Monday, September 17, 2012

Santa Maria Tri-Tip

I learned about tri-tip a few years back on a BBQ forum I read. What is a tri tip? It's a cut from the bottom sirloin, triangular in shape and is fairly lean. Overcooking a tri-tip is a sin, as it will dry out and toughen up on you. Ok you say, this is news to me, I have never seen tri-tip anywhere... There's a reason for this, there are only two per animal and they are only about two and a half pounds each. I have heard most of the tri-tip in the USA is destined for California where tri-tip is a specialty.

The problem with tri-tip in the GTA is finding it. Most butchers don't stock it as there is little demand up here, and, that's a shame. It's a lean cut, and, when prepared correctly has a rich, beefy flavour and is melt-in-your-mouth-tender.

How do you cook it? Traditionally it's rubbed liberally with kosher salt, garlic, pepper, and parsley and then grilled directly over red oak logs using a Santa Maria style grill. The secret is to keep it over a low to medium fire so it doesn't scorch before the middle of the roast cooks.

I recently found my local Sobey's stocks some harder to find cuts and the butchers there are really accomodating. A few weeks back I found they had AAA tri-tip on sale for $7 a pound. I ran right over and picked up four roasts. Previously, I had been driving to the west end of Toronto or to downtown butchers to find tri-tip. To find it five minutes from my house was the score of scores.

Here's my preparation:

Santa Maria Rub

1/2 T kosher salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp parsley flakes
pinch cayenne

This rub should cover one complete roast.

Since I don't have a Santa Maria style grill, I use my gas grill (I know, I know). I set the middle burner for minimum and the outside burners to medium high. My trusty Napoleon heats nicely and burns between 400°F and 600°F with the lid closed using this setup

Put the roast over the low flame and close the lid, rotate the roast 45° after a few minutes to create cross hatch grill marks. After 10 or so minutes flip the roast and repeat the previous steps. You need to make sure you don't overcook your tri-tip. Using an instant read thermometer here is your friend. Pull the roast when it hits 130°F and let it rest for at least 10 minutes loosely tented under foil.

Here's the most important piece of info I can give you. A tri tip has a grain, you see it best when it's raw. When you slice your tri-tip, you want to slice against this grain. You want to see the end view of the muscle fibres once it's sliced. If you slice along the grain, you'll end up chewing on elastic bands of muscle fibre. Tasty, but not what we want. If you look at the top picture below, you'll see the grain runs from lower left to top right. This means that when I sliced it I cut from top left to lower right.

Serve sliced, straight up or as a sandwich on toasted garlic bread with your favourite BBQ sauce.

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