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Tri-tip is king of the California grill
The South claims bragging rights to smoked pulled pork, and Texas holds the brisket as its holy barbecue grail. But in California, tri-tip roast is the king of the grill. And rightfully so.
Locals know it as Santa Maria tri-tip, named after the small town on the Central Coast, where this cut first came to light in the 1950s and is still among the area's greatest claim to barbecue fame — and glory. It's that good.
Tri-tip, sometimes called bottom sirloin roast and triangle roast, is a hindquarter cut from the bottom sirloin that's blessed with a rich flavor and not too much marbling — nor too little.
In fact, it qualifies as lean, according to government guidelines, meaning a 3.5-ounce serving boasts less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol. Each steer yields only two tri-tip roasts. On looks alone, this boneless slab brings to mind a baby brisket.
Part of the tri-tip's appeal is its elongated triangular shape.
It starts out fairly thick and wide at one end, gradually gaining girth toward the middle, which can be several inches thick, then the roast tapers down to an obvious point. When the meat is grilled, the oddball shape allows you to offer rare slices from the plump section, and more well-done from the tip, thus pleasing everyone.
But note that the tri-tip is better when grilled not past medium-rare or medium. The longer you let a tri-tip linger over the flames, the tougher and drier this lean cut gets.
On the other hand, the tri-tip isn't called a roast for nothing. It lends itself beautifully to braising or roasting and shines brilliantly when prepared in a slow cooker.
Tri-tips come in slightly different sizes, but they don't top out at much more than 3 pounds or so. But pay attention when you spot a tri-tip. Unless you find one labeled "hand-trimmed," you're also buying a thick layer of flab called a fat cap that covers one side — the side you won't see facing up in the package.
So pick it up and try to peek to see how thick that fat is because you don't want to pay around $9 per pound for excess flab. Some folks like to keep all of the fat on the meat while grilling so that it bastes the tri-tip. Sounds great in theory, but the reality is not so hot when you consider that all of that melted fat easily causes five-alarm flare-ups.
Tri-tip is a fantastic hunk of beef, but I'm not going to kid you. It's no hoity-toity filet mignon (it's more flavorful). It's not even an uppity rib-eye (far less marbling and fat). It's a little chewy when grilled, but not to imply tough — unless you cook it to death.
When making sandwiches or simply serving sliced grilled or roasted tri-tip, be sure to thinly slice the meat against the grain so that you end up with more tender pieces. The goal is a fragrant pile of rosy tri-tip, not a fat slab.
PERFECTLY GRILLED TRI-TIP ROAST
1 2- to 3-pound tri-tip roast
1⁄2 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 shallot, finely minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
For the marinade: Combine the olive oil, garlic, shallot, oregano and black pepper in a heat-proof container and microwave for 45 seconds on high.
When the marinade has cooled slightly, add the juice and zest from the whole lime. Set marinade aside to cool completely.
Meanwhile, trim the layer of fat from the tri-tip.
Place the tri-tip in a large plastic zip-close bag and add the cooled marinade. Press or massage the bag to coat the meat with the marinade, which looks like a cross between a rub and a marinade. Refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.
About 45 minutes before you're ready to grill, take the tri-tip from the refrigerator to bring it almost to room temperature so that it'll cook evenly.
Remove the meat from the bag and leave as much of the marinade on the meat as you can. Sprinkle the tri-tip with salt, to taste.
To grill: I use a gas grill, which I heat to 500 degrees to get a good crusty sear on the meat. Cook the tri-tip for about four or five minutes on each side until you get a good sear on both sides.
Lower the heat to about 400 degrees, and cook each side an additional eight to 10 minutes. Depending on the size, the tri-tip should be medium rare.
When done, remove the meat from the grill and let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.
Slice thinly against the grain.
SOUTH OF THE BORDER SHREDDED TRI-TIP
Serves: eight to 10
1⁄4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 finely chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
Juice from one Mexican or key lime, about 1 tablespoon
1 tri-tip roast about 3 pounds, trimmed
For the tri-tip:
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 bay leaves
2 poblano chilies, roasted over an open flame until charred all over, then diced
5 garlic cloves, crushed and lightly browned in 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Be careful not to burn garlic.
1 14.5-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
For the marinade: Combine oil and garlic in a heat-proof cup and heat in microwave for about 45 seconds on high. Set aside until cool.
Once garlic oil is cool, combine with oregano, chipotle pepper and lime juice. Place in a large zip-close bag and add the tri-tip. Massage the bag so that the roast is completely coated with the marinade paste.
Refrigerate overnight or for at least six hours. Remove the marinated tri-tip from the refrigerator about 45 minutes prior to cooking.
For the tri-tip: Place the onion slices and bay leaves on the bottom of the slow cooker.
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
Place the tri-tip and marinade on top of the onion and bay leaves. Pour the tomato mixture over the roast. Cover and cook on high for four hours or on low for about eight hours. Tri-tip should be easy to shred when done.
Perfect for burritos or tacos. Shredded tri-tip can be tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen.
• • •
Santa Maria tri-tip barbecue traditionally includes pinquito beans, native to the area. But these savory Basque-style beans provide a perfect side dish.
BASQUE-STYLE GARBANZO BEANS
A few hunks of Trader Joe's uncured applewood-smoked bacon ends and pieces (or 5 strips of thick bacon, or 1 smoked turkey wing or a smoked ham hock)
4 large shallots, thinly sliced into rings
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (use a sweet variety if you prefer)
1 tablespoon dried, crushed oregano
4 or 5 whole bay leaves
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
Water or stock
1 teaspoon sugar
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
1 pound dried garbanzo beans, cleaned and soaked in water overnight
Salt and pepper to taste
Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the bacon or other smoked meat. If you're not using bacon, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Stir the meat around until it gets crispy. If you're using the bacon hunks, ham hock or smoked turkey wing, stir them around in the hot oil for a couple of minutes to slightly brown the meat.
Lower the heat and add the shallots and bell pepper, stir until veggies are soft. Add a dab more olive oil if your pan is too dry.
Add the garlic, paprika, oregano and bay leaves. Stir for a minute or so, but make sure not to burn your garlic.
Raise the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any bits. Add a can of water or stock, letting the mixture bubble for a few minutes.
Add the sugar and Worcestershire sauce, and stir in the beans. Now add 4 cans of water or stock.
Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper. You can use more salt later when the beans are done and you taste for seasoning.
Bring the mixture to a boil, uncovered, then lower the heat to simmer. Cook, covered, over low heat for about three hours. Stir occasionally.
After about three hours, remove the lid, turn up the heat and let the garbanzos bubble lightly until much of the liquid has evaporated and thickened slightly.