s probably formed a great bark and picked up enough smoke.
Once you reach this point, it’s time to wrap the smoked tri tip and finish the cook.
Foil vs Butcher Paper
I used foil, but butcher paper would work as well. Foil is easier to work with, but it does create a softer bark (more on this in a minute) and prevents the meat from taking on any more smoke flavor. Butcher paper, on the other hand, can be tricky to wrap with but creates a crunchier bark and creates a smokier finished product.
To learn more about wrapping and bark formation, check out this post from Traeger on how and when to wrap brisket.
Matt used butter to wrap his smoked tri tip. The extra fat helps keep the leaner tri tip moist. I used beef tallow instead of butter like the legendary Franklin BBQ is rumored to wrap with.
As long as you’re using a prime tri tip, I think you could get away without the added fat.
Once you’ve wrapped the tri tip, it should take another 90-120 minutes at 250ºF to finish cooking. Just like brisket, you’re looking for an expert-recommended internal temperature of 203ºF and for the tri tip to be probe tender.
As for the bark texture when wrapping in foil, a way to combat this is popping the tri tip back on the smoker for 5-10 minutes after unwrapping at the end of the cook. That will remove any excess moisture and create a firmer bark.
Similar to brisket, the rest period after coming off the grill is still super important with smoked tri tip. Though you don’t need to rest as long. Tenting with foil for about 30 minutes should be plenty of time for the proteins to relax and juices to settle before slicing.
How to Slice Tri Tip
The grain pattern of tri tip runs in two different directions, making it a little tricky to properly slice. Be sure to take note (and possibly a photo) of which way the muscle fibers run before seasoning and smoking your roast.
Here’s a little graphic to help guide you through carving a smoked tri tip:
Take a look at your first slice to double check you’re going in the right direction. If you see muscle fibers running in the same direction, change course!
And as a final tip, go with thin slices for best results. The slice pictured below, for example, is a bit too thick.
And that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Serve your sliced Traeger tri tip with the remaining juices and your favorite sides. You could also chop the tri tip and toss with a little BBQ sauce for chopped beef sandwiches. Or use leftovers to make something like our Texas brisket fried rice or leftover pork tenderloin fried cauliflower rice.
Let us know how you end up serving yours and what you thought about the recipe in a review. And if you have any questions about this recipe, drop them in the comments below.
- 3 1/2 pound Prime Sirloin Tri Tip Roast, excess fat trimmed
- 2 Tablespoons Beef Tallow or Butter (optional)
For the Seasoning Rub
- 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Black Pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Ground Coffee
- 1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 teaspoons Chili Powder
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- Prepare the tri tip by trimming away the fat cap as well as any hard fat and silver skin. Mix the rub together and season the tri tip. Set aside at room temperature while the smoker preheats to 250ºF with the lid closed for 15 minutes.
- Smoke the tri tip until it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF to 170ºF or until you're happy with the bark that's formed on its exterior, about 3-4 hours.
- Place two sheets of heavy duty foil or butcher paper on a flat surface and add the smoked tri tip. Optional: Place dollops of the beef tallow or slices of butter on top of the tri tip for added moisture. Tightly wrap the tri tip and place it back on the smoker.
- Cook until the tri tip is probe tender and the internal temperature reaches 203ºF, about another 2 hours.
- Unwrap the tri tip and if the bark looks a little moist, you can place it back on the smoker, unwrapped, for 5-10 minutes to firm.
- Tent the finished tri tip with foil for 30 minutes before slicing. Run the remaining juices through a fine mesh strainer or fat separator before placing in a small pot to keep warm on the grill while the meat rests.
Nutrition facts calculated using the USDA food database entry for 3 pounds (after trimming fat) of beef, bottom sirloin, tri-tip roast, separable lean only, trimmed to 0" fat, all grades, raw.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Servings Serving Size: 4 oz + remaining juices
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 280Total Fat: 13gCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 36g