The challenge I found with smoking different cuts of meat is the timing. It took me some time to figure out how long to smoke tri-tip at 180 degrees Fahrenheit because it is lean.
Most of the time, I make sure that the cut of meat I smoke has enough marbling or intramuscular fats so I know it will become tender when it is smoked.
Tri-tip does not have that much fat compared to other cuts so while it took some time, I figured it would take around 3 hours to smoke tri-tip at 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
The weight of the tri-tip is also a huge factor in how long you should smoke it. That goes with any temperature so the heavier the tri-tip, the longer it will take to finish smoking.
I stick with medium-rare doneness but there are also other donenesses that you might prefer when smoking tri-tip so we have to put that in the equation as well.
So with all that considered, let us figure out how long to smoke tri-tip at 180 F and under other temperatures commonly used for smoking.
What Is Tri-tip?
Tri-tip is a cut of beef that comes from the sirloin subprimal. Just like other cuts from this part of the animal, the tri-tip is lean and flavorful, making up for its relatively small size.
Most of the tri-tips you will find will weigh about 5 pounds, untrimmed. Remove the fat cap, and you will be left with only 2 or 3 pounds of lean meat.
Since the tri-tip is cut from the sirloin subprimal and down to the upper leg, it has this triangular shape that gave it the tri-tip.
One of the best things about the tri-tip is it does not have too many connective tissues, and since the area where it comes from gets a lot of work, it becomes lean.
So despite it being lean with decent enough fats or marbling, the tri-tip is surprisingly tender and flavorful when smoked slowly.
How Does Tri Tip Taste?
The tri-tip is lean with just enough fats and boasts a beefy flavor. Since it moves a lot during the animal’s life, it develops a robust beefy flavor moderated by its buttery flavor.
With the fats that come from the fat cap and some of the intramuscular fats, the tri-tip combines a beefy flavor and a buttery one that lasts inside the mouth because of its chewy texture.
It is lean, but that does not mean that it is tough. Tri-tip is just chewy but tender enough to bite into, the chewiness just lets you savor the beefy and buttery flavor that it has.
When sliced properly against the grain, the tri-tip becomes tender. It has long muscle strands and grain so it also absorbs marinade really well, which you can take advantage of to add more flavor to it.
Best Smoking Temperature For Tri Tip
The best smoking temperature for a tr-tip is 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I have tried a lot of temperatures for this, and 180F still yields the best results.
The tri-tip does not need too much heat since it is a delicate, lean cut. There is always the risk of overcooking the tri-tip if the temperature is too high.
It also takes a little bit of time for the tri-tip to absorb smoky flavors, so going with low temperatures to ensure that it does not overcook and absorbs enough smokiness is the best way to do it.
Tri-tip also does not have too many connective tissues, meaning it does not take that long to cook it.
So by using 180 degrees Fahrenheit to smoke the tri-tip, it gets just enough smokiness while not overcooking it.
Here are other temperatures that you can use when smoking average 3-pound tri-tip.
|170 degrees Fahrenheit||4.5 hours|
|180 degrees Fahrenheit||3 to 4 hours|
|200 degrees Fahrenheit||3 hours|
|225 degrees Fahrenheit||1.5 to 2 hours|
|250 degrees Fahrenheit||1 to 1.5 hours|
How Long To Smoke Tri-tip?
The higher the temperature, the shorter the smoking time will be. So if you use 180 degrees Fahrenheit, the tri-tip will likely finish within 3 to 4 hours of smoking.
That also depends on the weight of the tri-tip, so as a rule of thumb, you should smoke the tri-tip for an hour per pound if you are at 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Higher temperatures require a shorter amount of time, so whenever I smoke at 225 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, I just go with 30 minutes per pound of tri-tip.
Again, tri-tip does not have many connective tissues, so it cooks pretty quickly compared to other cuts like brisket, tomahawk steaks, and more.
Depending on the weight and temperature, you can use this table to know how long you smoke the tri-tip.
|Temperature||Smoking Time||Smoking Time For Average Tri-Tip (3 pounds)|
|170 degrees Fahrenheit||90 minutes per pound||4.5 hours|
|180 degrees Fahrenheit||1 hour per pound||3 to 4 hours|
|200 degrees Fahrenheit||1 hour per pound||3 hours|
|225 degrees Fahrenheit||30-40 minutes per pound||1.5 to 2 hours|
|250 degrees Fahrenheit||30 minutes per pound||1 to 1.5 hours|
Internal Temperature Of Tri Tip For Doneness
The best doneness for me when it comes to beef is medium. That means the tri-tip should have an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit when served.
I usually remove the tri-tip from the smoker once it reaches medium-rare doneness at 135 degrees Fahrenheit and allows it to rest to reach medium doneness.
While testing the doneness through touch is a habit I learned to master, I still recommend using a meat probe to be more accurate with the doneness you want.
If you have a meat probe, ensure the tri-tip reaches the following internal temperatures to know what doneness it is in.
|Rare||125 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Medium-rare||130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Medium||140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Medium-well||150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Well-done||160 degrees Fahrenheit|
Note: The USDA recommends at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit as a safe internal temperature for beef to be consumed.
Note: When resting the tri-tip steak, its internal temperature can still rise by 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit so make sure to take note of that to cook the tri-tip at the doneness you want.
How Long To Smoke Tri-Tip At 180?
For the average tri-tip, about 3 pounds, it will take 3 to 4 hours to smoke it at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. So it does not take that long, but it is also not a very short process.
You must prepare and make time for preparation, like cutting and trimming the tri-tip, smoking time, and resting time.
As a rule of thumb, smoke the tri-tip for 1 hour per pound when you set the smoker at 180 degrees Fahrenheit, so it soaks up just enough smokiness without overcooking.
How To Smoke Tri-tip At 180
Smoking the tri-tip is not a very hard thing to do. Unlike brisket and other cuts, tri-tip is not a large cut, so it does not take up too much space or time when smoking.
With just a few steps, you can cook the perfect tri-tips in your smoker. Ready your favorite seasonings or rubs and simply follow these steps.
- Let the tri-tip rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes if it has been in the fridge or freezer to allow it to thaw.
- Use your favorite rub to generously season the tri-tip, or make it simple by using salt and pepper as seasonings.
- Preheat the smoker to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and let it heat up for 20 minutes. Ensure you have enough wood chips for the 3 to 4-hour smoking period.
- Once the smoker reaches the right temperature, place the tri-tip inside it and close the door.
- After 1 and a half hours, check the tri-tip by inserting a meat probe into the thickest part of the meat.
- Once the meat probe reads that the internal temperature of the tri-tip has reached your desired doneness, remove the tri-tip from the smoker.
- If you want the perfect crust, you can sear the tri-tip on a pan over high heat for 2 minutes on each side.
- Allow the tri-tip to rest for at least 10 minutes to ensure that the juices return to the meat and have a juicy and tender finish.
- Serve and enjoy!
Can You Oversmoke Tri-Tip?
Yes, just like beef cuts like ribs, brisket, or prime rib, it is possible to over-smoke and overcook the tri-tip, especially because it is lean and does not have enough marbling to support long cooking periods.
Using wood chips like hickory and pecan that produce thick and dirty smoke can also be why the tri-tip has an overpowering smoky aroma and flavor.
Again, tri-tip does not need too much time like brisket when smoking, so leaving it for longer in the smoker can also cause over-smoking even if you use milder types of wood chips.
So the two main factors that you need to look at are the smoke quality, whether clean or thin, and the smoking time to ensure the tri-tip does not absorb too much smokiness.
Tips For Smoking Tri-Tip
- Always plan and ensure to allot time for preparation and at least 3 hours for smoking time.
- Searing the tri-tip will help develop a good crust which you cannot achieve just by smoking the tri-tip.
- Searing the tri-tip also helps lock in the flavors from the meat, rub/seasonings, and smoke flavors.
- Smoke the tri-tip directly on the smoker in the center or an area where there is enough circulation of smoke and heat to cook it evenly.
- Use wood chips that provide clean and thin smoke, like red oak, apple, and cherry, to ensure you are not over-smoking the tri-tip.
- Always cut the tri-tip against the grain to make it even more tender when served.
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