Certain cuts of beef are just magical. I know, I know. It sounds cheesy, but hear me out on this one.
Tri tip is one of my favorite cuts of meat. When treated properly, they can yield some of the most tendor, flavorful, and juicy bites of beef money can buy. There are a variety of ways and methods to prepare tri-tip and each of them yield different results.
Today, we are focusing on the infamous reverse sear tri tip.
Reverse Sear Tri Tip
Let's say you want a couple of things from your finished tri tip. You want it to be perfectly cooked, have as much flavor as possible, and you want every bite to be juicy and delicious. Right? It's all within reach my friends.
I recommend the reverse sear method to the majority of folks who want to tackle this incredible cut of protein. The reverse sear is the process of smoking or cooking a protein at a low temperature to bring the internal temperature of the protein up slowly and evenly and then finishing the cook by searing the meat to unlock the benefits of the Maillard Reaction. The crust from searing not only locks the moisture inside of the meat, but it caramelizes the proteins and enhances the flavor.
An example of this process would be to smoke a tri tip at 225°F for around 90 minutes or so depending on the size of the roast. Not only is this a chance for the protein to absorb smoke and increase the flavor but it is a controlled environment that cooks the protein evenly. this is ideal for large cuts of meat like tri tip, tomahawk ribeye, and even double-cut porkchops.
Once the steak hits the desired target internal temperature (usually 10 degrees below the finishing temperature), you remove the protein from the heat source and prepare to finish the cooking process by searing the meat.
There are many ways to sear a tri tip and many are delicious. I highly recommend experimenting and seeing what you like best. I have two personal favorite ways to sear meat. I almost always cook with charcoal or wood - I have nothing against pellet smokers, but I enjoy the process of cooking with fire. This means when I prepare my cooker for a reverse sear, I maintain two zones: indirect zone for smoking and direct, which is a zone of the grill directly exposed to the heat source. This allows me to simply move the protein from indirect heat to direct when I'm ready to sear. It's simple, easy, and effective.
My second favorite method is to sear the protein with a cast iron skillet. If your smoker is large enough, you can heat your cast iron while you are cooking the protein. Why do I love this method? It's simple! I can sear the protein with butter, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. What more can you ask for? This method is very simple as well. Heat the cast iron over high heat, melt the butter, add the tri tip, garlic, and herbs and sear each side of the steak for 2-4 minutes. Easy, effective, delicious.
Why we love the reverse sear for tri tip
- Easy to do and easier to repeat! The reverse sear is not a pro-level method, in fact, I would argue it is the most beginner-friendly method out there.
- Layers of flavor! Tri tip greatly benefits from a marinade or dry rub (see two recipes linked in recipe card below), these flavors are only deepened with the right smoke profile, and all of it comes together beautifully with a perfectly-executed sear.
- The smoking process cooks your steak evenly. It is the best approach for cooking large cuts of meat uniformly, making the end bite just as delicious as the center.
- In crust we trust! Sear that steak. The sear locks in moisture and adds the final layer of flavor to this incredible cut of meat.
Dry rub or marinade for tri tip?
For me, it depends on what I'm making! If I am wanting to make tri-tip tacos or use the meat as part of a great recipe, I will dry rub the protein. If I am wanting the tri-tip to be the star of the show with my meal? I marinade. At the end of the day, there is no right answer here as everyone's preferences vary.
Besides, cooking is an inexhaustible hobby and the joy is in the journey and the memories you create with your loved ones as you gather around the table. Find your method and master it!
How long do you smoke a tri tip for reverse sear?
To smoke a tri tip for reverse sear, the trick is to run the smoker low and slow to bring the internal temperature of the tri tip up evenly. We recommend running your smoker in the 225 degrees Fahrenheit range. Most folks we speak with are after a medium-rare doneness, which means we recommend smoking the tri tip at 225°F for 90 minutes or until the internal temperature of meat is around 120°F.
How to reverse sear tri tip
Season the meat. Season or marinade the meat a minimum of 3-4 hours before smoking. For best results, prepare the meat 24 hours before smoking for maximum flavor
Select your wood or pellets. Curious about which woods to use? Check out our guide here to learn more. We recommend oak, hickory, pecan, or mesquite for tri-tip.
Preheat your smoker to 225°F to cook with indirect heat.
Smoke the protein around 90 minutes and check the temperature. You will want to pull the meat within 10 degrees of your desired doneness. For example; pull the protein at 120°F if your target is a Medium-rare finish.
Sear the meat with your desired method. We often cook tri-tip on our kettle so we will move the meat from the indirect heat to directly over the charcoal to sear and finish the meat. If you're using a pellet grill, remove protein and set aside, increase temperature of your smoker to 450°F and return protein to grill and sear each side evenly until your achieve your desired doneness. Or, you can sear using a preheated case iron skillet over high heat.
Let it rest after searing the meat for 10 minutes. Slice the tri-tip using our recommended method.