If you follow me on Instagram, you will see tri-tip show up on my feed often. It’s definitely in my top three of meats to barbecue. It is the first meat I ever smoked. I’ve prepared it in different ways and my favorite (right now) is to reverse sear it. Before I get into that process, let me answer a question you may have…
What is a tri-tip?
The tri-tip is a cut of beef that comes from the bottom sirloin on the cow. It is boneless and tender. As with other cuts of beef, you will want to look for some good marbling (small streaks of interwoven fat) in the meat. There are three different grains in this cut, which can make slicing against the grain a little tricky if you only slice it the same direction the whole way.
This cut of beef gets it’s origins in Oakland, California where a butcher started selling it whole in the 1950s. Prior to this, the tri-tip was usually grinded up into hamburger meat or sliced up for steaks. Becoming popular on the central California coast in the Santa Maria area, the preferred method of cooking this cut was to grill over an open flame from red oak wood and finish at medium rare. There are deviations of how it is prepared nowadays and the reverse sear method is one of them.
What is this “reverse sear” you speak of?
Before we get into revere sear, let’s make sure we cover what it means to sear. Searing is when you cook something over direct, high heat to get that nice, browned crust and then put it in the oven to cook at a lower temp until done. Reverse sear is the opposite of that in which you cook the meat low and slow first THEN sear to finish it off.
I prefer to reverse sear by smoking the meat to get that smoke flavor infused and then crank the high heat to finish it off with that nice, flavorful crust.
The beginning of the process
When preparing the tri-tip, you’ll want to take a boning knife and remove any silver skin that exists on the meat. You will usually find silver skin on the bottom. To remove, barely put the tip of the blade of the knife underneath the silver skin and push across until the tip of the blade appears from under that surface. Proceed with a gentle, sawing motion down the length of the silver skin until it is removed. Keep in mind there will likely be more than one spot on the tri-tip with a patch of this filmy substance.
Once that is done, simply take your favorite seasoning/rub and apply. I like to go light on the rub when it comes to tri-tip because I like the flavor of this cut of beef to stand out and not overpower it. Feel free to let the meat sit at room temp for a little while (beef is okay for this) and let the spices sweat into the meat. If you are going keto, choose a rub with minimal to no sugar. Most rubs are like this, but check the label to be sure.
Smoking the good stuff
Now that your grill/smoker is up to 250F (I’m assuming you’ve done this already, but you know what they say about those who assume…), simply put it on the grill, close the lid, and let it ride. Since tri-tip cooks like a steak, make sure to monitor the temp regularly. You can do this by using an instant read thermometer, like my Thermapen Mk4 made by Thermoworks, or by using a wired probe device that will track the temps for the duration of the cook, such as the Smoke (also by Thermoworks) so you can track both temps in the grill and in the food.
Make sure when checking temps in any meat that you go into the middle of the thickest portion. That way, you know it will be thoroughly cooked to the temp you desire.
Pull the tri-tip off when internal temp hits around 125-127F.
When the meat is around 90-100F, start to get a grill or stove top burner going and your cast iron skillet heated. Some folks prefer to sear on the grill grates and get those nice grill marks, but I love to sear in a cast iron skillet. I want that Maillard reaction (the process of amino acids and reducing sugars reacting to form that crust on the food and give it extra flavor) to take place on the whole surface of the meat, not just the parts that touch the grates.
Not only do I like to use a cast iron skillet for searing the whole surface of the meat, but also because I can easily give the crust even more flavor by putting such flavor-boosting ingredients such as butter, garlic, and rosemary in the pan and let it cook in.
For the finish, I like my steaks medium rare. With that in mind, I take the tri-tip out of the pan (after searing on both sides) when internal meat temp hits around 135F. Keep in mind that there will be some carry over cooking going on, meaning the meat will likely rise a few degrees while resting.
Rest and slice
When it comes to tri-tip, I like to let it rest about 10-15 minutes before slicing. Doing this will allow the meat to relax and let the juices build up, meaning more flavor.
Slicing the tri-tip against the grain can be a little tricky. Remember how earlier in this post I said that this cut of meat has three different grains?
While there are three different grains, one of them is at the very tip of the elongated portion of the tri-tip, so don’t worry about that part. I usually cut that part off as a sample for myself (sampling the meat before serving it is what we barbecuers like to call “pitmaster’s privilege”). The main section to watch for the switch is by the corner opposite of the crook in the meat. You should be able to see the grains switching directions around that way. Slice right down the middle of that as to separate the meat into two and slice against the respective grains.
If you had a hard time envisioning what I was just talking about, this 33 second video by Thermoworks gives a visual explanation much better than I can type. Enjoy.
- 1 tri-tip (1.5-2.5 lbs)
- 3 Tbsp rub/seasoning
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1/4 t garlic, minced
- 1 sprig rosemary
- Preheat grill/smoker for 250F on indirect heat over pecan wood
- Trim silver skin off of tri-tip. Apply rub on both sides.
- Place meat on grill/smoker. Let cook at indirect heat for at least an hour before checking temps.
- Once internal meat hits temp around 90-100F, get cast iron skillet ready for searing
- When tri-tip reaches temps around 125F, go to skillet and put butter, garlic, and rosemary in. Remove tri-tip from grill/smoker and put in skillet, searing on both sides for about 2 minutes each or until internal temp hits 135F.
- Remove from skillet and let rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing
- Feast and enjoy!
- Pecan and/or hickory wood is my preferred wood to smoke tri-tip with, but feel free to substitute for whichever smoking wood you prefer
- You can sear in the cast iron skillet either indoors or outdoors, over a stove top range or another grill.
- Remember that the grain of the tri-tip changes directions in the middle of the meat. Slice down the area where the two directions meat (usually in the area between the point and crook)
Serving Size:5 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 200 Total Fat: 10.5g