A Different Way to Cook Tri-Tip

(From the July 2011 edition of the North Sac News.  Part of the Summer BBQ Series.)

People of Northern California consider yourself lucky. Not only can we find Tri-Tip in practically every grocery store in town but we know how to cook it too. If you are thinking to yourself “what’s the big deal” then think about this. I am a contributing member of several BBQ forums with members residing not only in the United States but all over the world.  I often share experiences with fellow barbecuers about different methods of cooking Tri-Tip and I have found that as we move east across the United States Tri-Tip becomes less and less available. I have spoken with many very experienced outdoor chiefs outside of California who have never seen a Tri-Tip let alone cooked one.  This is because Tri-Tip was originated in Central California-Santa Maria to be exact.  In fact, the most popular method of cooking this meat is known as Santa Maria Tri-Tip.  This method is very basic. Season the meat with Salt, Pepper and Garlic. Sear both sides over a very hot grill until nicely crusted and then move it away from the fire and allow it to cook throughout. Traditionally this is done on a Santa Maria Grill. You have probably seen one.  It has a pulley system that raises and lowers the grate so you can adjust the amount of heat the meat is exposed to.

 I would like to introduce you to a different way to cook Tri-Tip. Smoke it. I have been doing this for quite some time and with very good results.  Now Tri-Tip is not full of connective tissue like a Brisket so it will not take the better part of a day to cook. In fact smoking a Tri-Tip should take no more than 2-3 hours tops. The difference between grilling and smoking the meat is that by smoking it you will inject a very nice smoky flavor in the meat that will not be achieved by grilling. Now if you already have a smoker my guess is that you are pretty experienced with it and need no instruction from me as to how to fire it up.  If you do not own a smoker do not be discouraged. Smoking meat can easily be accomplished on most grills such as the popular Weber Kettle. Here is how you do it.

If you do not already have one I suggest you get what is known as a Charcoal Chimney. This is a cylindrical devise used to light your charcoal before pouring them into your cooker. Just bank a charcoal chimney full of unlit charcoal on one side of the charcoal grate and add a disposable aluminum pan half full of water to the other side. Light approximately 10 pieces of charcoal in the chimney and when completely lit pour over the unlit charcoal. By not igniting all the charcoal at once you are creating a low and slow burn. Add a couple chunks of your favorite hardwood, such as hickory and close the lid. While the cooker is coming up to temperature season your meat with Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder or your favorite rub.  When the cooker temperature reaches 225-250 degrees put the Tri-Tip on to the cooking grate opposite the burning charcoal and directly above the water pan. This is called In-Direct cooking and will emulate the cooking method of a smoker.  Keep the cooker temperature in the 225-250 degree range throughout the cook by regulating the amount of oxygen allowed to enter. You do this by adjusting the air vents. Flip and turn the Tri-Tip every half hour until it reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees. Once there, remove the meat and let it rest for 15 minutes loosely tented with foil. This will allow the juices to redistribute within the meat and not be lost on your cutting board.  Slice the Tri-Tip thin and against the grain. This will prevent the slices from becoming chewy.  You can add BBQ sauce if you wish. I make my own but you can use any that you like.  I hope you try smoking Tri-Tip and give me a yell and let me know what you think.


The Midnight Smoker BBQ