top of page

Best Smoked Tri-tip Ever!

In partnership with Primo Ceramic Grills!

Sliced tri-tip that has a marinade start.
Smoked tri-tip~ so delicious!

I love it when I have to “just grab” what I have in my BBQ shed! I planned to smoke a Tri-tip, on my Primo Oval XL 400, with hickory wood chunks. After digging around (My shed is not always in order, is your shed?), I found cherry wood chunks. I. AM. SO. GLAD. I. DID. The cherry scent was absolutely delicious! The sweet smoke brought balance to the robust salty Tri-tip.

I am still relishing the many…WOW FACTORS…in smoking this Tri-tip! Not only did I smoke the Tri-tip in cherry wood I let it absorb flavor overnight in a garlic and toasted onion marinade. The leftover smoked thinly sliced Tri-tip was phenomenal as a sandwich!

This recipe is super easy when it comes to smoking meat! So easy I will tag the recipe as a #NewbieRecipeeven though the Pros will want to make it too! All you do is mix up the marinade, and let the Tri-tip soak it in overnight. The next day, plop the Tri-tip over a smoky low temp grill for 45 minutes then raise the grill’s temp and give the Tri-tip a kiss of hot fire! So easy!

An unsliced smoked tri-tip with microgreens.
Marinade, Smoke, and Fire Finish Tri-Tip!

How to Smoke in your Primo Ceramic Grill

One wonderful feature of a Primo Ceramic Grill is that you can cook for hours at a very low temperature (for example, ribs) then quickly raise the temperature to 600°F for searing! In other words, you have true two-zone cooking.

I love that using lighter fluid is a no-no in my Primo Grill. I always hated the smell and foul chemical taste that lighter fluid left behind in foods. I will rave right now about how easy Primo Lump Charcoal ignites when I use a fire starter. The other fire starter options are an electric starter, gas torch, chimney, or even crumpled paper.

Use a full firebox for smoking and searing temperatures. Use a half full firebox for two-zone cooking.

Let’s get that fire going! Completely open up the bottom draft door on the Primo Grill. Light the charcoal in one of the ways stated above. I like to light at both ends of the coal bed when I need a quick hot fire. When I smoke low and slow I only light lump charcoal at one end. Some experts say to keep the draft door closed during this step. Through experience, I think that air flow is needed to aid in fire making so I open the bottom vent from the get-go!

With the dome lid open, wait 5-10 minutes for a small pile of the coal to begin to turn red with a touch of gray. Close the dome, and fully open the top vent.

When you are 25°F (14°C) from your target temperature, close the top vent to one-third opened. Wait 1-2 minutes for the temperature to stabilize. Increase or decrease the airflow on the top vent as needed. A 1/4” (6mm) move can change the temperature by as much as 25°F (14°C). Adjust the top vent as needed to maintain the target temperature.

A partially cooked tri-tip on the grill.
Smoke tri-tip about 55 minutes then fire finish.

Do You Have To Use BBQ Wood For a Smoky Taste

You can add smoking wood chunks or wood chips if you want but hear me out before your first cook on you Primo Grill. Primo Natural Lump Charcoal has a gentle and very tasty smokiness without smoking BBQ wood!

I suggest that the very first time you cook in your grill just use Primo Lump Charcoal. It is is made from whole stock hardwood giving food a natural wood fire flavor. Natural lump charcoal burns cleaner and longer than briquette charcoal. Another advantage of natural lump charcoal is that it can be relit for multiple cooks. Some people who don’t enjoy the overbearing flavor of smoked BBQ wood really enjoy the subtle flavor of Natural Primo Lump Charcoal.

Let's Talk Tri-tip!

Tri-tip is known by its triangular shape, live fire cooking method, red oak smoking medium, and where it was first cooked. The lean and tender sirloin was cooked around the Santa Maria region in California hence receiving the tag of Santa Maria Style Barbecue. Of course, many restaurants and pit masters claim they were the first, and we applaud them. All we truly know is that the Tri-Tip tradition dates back to the California Central Valley’s rancheros in the mid 19th century and became very popular in the 20th century, around 1950.

As a lean cut of beef, a Tri-tip in the beginning was only thought good for ground beef or stew meat. Bob Schutz, the owner of Santa Maria Market in the 1950’s, introduced the Tri-tip as a juicy and tender cut. Today it is called the “California’s Cut” or “Santa Maria Steak”.

Tri-tip resting in a garlic and toasted onion marinade.
Tri-Tip marinade features lots of garlic and toasted onions.


There is only one cut of Tri-tip per side of beef! Butchers used to think it was a waste to cut two or three steaks from the hunk of meat so instead they ground it into ground beef or cut into small cubes for stew meat.

Tri-tip comes from the bottom TIP of the sirloin. Yep, that’s the reason for the name Tri-tip!

Tri-tip is lean, rich with a meaty flavor that is lower in fat than other cuts.

Tri-tip is either sold as a small roast or cut into Tri-tip steaks.

Grill Tips For Tri-Tip and Newbies and Pros Too

Always thoroughly pat the Tri-tip dry before adding a rub. Your mission here is to dry the meat so that little steam is created. The drier the meat the greater success in getting the best sear and even cook.

If you are rubbing not marinating then season the Tri-tip at least 30 minutes before cooking.

A medium rare internal temperature is recommended for Tri-tip steaks (not the roast). Remove Tri-tip steaks from the grill 140°F, and let rest for at least 10 minutes or until 145°F. If you cut Tri-tip immediately after removing it from the grill, all of tasty tasty juice will escape.

You have a smoky tantalizing Tri-tip roast that has rested properly and now you want to get it sliced right away! Right? Slow-down! If a perfectly cooked Tri-tip is sliced wrong it will be chewy! There are a lot of charts and videos on slicing a Tri-tip on the Web ~ please check them out!

Tri-tip contains two different grains. Half of the roast contains muscle fibers that run vertically, while the other half contains muscle fibers run horizontally. Locate these two distinct sections then cut the roast in between the line where the two muscle grains intersect. Slice against the grain with your knife at an angel.

Leftover sliced tri-tip is delicious for sandwiches.
Tri-tip that has soaked in a marinade then smoked is outrageously delicious!

What's The Authenic Way to BBQ a Tri-Tip

Cooking a Tri-tip in a marinade is not authentic only off the charts delicious! If you are a smoking adventurer we highly recommend that you try both styles of cook! For leftover sandwiches we prefer a marinade start!

Authentic Santa Maria Style BBQ Tri-tip: generously season the roast with your favorite steak rub. Prepare the grill for direct and indirect medium-high heat. Add red oak chunks or chips 30 minutes before you begin grilling. Set your Tri-tip over the direct heat, fattiest-side up, and sear about 10 minutes, or until browned. Flip the meat over and sear the other side the same way. Transfer the Tri-tip to the indirect-heat. Close the lid and cook the Tri-tip 20 to 30 minutes, until a thermometer reads 130°F in the thickest area of the meat. Transfer the Tri-tip from the grill to a cutting board. Let the meat rest for 20-30 minutes. Slice the meat against the grain to serve.

Authentic Tri-Tip Spice Rub: 2 tablespoons salt, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic salt.

Authentic Tri-Tip Cook Method: smoke the meat over an open fire stoked by red oak just like the 19th century rancheros did.

A Primo Grill that has been set up for 2-zone cooking.
Primo Grill is ready for 2-zone cooking!


Primo Ceramic Grills have thick ceramic walls that acts as an insulator to retain even heat for hours.

Primo Ceramic Grills are designed to act as a convection oven circulating heat around the food not at the food thus allowing for moisture to be retained.

Primo Ceramic Grills have a two-way vent system that makes adjusting and regulating heat super easy for the beginner.

Tri-tip that has been smoked and sliced.
Tri-tip smoked and sliced.


Recipe_ Smoked Tri-Tip with Garlic & Toasted Onion Marinade
Download PDF • 31KB

Smoked Tri-Tip with Garlic & Toasted Onion Marinade

The Ingredients:

1 (3-4 pound)) pound Tri-tip roast

1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves or 2 (1 oz) packages peeled garlic

1 cup fresh lemon or lime juice

1 cup canola oil or avocado oil

2/3 cup light brown sugar or dark brown sugar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup chopped toasted dried onions

2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper

2 tablespoons granulated garlic

2 tablespoons steak seasoning

1 tablespoon kosher salt

You Will Need:

Primo Firebox Divider

1 Primo Heat Deflector Rack · 1 Primo Ceramic Heat Deflector Plate

Primo Lump Charcoal Primo · Primo QuickLights Fire Starters

3 cherry wood chunks


Serves: 5-8

Prep Time 10 min

Marination Time Overnight

Grill Time 45 minutes

Seasons All

Category Beef

Smoke source: Primo Lump Charcoal and 3 cherry wood chunks

Cooking method: 250°F to 275°F Indirect heat zone for 45 minutes followed by 400°F direct heat zone for 5 minutes

Garnishes: Fresh salsa or grilled corn relish

Preparation Instructions

Use a sharp knife to trim excess fat and silver skin from Tri-tip. Score the fat, 1/4-inch deep, in a crisscross fashion.

Mix the garlic, lemon juice, cooking oil, brown sugar, soy sauce, toasted onions, pepper, granulated garlic, steak seasoning, and salt, in a marination bowl or 1-gallon plastic bag.

Place Tri-tip in marination and refrigerate overnight or 8 hours before the cook.

The following day, drain marination and throughly pat the Tri-tip dry. Allow the Tri-tip to sit, uncovered, as the grill is prepared.

Cooking Instruction

Set Primo Ceramic Grill for two zone cooking by inserting the Firebox divider. Load lump charcoal onto on side of the Firebox. Ignite the charcoal with a Primo QuickLight Fire Starters. Wait 5-8 minutes for the charcoal to build a small bed of embers.

Insert 3 chunks of cherry wood onto the embers. Position the Primo Heat Deflector Rack on the side without coals, and top with a Heat Deflector Plate.

Position the grill racks over the fire and the deflector plate.

After small embers can be seen, close the dome lid. Fully open the bottom draft door and fully open the top vent.

When the grill thermometer reaches 25°F from your target temperature, close the top vent down to one-third open. The Tri-tip smoking temperature is between 250°F and 275°F.

Wait 1-2 minutes for the temperature to stabilize. Increase or decrease the airflow of the top and bottom vent to maintain the target temperature.

Smoke the Tri-tip, fat side up, for 45-55 minutes on the indirect side of of the grill.

Once the Tri-tip has an internal temperature around 120°F transfer to foil or butcher paper and wrap.

Open the bottom and top value to increase airflow raising the temperature to 400-500°F.

Unwrap the Tri-tip and place, on the grill grate, over direct heat. Grill both sides for 3-5 minutes or until slightly charred. If the Tri-tip has charred on both side but the desired internal temperature has not been reached transfer it to the indirect side.

Remove the Tri-tip from the grill when the internal temperature reaches 125°F to 130° or your desired internal temperature as shown below.

Allow Tri-tip to rest 20-30 minutes before slicing.

Follow the Tri-Tip Tips to slice! Look for 2 sections on the Tri-tip. Locate where the two grains intersect and cut between them. One side should be longer than the other with the point of the triangle. Slice perpendicular to the grain on each half with your knife at an angle.

Serving suggestions: Fresh Tomato and/or Tomatillo Salsa or Grilled Corn Relish.

Tri-tip Internal Temperature Chart:

Rare: 120 -125 degrees F

Medium Rare: 130 -135°F

Medium: 135 -145° F

Medium Well: 145 -155°F

Well Done: 160° F


Keep up with my grilling and smoking adventures:

Tri-tip wit a tomatillo topping.
Smoked Tri-tip plated is so impressive!
Tri-Tip with fresh salsa and goat cheese.
Be sure to top Tri-tip with fresh salsa and goat cheese!
Smoked tri-tip is ready to eat.
Marinade helps to keep a tri-tip super tender and flavorful.
Sliced tri-tip after an overnight marinade then cherry wood smoked.
Check out my Tri-tip tips for perfect scrumptiousness all the way through.



Congrats! You’re subscribed

bottom of page