How Long To Smoke Tri-Tip At 180°F + Expert Tips

Tri-tip, one of the most glorious cuts of beef – that doesn’t take all day and night to reach perfection!

That’s right, we’re talking about smoking this rich and decadent delight.

But, with great deliciousness comes great responsibility — you need to do this hunk of meat justice.

So, here’s the best temperature for smoking tri-tip, how long you can expect it to take at 180°F, and some other essential expert tips for the greatest smoked tri-tip you’ve ever tasted.

Most traditional barbecue meats like brisket, pork butt, or ribs, require “low and slow” temperatures to allow time for the fat and connective tissue to break down and become tender.

This is at the heart of what smoking and barbecue is all about.

But, smoking meats isn’t just limited to these tough, fatty cuts like brisket. No no. 

A prime example? Smoking tri-tip.

Tri-tip is a very lean, triangle-shaped cut that comes from the top of the sirloin, most commonly used as a small beef roast.

But, when you smoke tri-tip low and slow you capture the smokey essence of barbecue with the decadence and tenderness that slow cooking provides. 

Yup, a recipe for glory.

What Is The Best Temperature For Smoking Tri-Tip?

So, since tri-tip isn’t loaded with fat and connective tissue like other traditional barbecue meats, does it really benefit from smoking?

Absolutely. Tri-tip can absorb that delectable smokiness while remaining tender and juicy. Plus, because it isn’t loaded with connective tissue it doesn’t take ages to cook!

That’s a win-win, right?

So, when it comes to the best temperature for smoking tri-tip, you have to consider that you want to maximize the smoky flavor, without risking any kind of overcooking of this delicate lean cut.

Therefore the best temperature for smoking tri-tip tends to be 180°F. This allows the beef maximum time to absorb smoke, while slowly cooking it up to your desired doneness. 

Note: Some barbecue lovers prefer to smoke their tri-tip like a brisket, taking it all the way to 200°F internal. To do this you’ll want to smoke your tri-tip at 225°F!

How Long To Smoke Tri-Tip At 180°F?

We’ve established that smoking tri-tip at 180°F offers the most smoke over the longest time possible to slow-cook your tri-tip to your desired internal temp.

But, it’s always nice to know how long it’s going to take so you can prepare accordingly.

Although it depends on your exact smoker, the size of your tri-tip, and what your desired steak doneness is, smoking tri-tip at 180°F usually takes 3-4 hours.

To be more precise, tri-tip takes roughly one hour per pound at 180°F. 

Still, you shouldn’t cook it directly based on time. Instead, you should check the internal temperature with a probe or thermometer. This way you’ll be able to pull the meat off just before it hits your desired steak doneness, being:

  • 135°F for medium rare.
  • 145°F for medium.
  • 150°F for medium well.
  • 160°F for well done (if that’s your thing!).

Note: the USDA recommends beef roast be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F before consumption.

How To Smoke Tri-Tip At 180°F

Here’s the only guide you’ll ever need to smoking tri-tip at 180°F:

  1. Get your tri-tip to room temp.
  2. Apply salt and pepper, or your desired rub, with or without a binder.
  3. Get your smoker up to an even and steady 180°F.
  4. Place your tri-tip directly in the middle of your smoker, or where it gets the best circulation.
  5. No spritzing or basting is needed!
  6. Check to see how things are going after 90 minutes.
  7. Monitor the internal temperature until it gets to your desired doneness!
  8. For the last 5 minutes of the cook preheat a pan or grill to high heat and sear all the edges (optional, but amazing).

Can You Over Smoke Tri-Tip?

Over smoking meat mainly occurs from two common mistakes.

The first is that the smoke that’s being produced is too thick and heavy. This is often referred to as “dirty smoke”.

The second way over smoking can occur is from too long of exposure to smoke.

So, it is possible to over smoke tri-tip, but it really only occurs if it’s exposed to thick, dirty smoke. 

This is because tri-tip is normally only smoked from between 2-4 hours, or to your desired doneness. If the smoke is clean then you are at no risk of over smoking your tri-tip.

Tips For Smoking Tri-Tip

Believe me, after smoking tri-tip every weekend all through summer you pick up a few things.

So, regardless of which recipe or style you choose to follow, there are some common essentials you should consider when smoking tri-tip.

  • Generously season your tri-tip. Whether it’s just salt and pepper, or a delectable beef rub, handsomely season all sides and edges of the tri-tip.
  • If you love a strong smokiness, try using mesquite, cherry, or hickory wood. If you prefer a more subtle smoke, try maple or pecan! 
  • Searing tri-tip after you’ve smoked it will lock in the flavor and produce a gorgeous dark mahogany finish.
  • Just like all cuts of beef, to ensure you’re keeping things as tender as possible you should cut the tri-tip against the grain so that you’re left with shorter muscle fibers.
  • If you’re cooking for a crowd, be sure to allow for half a pound of cooked tri-tip per person.

That's All Folks!

You now know exactly why you should smoke tri-tip at 180°F, and that it roughly takes 1 hour per pound of meat.

This usually means you’ll have to allow 3-4 hours for the full tri-tip to cook. But remember, don’t go by time. Get yourself a reliable thermometer or probe and pull the tri-tip from the heat just as it reaches your desired doneness (or just before as it cooks slightly as it rests!).

You don’t need to get fancy with rubs or sauces, let the meat shine. If you love smokiness, try using strong smoking woods like mesquite or hickory for a real oomph of flavor.

The most important thing: save me a bite!

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