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Pellet grills have exploded in popularity in recent years – and for good reason. These bona fide do-it-all cookers are designed to be able to grill and smoke with high levels of flavor, quality, and consistency.
And because of how versatile they are, pellet grills are the perfect type of outdoor cooker to make an out of this world smoked tri tip.
A traditionally cooked tri tip will spend some time cooking at a lowish temperature to thoroughly cook the inside, but it will also need to be seared at a scorching temperature for a delectable outer crust.
Instead of switching back and forth between a grill for the sear and the oven for the roast, a pellet grill allows for you to easily get the job done all on the same cooker. Not only that, the rich smokey flavor of a pellet grill tri tip is sure to be a real crowd pleaser.
A Quick Introduction to Tri Tip
Tri tip is a beef cut that comes from the bottom sirloin sub-primal section of a steer. It’s a somewhat unique cut not only because of its triangular looking shape, but because of its unique combination of flavor, tenderness, and economical price point.
Compared to other types of steak, you will pay significantly less on a per pound basis for tri tip than you would for say, a NY Strip or a Ribeye. And best of all, when a tri tip is cooked properly, its flavor and tenderness can truly rival some of the best types of steak out there.
On average, a raw tri tip weighs about 2.5 pounds and when cooked is an ideal amount of beef for 4-6 people.
Which Wood Pellets Are Best for Tri Tip?
Since tri tip is naturally loaded with strong beefy flavor, it can stand up to even the strongest of smokey flavor.
So with that in mind, I like to use stronger flavored wood pellets for my pellet grill smoked tri tip – oak or hickory pellets specifically are my favorite for pellet grill tri tip.
If you really like strong smokey flavor and want stronger smoke than oak or hickory, mesquite pellets also pair really nicely with tri tip!
Personally, I do not use lighter woods or fruitwood pellets for tri tip, simply because they don’t impart enough flavor into the beef for my taste. But if you want to keep the smoke flavor muted, something like cherry or apple wood pellets are a perfectly viable option.
Pellet Grill Tri Tip & The Reverse Sear
The reverse sear is a cooking method where you sear your meat after it’s been brought up to your desired doneness temperature – as opposed to the more “traditional” method of searing your meat first then slow cooking until it has finished.
Remember, the end goal of cooking a pellet grill tri tip is to have a dark, crispy outer crust while achieving a pink and tender inside. With tri tip, we’ve found that the reverse sear method just helps you achieve that goal so much easier.
The first reason is that reverse searing makes it easier to cook an evenly and consistent tri tip. When you start off with hot sear temperatures, it’s easy for parts of the meat to get scorched and overcooked.
On the other hand, starting off low and slow promotes a gentler rise in temperature cohesively throughout the beef.
The second main reason we like to reverse sear tri tip is because it makes achieving a delectable outer crust easier.
Generally speaking we want to retain as much moisture as possible throughout the cooking process – but moisture is somewhat of a hinderance when trying to develop a dark brown crust.
So when you reverse sear, the meat loses a little bit of moisture in the process, which in turn makes it just a little bit easier to get that beautiful crust in the end.
How to Cook Tri Tip On a Pellet Grill
Now that we’ve got our cooking methodology down it’s time to take a look at how to prep and cook our beef. It’s worth noting here that you’ll need a probe meat thermometer to best monitor this cook!
Here’s an overview of the steps needed to cook the perfect pellet grill tri tip:
- Evenly coat your tri tip with a dry rub. We like to use a traditional Santa Maria style rub (see recipe below), but you can feel free to substitute your own favorite beef rub. It’s ideal to let your steak rest at room temperature about an hour to soak in the rub before it goes on the pellet grill.
- Preheat your pellet grill to 250ºF. This is the ideal temperature for the low and slow portion of the cook. If you can customize your smoke setting on your grill, we recommend medium or high smoke levels.
- Place tri tip on the grate and shut the lid – and cook until the center reaches an internal temperature of 110ºF. The meat will slow cook for roughly 1 hour – could be a little more, could be a little less.
- Remove tri tip from the grate and change your pellet grill’s temperature to 425ºF. Let your tri tip rest at room temperature while the grill heats up, for about 10-15 minutes. You can go up to 450ºF here if your grill has that wide of a temperature range.
- Place your beef back on the grill, and sear each side until the a dark brown crust develops. In my experience, this usually takes around 4-5 minutes per side.
- Check your internal temperature to see if the meat has reached your desired doneness. For medium rare, the internal temp should be 135ºF. For medium, 140ºF. We would not recommend cooking to a higher internal temperature than 150ºF as you’ll quickly begin to lose tenderness. You can raise the meat to the top rack of your grill for a couple of minutes if it needs to finish cooking after the sear.
- Let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes then slice, serve, and enjoy!
How To Slice Your Tri Tip (Important!)
Tri tip is unique for one more reason we didn’t mention earlier – the cut has grain that runs in two different directions.
Without overcomplicating things, the short of it is that you need to slice beef against the grain for maximum tenderness. If you make the mistake of slicing with the grain, you could end up with incredibly chewy bites even if you cooked the beef perfectly.
We’ve created a complete guide on how to cut tri tip if you want to make sure you get it right – but at the end of the day it’s as simple as paying attention to which part of the meat has which grain direction. From there, just slice against the grain on both!
Pellet Grill Tri Tip [On a Traeger, Pit Boss, etc.]
- Probe meat thermometer
- 1 tri tip roast ~3 lbs
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp dried sage
- Mix rub ingredients in a bowl until evenly combined
- Preheat pellet grill to 250ºF with the smoke setting on medium-high
- Coat tri tip evenly and thoroughly with rub mixture
- Let your seasoned tri tip rest at room temperature for about an hour. Not a big deal if you are in a pinch for time and need to skip this part
- Place tri tip on the pellet grill grate and shut the lid
- Cook until the center of the tri tip is 110ºF. This usually takes about 1 hour, give or take
- Remove tri tip from grill and let it rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes
- While the beef rests, raise the temperature in your pellet grill to 450ºF
- Put tri tip back on the grill to sear each side of the roast. We typically sear for 4-5 minutes per side – but the goal here is to sear until there is a brown outer crust on each side
- After the tri tip is seared on all sides, check the internal temperature in the center of the beef to see if it has reached desired doneness (135ºF for medium rare, 140ºF for medium)
- If desired temperature has not been reached, move the tri tip to your top rack and let it finish cooking to your desired doneness
- Once doneness has been reached, place the finished tri tip on a cutting board. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving. Enjoy!
There’s our favorite way to make tri tip on a pellet grill! These are the perfect type of grill for cooking tri tip – the ability to change your temperatures so easily eliminates the need to transfer your meat between two different vessels for the sear and the slow cook, which is incredibly convenient.
Did you try our recipe? What did you think and how would you improve it? Let us know in the comments section!