Updated: Apr 5, 2021
I was trying to decide what to smoke last weekend, aimlessly browsing the meat selection at Kroger, when I spotted a trimmed Tri-Tip calling my name, so I picked it up. I prefer untrimmed with the fat cap on it (Fat = Flavor), but beggars can't be choosers.
I'm new to the Tri-Tip game, only smoking my first one last year. it's generally available at Whole Foods at a premium price, and occasionally I can find it at Kroger but otherwise, it hard to find where I'm located in Ohio. Apparently, it's more prevalent in the western part of the U.S.
So what's a Tri-Tip?
The Tri-Tip is a triangular cut of meat that comes from the bottom part of the Sirloin. There are several origin stories for the Tri-Tip over the years. The cut was once known as the "triangular part" of the loin butt as early as 1915. A butcher in New York City, Jack Ubaldi, who was known for popularizing the Tri-Tip, marketed it as a "Newport steak" in 1957 because he saw a late-night ad for Newport cigarettes. The half-moon logo reminded him of the Tri-Tip's triangle shape, so he christened it "Newport steak."
In the late 1950s, another butcher at a Santa Maria California Safeway had bottom Sirloin originally intended for grinding into hamburger meat, decided to cook it, and renamed the Tri-Tip the "Santa Maria Steak." Santa Maria-style Tri-Tip has become the most popular method of cooking this cut steak.
How to prepare a Tri-Tip?
There are several ways you can cook a Tri-Tip; it's such a versatile cut of meat. You can cook it hot and fast like any steak on the grill or smoke it. When you smoke it you could treat it like brisket and cook it until you reach an internal temp of 205 degrees or do a reverse sear. For my cook last weekend I did a reverse sear, very similar to how I reverse sear all of my steaks.
I prefer the "Santa Maria Style," which consists of seasoning the meat with salt, pepper, and garlic; it's pretty simple. I've found that this method pairs well with smoking. The first thing I do when preparing a Tri-Tip is a dry brine overnight. Dry brining is done by simply seasoning the meat liberally with salt and placing it on a cooling rack in the fridge overnight. The beef's moisture draws in the salt, creating a salt solution that deeply seasons the meat. After the dry brine process is complete and I'm ready to cook, I season the steak with black pepper and garlic powder
I set my Pit Boss Vertical smoker temp to 250 degrees with Applewood pellets (you can modify this recipe for any smoker). I then smoke the Tri-Tip to an internal temperature of 120 degrees. I highly recommend using a wireless thermometer like the Meater Plus. After the Tri-Tip reaches the 120 internal temp, I pull it from the smoker and sear it on my Weber Spirit II gas grill. It's a straightforward method that makes a so-called less than desirable cut of meat taste great!
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