A barbecue is very traditional for a Labor Day weekend, this year I decided to do tri-tip. Tri-tip is a very popular beef roast to barbecue in California—popularized in Oakland and Santa Maria in the 1950’s. The problems with this cut—it’s thick fat cap and odd shape—leads much of the rest of the world to slice this roast into steaks. The Hispanic world—of which California is really still a part of—knows better. Done right it is flavorful, moist and juicy—of course done wrong it is carbonized, dry and chewy.
Removing only some of the fat cap and cutting crosshatches through the rest, solves the first problem. The problem of the shape is a bit harder to handle. The tri-tip’s triangular shape is so uneven that the ends are overdone before the thick middle is even close to being done.
Some cooks are of the opinion, burn it all and call it good. I cannot agree. With my new gas grill I seared both sides of the roast and them moved it to the cool side of the grill with the thickest part closest to the heat—so that it cooks low and slow.
Note: For a charcoal grill there is another solution. Cook’s Illustrated dealt with very similar problems in barbequing chicken. Their solution was to place an aluminum tray on the coal free side of the grill. 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.
Karl’s California Fusion Barbecued Tri-tip
1 Tbs. Kosher salt
½ Tbs. ancho chili powder
½ Tbs. black pepper corns
1 tsp. annato
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. onion power
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbs. corn oil
3 lb. tri-tip
1. Put the dry ingredients into a spice grinder and process to a powder.
2. If the tri-tip has a thick fat cap trim much of it off. Leave about a ¼ inch over the side and score cross hatches through the remaining fat cap about an inch apart.
3. Spread the dry rub all over the meat, pushing it into the crosshatches of the fat cap.
4. Place the roast in a gallon plastic bag and spread the oil over the meat.
5. Marinate the meat for at least 4 hours.
Tip: Ideally this should be done the night before and the meat should marinate for 15-18 hours.
Note: 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.
For a gas grill
6a. Oil the grill and start the gas five minutes before cooking.
If using a charcoal grill
6b. Start the barbecue an two hours before dinner. Spread the coals against the back of the barbecue and place an aluminum pan on the front side. Replace the grill, oil it and heat for 5 minutes.
7. Place the meat on the hot side of the grill fat cap down and close the grill for sear the meat for 10 minutes.
8. Turn the meat over and sear the second side for 8 minutes over the hot side of the grill.
9. Place the thickest part of the roast at the edge of the heat with the thinner end slanted toward the cool side of the grill. Insert a constant-read meat thermometer and close the grill again.
Tip: If you have a tri-tip that is thick on one end and thin at the other use this technique. If you have a tri-tip that is thick in the middle and thin at both ends lay it just off the edge of the heat toward the cool side of the grill.
10. Then the meat reaches 132º F, about another 20-30 minutes, 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 how close to the heat you have put the meat.
Note: Grilled beef cooked to 132º F and then wrapped in foil to rest continues to cook to 140 º F, which is medium rare.
11. Slice the beef across the grain and serve.