Tri-tip: Grilled vs. Smoked

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Fire Starter
Original poster
May 31, 2011
Ventura, Taxifornia
Continuing my smoker education, this weekend’s attempt was tri-tip.   I picked up a couple of tri-tips at Costco, I think somewhere around $6.99 a pound, great cuts of meat…

I decided to grilled one half, and smoke the other half.   Seasoned the tri-tip with sea salt, black pepper, and granulated garlic.   I marinated the meat for about 2 hours, and then let it come to room temperature.

I prepared by Meco electric smoker, filled the water bowl, and placed one small (3” by 1” by 1”) piece cheery wood chunk on the grate right above the heating element.   I attached the thermometer in the tri-tip; I placed ½ of my tri-tip in the smoker.   I reached the desired smoker temperature of 230 degrees.   After about 25 minutes it was apparent that the wood was not providing any smoke.   I’ve not had any luck with cherry wood, so I replaced the cherry wood with a similar sized apple piece.   Again trouble developing the desired smoke.   So I placed the wood right next to the heating element, and was able to generate the desired smoke.   I had the vents completely open, the smoke wasn’t really the desire Thin Blue smoke, there was a good amount of volume, but it was the best I could do.   I had the bottom vent open for air flow, and both the top vents open to allow for a good flow…   By the time I got the smoke flowing, the tri-tip was at 95 degrees, not sure if this was a problem, don’t think it was, but just another variable in the mix.
Anyways after about 2 ½ hours, the tri tip achieved the desired 138 degrees, so I pull it off the smoker, and wrapped in foil.

While this was cooling in the foil, I heated my gas grill.   I grilled the other half of the tri-tip, about 5 minutes on each side, and then foil wrapped this ½ as well.   After about one half hour, I unwrapped both tri-tips.
The grilled tri-tip was as I expected, charred on the outside, pink on the inside.   Outrageous taste.   I’ve grill hundreds of tri-tips.   I’ve found a simple rub of salt/pepper/garlic to be the best, and the most important thing is to bring tri-tip to room temperature before grilling.
Now the smoked tri-tip was very flavorful, maybe just a tad too much smoke, sliced it very thin and served with Tony Roma’s BBQ sauce.   Very good, the desired result was there, smoky flavored tri-tip.   Just seems to be missing something.  Maybe tri-tip is best left to the grill, and the use of smoking chips while grilling?  I'd imagine that grilling tri-tip with red oak is the ultimate solution... but I don't have a wood fired grill.... It does seem like the smoked tri-tip will be unreal on sandwiches....

Conclusions:   The grilled tri-tip offers up a very different flavor than the smoking of tri-tip.   Could be the caramelization of the outer layer of the meat?   Could be the charred crust of the exterior, but hard to dismiss the results from grilling.   Many recommend grilling of tri-tip, and the results are undeniable.   I think I need an additional test of smoking for 2 hours at 210 degrees, then grilling for a very short time to see if I can’t achieve the benefits of grilling with the smokiness of smoking…. I still need to resolve the problems I’m having with smoke generation.   Seems like I need to ‘light’ one end of the wood chunk so that only a small amount of smoke is generated…. Is cherry wood harder than apple wood?   Is cherry harder to ignite? Does cherry wood chunks work in an electric smoker?

Also might be time to dump this electric smoker for a Weber or gas model??

Sorry no pictures, wife had the camera….



I am not familiar with the "Meco electric smoker" but did a quick google search for it and it seems to be a bit similar to the ECB (El Cheap-O Brinkman). Check a few of these threads out that may help with your smoke generation issues.

Not Electric but still might help:

Also try and make a post over the the "Electric Smoker" section and I am sure someone would be able to make some suggestions.

Grab some pic's of your smoker and that should help out also in suggestions for modifications. Almost all of these smokers need modifications to get them working right. Keep it up and I am sure you will get it where you need it!

Thanks for your input.  I've searched for TBS, and seems like there are many variations on a common theme of TBS.  Here's a shot of the Meco:


I've added a aluminum rack right above the heating element.  I'm still searching for the right touch with regards to smoke generation.  Is thin blue smoke a function of temperature?  At what temperature does one generate TBS?  Does the wood chunk have to touch the heating element to start to smoke?  I've read this thread which has helped ( but still workin it...

If you get a chance can you get a pic of the inside where your element is and chip tray? The temps needed to maintain 225~250 should be plenty to turn your wood into ash and generate the smoke you are looking for. You just might have to find the right balance wood and placement locations. I would not think you want to put the wood right on the heating element but I have no experience with a electric smoker so I hope other will be able to help more than I could in this situation. Are you soaking your wood before putting it in the smoker? I personally do not but some do...old debate...anyways if you are soaking your wood you may want to try not or vice verse.


Also might be time to dump this electric smoker for a Weber or gas model??
If you want you can always change out your electric and make it a gas or even charcoal and not have to purchase another unit. Heck you probably make it interchangeable. I know I have see post about that somewhere.... I just can't seem to find them at the moment but if I do I will repost.
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Hi Ohm,

Here are a few photos of the wood tray I made.  It's constructed from aluminum...


The tray sits right above the heating element.  So the question I have, is how long will it take to get a wood chunk to smoke?  Yesterday the cherry wood chunk (1 by 1 by 3) was not smoking after 20 minutes.... do I need to wait up to 60 minutes?  at 230 degrees...


Hummm interesting....I almost looks like the placement is a bit low (by this I mean right in the middle of the burner) and might not be able to get heated up to temp. Once again I hope someone with a electric smoker will stop by and help out. So with that said here is my best guess...On my vertical smoker my heat is from a flame about the size of a standard gas stove head at the very bottom..similar to where your heating element is. Right above that I have a metal bowl..see pic below.

This allows for good even heat distribution and allows the wood to burn and create the smoke I am looking for.

Kinda like the drawing in the post below:

I am guessing that wood in the pic was a new unburnt piece of wood before you started. If so you might want to cut down on the size of the wood and look into something like chips/bowl/chip box. Wood chucks that size (to me) seem a bit big and the size of your smoker is going to produce undesirable smoke once it starts to burn. In your situation you might be better off with something like this:



or even better:

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I've never smoked or grilled a Tri-Tip,

I can't say that after this weekend

My local butcher is gonna cut me one

I do like the idea of smoking, then finishing on the grill.

Might have to give it a try
Smoked tri tips are awesome. This how I smoke them on my electric UDS. I first off soak my chunks in water overnight, I then place them in my smoking bowl and place that on the element and get my water bowl in there with cold water. I wait until the TBS starts wisping then I take the tri tip straight from the fridge to the smoker. Heres a tri tip I recently did. Hope this helps. 
Is your smoking bowl similar to a coffee can?  And you put this directly on the electric element?  I've been told to bring the meat, any meat to room temperature before cooking....
Smoked tri tips are awesome. This how I smoke them on my electric UDS. I first off soak my chunks in water overnight, I then place them in my smoking bowl and place that on the element and get my water bowl in there with cold water. I wait until the TBS starts wisping then I take the tri tip straight from the fridge to the smoker. Heres a tri tip I recently did. Hope this helps. 
Well for grilling it shouldn't hurt since you will finish it quickly. For smoking any meat there is a 40° -140° in 4 hour rule. I take the meat straight from the fridge so it absorbs as much smoke as possible. There's a cuttoff temp as to when it won't take on more smoke, I'm not sure what that point is myself. There's link to the USDA in my signature that might help . 
Other than prime rib, tri tip is my favorite cut of beef to smoke. Wonderful flavor that doesn't need much seasoning.
Nice I am glad some other came along to help out! Looks like you are in good hands and will be on track very soon. Good luck and keep us updated.
Starting to reconsider the functionality of an electric smoker.  Seems like the only way to generate smoke is direct contact to the heating element.  Something that seems inconsistent...

Might be time to evaluate propane smokers, or just bite the bullet and go Weber Smokey Mountain unit....
Hi Ohm,

I smoked some beef ribs today.  Used cherry wood chunk that I placed right on top of the heating element, at least the end of the wood chunk.  The wood burned just fine, but did not generate a lot of smoke, which is just fine, the ribs did have enough smoke flavor....but it's clear that the smoke generation with an electric ECB type smoker is limited....

i think I'm ready for a Weber Smokey.....

 I combing smoking and grilling when I do Tri-tip. I smoke until it reaches 135F and then toss it on a hot grill for about two minutes each side. is reader supported and as an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.

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