Karl’s Barbequed Tri-tip

Tri-tip was on sale at Safeway this week and I decided I wanted it for Daddy’s Day. While my favorite barbequed meat is lamb, a good tri-tip comes in a close second. That is, of course, the rub. A good tri-tip has a red-ish brown crust on the outside and is juicy and tender on the inside. However, what you usually end up with is a blackened, scorched crust and mostly tough, dry meat.

Karl’s Barbequed Tri-tip

Karl’s Barbequed Tri-tip

There are a couple of problems with tri-tips. If you cook it directly over the coals, the fat cap renders and drips down creating flare-ups the scorch the meat. If you remove the fat cam the meat is too exposed to the heat and the meat will come out dry and over done. There is also the problem of the shape. The tri-tip’s triangular shape is so uneven that the ends are overdone before the thick middle is even close to being done.

This month’s Cook’s Illustrated had article about barbequed chicken. They were dealing with very similar problems in barbequing chicken. They had several suggestions on how to prevent just these problems.

Their solution was to place an aluminum tray on the coal free side of the grill. Their usual solution of a bi-level fire, pushing all of the coals to one side of the grill and doing most of the cooking away from the coals, was not helping with the disparate meats of a chicken. The thick parts were coming out under done and the thinner parts were coming out dry. The aluminum tray acts as a heat sink. It lowers and evens out the temperature of grill by as much as 30º F. You can also lower the temperature by another 10º F by putting an inch of water into the tray. Besides reducing the heat, the aluminum tray also catches the rendered fat and prevents scorching flare-ups.

In looking at tri-tip barbeque recipes I was drifting toward Santa Maria Barbeque. This is actually a very specific technique. A very simple dry rub and then smoked with red oak chips. This is always accompanied by Santa Maria Pinquito Beans. According to the Internet there was one place in 50 miles that carried these ingredients. It is almost across the street, but they lied. I still want to make this but it is going to take more time than I have and some mail ordering of supplies.

That being said, I did decide that a bit of wood smoke would be a good addition. Jan does not think much of the flavors of hickory and mesquite, but I was able to find some apple wood chips. With my grilling techniques settled it was time to turn to seasonings.

The seasonings for Santa Maria tri-tip is simply salt, pepper and garlic salt. That is a lot of salt and I have mentioned that I prefer not to use powered garlic.  While pepper is fine, I would use only a bit of salt and I really prefer fresh garlic, so a dry rub is out.

I looked a lot of seasoning suggestions and they were either too sparse or way too complex. As I looked through the options from other peoples’ recipes, I made my selections. Paprika I could see as a good addition to the mix, but for this dish, chili power would over power the beef flavor. Mexican oregano—yes, fennel seed—no. Sugar of any kind is out, because of Chris’ ketogenic diet, but a touch of soy sauce would help the garlic make a paste of the seasonings without adding any extra oil.

I do not want to add oil to my spice blend for two reasons. First, the tri-tip is already a fatty piece of meat and does not need more grease added to it.  Secondly, Jan is on a perpetual low fat diet and I cut any fat I can from most recipes.  If Chris wants to pour olive oil over his meat at the table that is his choice.

Note: This is actually a strategy of the keto diet, since you are living on meat, green veggies and fats, you add fat, olive oil, coconut butter, butter, etc. at every opportunity.

Most try-tips come with a thick fat cap (usually placed face down, so you cannot tell how thick it is until you open the package). For Jan, I usually trim all of this off. Today I plan to shave about ¾ of it off, but to leave a thin fat cap to protect and baste the meat for Chris.

Note: When I opened this tri-tip there was no fat cap, it was all meat! Yea, Safeway!

Some recipes call for using meat tenderizer and I, in the past, have recommended using baking soda for this purpose. For a cut of meat this thick I would recommend not using these. These treatments would not penetrate very far into the meat. If they did anything, it would only make the surface of the meat mushy. Not a desirable outcome.

Karl’s Barbequed Tri-tip


1 Tbs. black pepper
½ Tbs. paprika
½ Tbs. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. onion power
1 tsp. Kosher salt
8 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs. soy sauce

2½ lb. tri-tip


1. Put the dry ingredients into a spice grinder and blend to a course power.

2. Add the wet ingredients and mix into a paste.

3. If the tri-tip has a thick fat cap trim much of it off.

4. Spread the spice paste all over the meat and let it marinate in a gallon plastic bag for at least 4 hours.

Tip: This should be done the night before and the meat should marinate for 18 hours.

Tip: Do not poke holes in the meat with a fork to speed up the marinating process! Holes only give the meat juices avenues to escape.

Tri-tip with wet rub paste

Tri-tip with wet rub paste

5. Set the roast in the plastic bag on the counter two hours before you plan on grilling.

Tip: Your roast should be at room temperature when it hits the grill.

6. Start the coals at least an hour before dinner.

7. when you start the grill pout the wood chips into water to soak for 20 minutes.

8. Drain the wood chips well and fold the into a tin foil envelope. Poke several holes in the top of the foil packet and place them on the coals. you can also spread some extra damp wood chips on the coals to jump start the smoking.

Note: Take a sheet of tin foil and put the wood chips in the center. Fold the top and bottom edges to the center and roll them together length wise. Press the packet flat and roll up the opne ends to make a sealed packet. Poke holes in the folded top and lay it on the coals.

9. Pull the coals to the back of the grill and put an empty aluminum tray in the open space in the front of the grill.

Tip: When the packet starts to smoke it is time to put the meat on and close the grill.

10.  Place the meat on the cool side of the grill (over the aluminum tray) and close the grill for 20 minutes.

11.  Turn the meat and place it over the coals. Insert aconstant read meat thermometer and close the grill again.

12. Then the meat reaches 135º F, remove it from the grill and wrap it in tin foil to rest for 10 minutes.

Tip: How long your meat will take to reach this temperature depends on whether you put the meat directly over the coals or, in my case with a foil pan and indirect heat

Note: Grilled beef cooked to 135º F and then wrapped in foil to rest continues to cook to 140 º F, which is medium rare. I like mine done just a bit more than that, but most of my family like it that way.

13. Slice thickly across the grain and serve.

Tip: A tri-tip roast is a long flat triangle. Unfortunately the grain of the meat is in the direction of the short side. Take a few slices from the point and the cut the remaining piece in half. Continue slicing in the same direction as before on each of the two halves. If you cut the roast in what seems the most logical direction, cross ways from the narrow point,  you will end up with tough, stringy slabs of beef.


Filed under Beef, Main Dishes

4 responses to “Karl’s Barbequed Tri-tip

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken II | Jabberwocky Stew

  2. Pingback: Karl’s Apple Wood Smoked Teriyaki Tri-tip | Jabberwocky Stew

  3. Pingback: Karl’s Barbecued Mulled Port Tri-tip | Jabberwocky Stew

  4. Pingback: Karl’s Salt and Pepper Barbecued Tri-tip | Jabberwocky Stew

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