How To Smoke Tri Tip On A Charcoal Grill

How To Smoke Tri Tip On A Charcoal Grill

Master the perfect reverse seared and smoked tri tip using your charcoal grill. A great way to serve an affordable steak style dinner to friends and family.

Tri tip has grown in popularity in the last few years. This lean cut of meat was nearly unheard of in a large portions of the U.S and typically found mostly on the West coast in states like California, Arizona, etc.

This recipe is specifically about reverse searing and smoking a tri-tip roast on a charcoal grill, but you can also check out my recipe for tri tip on a gas grill as well if needed.

I love this recipe for when I am entertaining a few family members or friends (or you could smoke up a few more for a larger group) because it’s an easy, quick, and affordable way to essentially serve a delicious steak dinner to a bigger group.

Below I will break down everything you need to know about working with this cut of beef, how to maximize the smoky flavor by using a charcoal grill (or even an electric smoker if needed), finishing it off with the final high heat sear, and the best way to slice and serve.

How To Smoke Tri Tip On A Charcoal Grill

Grab all the details outlined below! Need more information on the fundamentals of BBQ and the reverse sear method? Check out my Bon Appeteach BBQ Basics free download as a great guide to reference too.

“School” Supplies:

“Class” Notes:

Use the guided culinary notes below to reference as needed to become an expert on this tri tip recipe, reverse searing, and everything you need to know to pull of a killer meal!

Did you try this recipe? Leave me a comment and review below to share your experience or tag me in your posts on Instagram @Bonappeteach so I can follow along!

What is a tri-tip steak?

A tri tip is a beef cut that comes from the bottom sirloin of a cow. It’s a relatively lean cut of beef, which makes it ideal for grilling like a traditional steak.

Some people refer to this as a triangle steak or a Santa Maria steak (after a popular west coast cooking method that’s commonly used).

You typically want a tri tip to be at least 1.5 pounds and up to 3 pounds.

Cow graphic with tri tip

This cut can sometimes be mistaken for Brazilian picanha, but they are different (learn more here in this article on Tri Tip VS Picanha).

When purchasing a tri tip from your grocery store or remove it from the packaging, you may notice it contains a slight fat cap or some silver skin.

Trimming the silver skin off is a must because it won’t break down during the cooking process.

You can trim off any fat as well if you prefer, but fat can also help naturally baste your steak with more flavor during the reverse searing process.

Raw tri tip steak

Classic Santa Maria Dry Rub:

First, it’s important to note that you can season this like you would any standard steak (kosher salt and black pepper go a long way here).

Seasoning at least an hour in advance at room temperature also helps the tri tip absorb more flavor, but I prefer to do a day in advance for best results and dry brine (when time allows).

If you’d like a more traditional flavor profile, whip up this easy dry rub recipe. Here is what you need:

  • Sea Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Garlic Powder
  • Rosemary (fresh or dried is fine)
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Onion Powder
  • Smoky Paprika
Santa maria seasoning for smoked tri tip

Combine all your spices together into a small bowl and whisk until combined. You can also pulse it a few times in a spice grinder if desired.

Pat your meat dry to remove any moisture on the surface, then coat all over with a little olive oil (this acts as a binder for your rub).

Season the meat entirely and let it sit for at least an hour or more before grilling.

Setting Up Your Charcoal Grill:

When it comes to charcoal grilling, there are two methods that you can use to cook your tri tip: the direct method and the indirect method.

In this case, you need both! We call this the reverse sear method and its the perfect cooking technique when smoking and searing beef cuts over 1.5 inches thick.

Want to understand the reverse sear method in a more in-depth way?

You can read more about reverse seared steaks or I encourage you to download my BBQ Basics free guide as the best reference for this technique too.

Here’s the steps to follow for you grill set up:

  1. Set the base of your grill for two zone cooking. You need to have one side with the hot coals (direct heat) and the other side with no coals (indirect heat).
  2. Light your coals in your charcoal basket (or prep your chimney starter if needed for your grill type).
  3. Once the coals are hot, close the lid and set your bottom vent and top vent so you can bring your charcoal smoker up to a target temperature of 225 F.
  4. Low temperature to start works best to really impart a smoky flavor into your tri tip earlier on (this is a pretty fast cook). Add wood chips before smoking.

Now your charcoal grill is ready for smoking!

two zone set up for a charcoal grill to smoke a tri tip

How To Smoke A Tri Tip:

Here is the best way to smoke and then sear your tri tip!

  1. Place your tr tip onto the cooler, indirect side of the grill (fat side up if it has a fat cap) and you’re ready to start the cooking process!
  2. Insert a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.
  3. Let it smoke until the internal temperature reaches 115 F.
  4. Remove and rest for 15 minutes, tented under foil (resting is important here so don’t skip this).
  5. Bring your direct heat side of the grill up to a temperature of 550 F. for searing.
  6. Place your meat onto the grill grates over direct heat and sear 60-90 seconds, flip and repeat for a nice crust.
  7. Hit a final internal meat temperature of 125-130 F. for a perfect medium rare (more or less if you prefer is rare or done well).
  8. Remove from the grill and let it rest again for 10 minutes before slicing.
how to smoke your tri tip using reverse sear

How To Cut A Smoked Tri-Tip Against The Grain:

The unique and interesting thing about this cut of beef is that it has two different directions in which the muscle fibers run.

This makes it slightly more complicated to slice, because you will need to divide the triangular shape of meat in half first in order to slice the two pieces properly.

Every cut is slightly different, it helps to place it flat on a cutting board and look at where the point of the meat is. Divide the meat where the two different grain lines meat and then slice each piece against the grain.

A diagram of the lines for where to cut the trip tip with the meat grains.

My favorite way to serve this recipe is with some fresh red pepper chimichurri sauce and enjoy!

Love this recipe? Check out my recipe for reverse seared picanha too!

How To Smoke Tri Tip On A Charcoal Grill
How To Smoke Tri Tip On A Charcoal Grill

How To Smoke Tri Tip On A Charcoal Grill

Master the perfect reverse seared and smoked tri tip using your charcoal grill. A great way to serve an affordable steak style dinner to friends and family.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Grilling
Cuisine: American
Keyword: how to smoke a tri tip on a charcoal grill, Smoked tri tip, tri tip on the big green egg
Prep Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 4 People
Calories: 304kcal
Author: Bon Appeteach


  • 1.5-3 lb. Tri Tip
  • 2 tsp. Olive Oil

Santa Maria Dry Rub

  • 1 tbsp. Sea Salt
  • 1 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp. Paprika
  • 1 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp. Onion Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp. Cayenne


Prepping the Tri Tip:

  • Remove the tri tip from the packaging and pat it dry to remove moisture off the surface with paper towels.
  • Assess the tri tip and remove any silver skin or hanging fat. Not all tri tips have a fat cap (the butcher may remove it), but leave intact if there is one.
  • Combine all the seasonings together in a bowl to create your traditional Santa Maria style rub.
  • Lightly coat the entire tri tip roast in olive oil then lightly coat with the dry rub.
  • Allow the tri tip to sit with the seasoning for at least 1 hour or for up to 24 hours uncovered in the fridge (dry brining method).

Smoking and Searing:

  • Set the charcoal grill for two zone cooking (indirect and direct heating).
  • Bring the grill to an internal temperature of 225 F.
  • Place the tri tip on the indirect side of the grill and insert a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the tri tip steak. Let it smoke on indirect heat until the internal temperature reaches 110-115 F.
  • Remove it from the charcoal grill temporarily and tent it with foil. Let it rest for a full 15 minutes before searing.
  • While the tri tip is resting, bring the heat of your charcoal grill up to at least 550 F. and have access to the direct side of the grill.
  • Sear the tri tip for 60-90 sec per side over direct heat or until the tri tip hits a final internal temperature of around 120-130 F. I prefer around 125 F. for a solid medium rare (temperature rises a bit more as it rests after searing).
  • Let the tri tip rest about 10 minutes before slicing. Please note that a tri tip has muscle fibers that run two different directions (see photo). Divide your tri tip steak first and slice against the grain and serve with chimichurri.
    A diagram of the lines for where to cut the trip tip with the meat grains.


Don’t have a charcoal grill? You can repeat this process on a pellet smoker or gas grill as well. Use a hot cast iron pan for searing as well if needed. 


Serving: 1g | Calories: 304kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 111mg | Sodium: 1525mg | Potassium: 604mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 193IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 61mg | Iron: 3mg

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