A tri-tip will usually have a fat cap on one side. If the butcher has not already trimmed this down or removed it, you can do this yourself using a very sharp knife.
Sometimes I remove it and other times I leave it alone. Either way, it's not a problem.
As you can see there's plenty of fat marbling so that's what will keep the meat moist during the cooking process.
- 4-5 cups coffee (about a quart)
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 2 TBS cocoa (unsweetened)
- 1 TBS red pepper flakes
Pour the coffee into a ½ gallon pitcher or large bowl
Add the kosher salt and stir until it is dissolved. Add the cocoa and red pepper flakes and stir well again to make sure the cocoa is dissolved into the liquid.
If the coffee is still warm, add some ice to cool it down. I recommend placing the ice in a bag first so it doesn’t dilute the brine.
Place the meat into a shallow container or even a 1- gallon sized ziptop bag.
Pour the brine over the meat to cover.
Put the container with the meat and the brine into the fridge during the brining process. About 3 hours should be sufficient time but it would not hurt to leave it overnight.
Remove the meat from the fridge after brining. Set the meat aside and discard the brining liquid. There is no need to rinse the meat.
The brine helps to bring out the natural beef flavor but it’s also really good to add some seasoning to the outside, what will become the crust.
For this, I highly recommend my Texas style rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) recipe.
Usually when we add seasoning, I recommend brushing on some vegetable or olive oil or even some yellow mustard to help the rub to stick however, if you add the seasoning just as soon as you remove it from the brine, the meat will be somewhat wet and the rub will stick to the meat really well.
After you season the top side of the meat and the edges, flip it over and season the bottom side as well.
Once seasoned, place the tri-tip on a Weber grill pan or a pan/rack for easy transport to and from the smoker. The meat can be left on the pan during the cooking process if you so desire or you can remove the meat from the pan and set it directly on the grate.
You'll notice another piece of meat on the pan below.. that's a tri-tip that was not cut properly.. as you can see, it's more square than triangle shaped as it should be. I got a good price on it and it was prime grade so I just dry brined that one to compare flavors.
Set up your smoker for cooking at about 225°F using indirect heat. If your smoker uses a water pan, fill it up.
Traditionally, tri-tip is smoked with red oak but I have used pecan, post oak, cherry, apple and even a mixture of some of these and it always turns out great. This can be in the form of chips, chunks, pellets or large splits just depending on what type of smoker you are using.
I don’t say this often but maybe I should: there is no need to soak the smoking wood. This is something that is still touted in some smoker manuals, recipe books, and even on cooking blogs but there is absolutely no reason to do this.
Wet wood steams until it dries and then it produces smoke. Dry wood begins producing smoke a lot faster.
Once your smoker is heated to 225-240°F and holding steady, it’s time to place the meat in the smoker.
Place the meat or the pan of meat onto the smoker grate and close the door/lid.
If you are using a charcoal, electric or gas smoker, I recommend allowing the smoke action to continue for at least 1 hour and then it can be finished with just heat. It is also ok to apply smoke the entire time to simulate the flavor of a wood or pellet smoker.
Monitor the temperature of the tri-tip very carefully. I used the dual-probe “Smoke” by Thermoworks to monitor both pieces of meat at the same time.
At about the 110°F mark, melt a stick of butter (¼ lb) and stir in 1 heaping TBS of the Texas style rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub).
Baste the meat liberally with this mixture. Go ahead.. add some more! You can't go wrong with butter 😉
When it reaches 130°F or a perfect medium rare, remove it from the smoker.
If you like your beef more done, be my guest but it will never be as good as it is at medium rare. The flavor, texture and juiciness degrades quickly beyond medium rare so tread carefully.
Let it rest with foil tented over the top on the cabinet for about 10-15 minutes before slicing or cutting into it. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat and dissipates some of the pressure that has built up inside the meat during the heating process.
Slice the meat pencil thick across the grain noting that the grain does change directions about halfway through as shown in the image below.
Serve immediately with plenty of vegetables and sides.
I mentioned earlier that I cooked (2) tri-tips.. one was a “square tip”.
The square one was dry brined with only salt for 3 hours in the fridge..
Here's an idea of the salt distribution that I used.
Note: If you want to measure, about ½ teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat is the correct amount for dry brining almost any cut of beef, pork, chicken, etc..
It was very good and had a slight advantage since it was prime grade whereas the other tri-tip was choice grade.
The tri-tip brined in the coffee had a more robust flavor but wasn't more salty than the dry brined one. Both of them were very similar in saltiness. I must stress that it wasn't overly salty at all. It had just enough to really bring out the natural flavors of the meat.
If you prefer, you can definitely use the dry brine technique and 2 hours is sufficient time but I recommend you try using espresso or coffee brine for your lean beef cuts. It doesn't taste like coffee when it's all said and done but it does add a little something extra to the meat.