Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time6 hours
Skill Leveleasy

Smoking a Tri-Tip like a brisket has become one of our favorite things to smoke. It’s perfect if you’re cooking for a small group and looking to save a few bucks. I still love a good reverse-seared medium rare Tri-Tip, but this method has quickly become a fan favorite.

Can I make my own rub instead of purchasing one?

Absolutely! I'm a huge fan of Meat Church rubs, but you can use common household seasonings to make this brisket style tri-tip. Here's a good combination to get you started:

  • 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Lawry's seasoned salt (using another brand is fine)

Slice against the grain

The grain runs in 2 different directions in Tri-Tip (see Tri-Tip slicing diagram below), which will feel familiar if you've ever sliced a Brisket. You want to make sure you are always slicing against the grain and not with it to ensure the most tender slices. You can use the tri-tip slicing diagram below for see where to make your slices.

How To Slice Tri-Tip Diagram

What is Tri-Tip?

Tri-Tip is a famous cut with a triangular shape that comes from the bottom portion of the sirloin of a steer. Tri-Tip is a great economical alternative for those who crave the tasty smokiness of a Brisket but don’t want to break the bank nor end up with a lot of leftover meat. If cooked correctly, it's a deliciously tender piece of meat that is hard to resist.

It’s also called a “California cut,” a “bottom sirloin butt,” “Santa Maria steak,” or even “poor man’s brisket.” It’s considered a steak, and when untrimmed, has a fat cap along one side. Trimmed, it is delicious cooked as a steak and thinly sliced, and in southern California is popularly served as tri-tip sandwiches. It is often seasoned with “Santa Maria” seasoning, a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and a bit of sugar. This cut of steak is very versatile and can be roasted, smoked, broiled, or grilled.

Can I Cook Tri-Tip In The Oven?

This is a very common question from all the Tri-Tip lovers that don’t own a BBQ grill. The answer is yes! You can make your Tri-Tip in the oven following the same method, but the taste won’t be the same as a smoked Tri-Tip. You'll probably want to remove the Tri-Tip briefly from the over when spritzing to avoid getting the liquid all over the inside of your oven.

How can I mimic brisket with a tri-tip?

The best tri-tip brisket can be made with a tri-tip steak that still has the fat cap, if you're lucky enough to find one. A trimmed tri-tip steak will work (as mentioned in this recipe), but the flavor and texture will be better after hours of smoking if there is some fat on the tri-tip, since tri-tip is leaner than brisket. Another key to mimicking brisket with tri-tip is the wrapping process - don’t skip this step! Cooking tri-tip for this long will otherwise dry it out, so wrapping it up will keep it from drying out too much and help it develop more intense flavors.

How do I prepare (trim) tri-tip?

If you have purchased untrimmed tri-tip, you’ll need to trim any excess fat and silver skin off the steak. Use a sharp paring or boning knife, and place the tri-tip fat side up. Go around the edges and trim any fat hanging off the sides, and remove any silver skin. It’s important to remove all of the silver skin, as it isn’t fat but rather tough sinew that won’t render when it’s cooked. If you don’t want to spend the time trimming the fat, you can purchase trimmed tri-tip or ask the butcher to trim it for you.

Is tri-tip the same as sirloin tip?

Although tri-tip comes from the sirloin, it’s from a different part of the sirloin than the sirloin tip. A sirloin tip is cut from the front and top of the sirloin, while tri-tip, also referred to as bottom sirloin butt, is cut from the bottom backside of the sirloin, as the name implies. Tri-tip contains part of the thigh muscles, which helps add to the great flavor found in tri-tip. Tri-tip also has a lot more fat spread throughout the cut, creating marbling, while sirloin tip has fat along one side but not much throughout. This difference alone is huge in terms of flavor because as meat is cooked, the fat renders out adding loads of flavor. The better marbling a cut of meat has, the more intense and rich the flavor will be in the end result.

What about internal temperature?

Using an instant-read thermometer is a great way to check the tri-tip for two reasons. You can tell the meat is done by how easily the thermometer slides into the meat, and the temperature reads quickly so you won’t need to open the smoker for long to read the temperature. Internal thermometers work great for smoking meat as well because they are left in the meat and you can constantly monitor the temperature without opening the smoker, which releases the heat. The key to smoking tri-tip like a brisket is by keeping the smoker closed as much as possible. Remember, if you're looking, you're not cooking!



  • 3 pounds Tri-Tip Roast
  • 2 sheets of aluminum foil, 2x length of Tri-Tip

Dry Rub

BBQ Tools


  1. Prep the smoker

    Preheat smoker to 250°F. Most pellet grills don’t need it, but you can add a pan of water in the corner of the smoker to keep moisture inside.

  2. Trim the tri-tip

    Trim excess fat and silver skin from all sides of the tri-tip. See the notes section below for more information on trimming a tri-tip like a brisket.

  3. Prep the tri-tip


    • 2 tablespoons pepper
    • 1 tablespoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon Lawry's

    Combine dry rub seasonings and sprinkle onto tri-tip on all sides. This can be done the night before by wrapping it in plastic wrap and storing it in the fridge until it is ready to smoke. Let the tri-tip sit on the counter for 1 hour to let the meat come to room temperature and the rub adhere well. This will ensure a more even cook.

  4. Let's get smoking

    Place tri-tip on the smoker and smoke at 250°F until it hits an internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of the meat, approximately 2-3 hours depending on the size.

  5. Wrap it up

    When the tri-tip is at 165°F degrees, remove it from the smoker, lay it in the center of 2 pieces of partially overlapped aluminum foil, and then wrap tightly around the tri-tip. Return to the smoker and smoke at 250°F for approximately 2-3 more hours. The tri-tip is done when the internal temperature is between 200°F-205°F and the meat thermometer slides in and out like a knife slicing through roof temperature butter - barely any resistance. I find that this usually occurs around 203°F, but all meat is different.

  6. Nap time

    Remove tri-tip from smoker and keep wrapped while it rests for 1 hour.

  7. Time to eat

    Unwrap the foil and pour the juices into a gravy separator or bowl until you can see the fat separated from the jus. If not using a fat separator, carefully spoon off the fat from the top of the jus. Slice tri-tip against the grain (see notes) in pencil-thickness-sized slices. Serve with the jus and enjoy!


  1. Mario
    September 30th, 2023
    Review Star FilledReview Star FilledReview Star FilledReview Star FilledReview Star Filled
    I've made this 4-5 times now. I was doing brisket but got tired of waiting 18 hours to eat! My family can't tell the difference. They LOVE this. Great flavor. Tender. Done in 6-7 hours. Highly recommend.
  2. Lena
    January 9th, 2022
    Review Star FilledReview Star FilledReview Star FilledReview Star FilledReview Star Filled
    I grew up on santa maria style tri tip but this might just be my new fav way!
  3. Steve
    January 8th, 2022
    Review Star FilledReview Star FilledReview Star FilledReview Star FilledReview Star Filled
    I got a traeger for xmas and made this tonight. The family LOVED it! Anything that my kids will eat has to be good! haha

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