Karl’s Apple Wood Smoked Teriyaki Tri-tip

Fanime is this weekend, so we have had a bunch of teenagers camped out on our living room floor. Our usual Sunday dinner got pushed to Memorial Day. Traditionally this holiday means barbecue. Jan asked for tri-tip.

Karl’s Apple Wood Smoked Teriyaki Tri-tip

Karl’s Apple Wood Smoked Teriyaki Tri-tip

Normally, in America this would mean “beef & beans.” Son-in-law Chris is still on his ketogenic diet and beans are still out of the picture. My father spent some time in Japan—during the Korean War—and he came back a Nipponophile. As a result, my mother, Claudia, was making teriyaki long before it became common place in the U.S.

Jan recently got me a set of wood smoking chips and I thought the apple wood smoke would go well with the teriyaki sauce. A big slab of grilled beef is very un-Japanese cuisine, but barbecued beef teriyaki is a natural place for me to go. Think of it as, East meats West (sic).

There are a several 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 cap 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.

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. Besides reducing the heat, the aluminum tray also catches the rendered fat and prevents scorching flare-ups.

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). It prevents the marinade from soaking into half of the meat. Many people keep it on to baste the meat, but I usually trim all of it off, because of Jan’s diet restrictions.

I have been experimenting with ways to tenderize meat lately. Today, I decided to add some rice wine vinegar to my mother Claudia’s teriyaki sauce. If properly cooked, tri-tip is usually a tender cut of meat, but it goes too tough to chew quickly if overcooked. Would the addition of vinegar make it more forgiving?

Answer: Yes!

To help the marinade work its way into the meat, I decided that pricking (sticking it with a fork many times) would be necessary to give the marinade channels into the center of the steak. To prevent the juices from running back out these channels during cooking, I decided to sear the outside at the beginning of the cooking time. Searing would seal the openings of the fork pricks and trap the meat juices and marinade inside the meat.

Note: I did everything on this tri-tip just the opposite of what I recommended for my Santa Maria barbequed tri-tip. I removed the fat cap, I used a wet marinade, I pricked the meat, I started the meat on the hot side of the grill. (see the After Dinner Note for the results.)

Just because a big slab of meat isn’t Japanese cuisine, doesn’t mean the rest of the meal can’t be. For the starch eaters, some simple steamed rice. The kids really like mushrooms and I saw some fresh shitaki mushrooms, barbecued with teriyaki sauce? It sounded like a good idea.

For the main vegetable side dish, I decided on chrysanthemum greens. Jan has also bought me a mandoline, so I have been making lots of Japanese Tsukemono. Tonight it is burdock (gobo) carrots & daikon (namasu), Japanese cucumber (sunomono), and napa cabbage (hakusai). Finally, I made Jan’s favorite, cold fresh tofu with seaweed salad.

Karl's Memorial Day Barbecue

Karl’s Memorial Day Barbecue

After Dinner Note: I had thought that the Santa Maria barbequed tri-tip was a good tri-tip. This was a perfect tri-tip. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender, moist and flavorful.

Karl’s Apple Wood Smoked Teriyaki Tri-tip


Karl’s Teriyaki Sauce/ Marinade 

½ cup low sodium soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
¼ cup sake
2 Tbs. rice vinegar
2 Tbs. fresh grated ginger
2 Tbs. sugar

1 tsp. corn starch mixed into 1 Tbs. water

2½ lb. tri-tip (fat cap removed)
Apple wood chips
2 Tbs. pickled ginger (Gari)


1. Mix the marinade ingredients (soy sauce, mirin, sake, vinegar, ginger, and sugar) in a small bowl.

Tip: The vinegar acts as a meat tenderizer. Do not marinate over 24 hours or the meat will turn to mush.

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

3. Prick the meat all over with a fork and put it in a gallon plastic bag with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least six hours, turning occasionally.

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

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

5. When you start the coals, remove the meat from the marinade and pat it dry.

Note: Do not discard the marinade!

Tip: Let the meat air dry for an hour so that you will get a good sear when you put it on the grill. This also lets the meat warm up to room temperature.

6. Put the wood chips into water to soak for 20 minutes.

7. Put the marinade in a small pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.

Tip: You want about ½-¾ of a cup of sauce. If the meat has soaked up too much of the marinade, add a bit more soy sauce and mirin.

Note: The juices from the meat will coagulate when they are heated, but the umami beef flavor will still be in the sauce. I also threw in the trimmings from my shitaki mushrooms to add their umami boost.

8. Use a strainer and a coffee filter to remove the solids from the teriyaki sauce.

9. Mix a teaspoon of cornstarch into a tablespoon of water and add it to the pot. Re-heat the sauce just enough to thicken it. Reserve the teriyaki sauce until later.

10. 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.

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 open ends to make a sealed packet. Poke holes in the folded top and lay it on the coals.

11. 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.

12. Place the meat on the hot side of the grill, directly over the coals, for three minutes on each side.

13. Move the meat to the cool side of the grill (over the aluminum tray), brush with teriyaki sauce and close the grill for 20 minutes.

14. Turn the meat over and brush with teriyaki sauce. Insert a constant read meat thermometer and close the grill again.

15. Then the meat reaches 137º F, remove it from the grill and wrap it in tin foil to rest for 10 minutes.

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.

16. Slice across the grain and arrange on a serving plate.

Note: The final problem with a tri-tip is that the grain of the meat runs across the thin direction of the long roast. The seemingly natural way to cut a long skinny roast is to start at one end and cutting off the thin pieces. However, this cuts with the grain of the meat and leaves you with tough, stringy, little pieces of meat. Cut the roast in half and rotate the meat. Cut down the long edge, at an angle, to get tender, melt in your mouth pieces of steak.

17. After slicing the meat, add any juices to the remaining teriyaki sauce.

18. Pour the sauce over the cut slices and garnish with the pickled ginger.


Filed under Barbeque, Beef, Main Dishes, Sauces and Spices

2 responses to “Karl’s Apple Wood Smoked Teriyaki Tri-tip

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Salmon and Tofu Teriyaki with Six Pickles | Jabberwocky Stew

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

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