The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Tri - tip in New England: Who’d a thunk it? I’ve been on a roll lately, and I don’t just mean the fresh hamburger and hot dog rolls I’ve been making. First as I’ve described in several recent blogs: I’ve discovered that I can direct grill with my current gas grill all winter long. Additionally I have realized a couple fantasies such as hotdogs and hamburgers served on fresh baked homemade rolls. Another item I’d always wanted to eat was beef tri - tip.

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The tri-tip is basically triangular in shape, although the top right corner is clipped off a bit as seen in the picture on the left. The right picture shows the tri-tip looking a bit like a small brisket.

For those of you that have never heard of this cut: it is the triangular shaped piece at the very bottom of the Bottom Sirloin primal cut. There is only one small piece per beef so it is not something you can get in great quantity. It weighs between 1-1/2 to 2 pounds when trimmed of the external fat. It was often ground into hamburger or cubed for stew beef. For some reason in the late 50’s in California it started to get cooked whole on the grill or rotisserie after being be rubbed with salt, pepper and spices. Often It was often accompanied by some sort of salsa. It was most popular in the Santa Maria area of California and is sometimes called “Santa Maria steak” or “Santa Maria tri - tip.It is triangular in shape and looks a bit like a smaller version of a beef brisket. Unlike a brisket which is cooked to a high temperature to render off all of the fat, the tri-tip is cooked to rare or medium rare. The cut has quite a bit of flavor while having a low fat content and low cost. Many of my cookbooks have one or more recipes for tri-tip and I’d often heard grillers from California speak fondly of it. However this cut isn’t readily available outside California, so I never thought I’d get to try it.

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The tri-tip fit nicely in a 1 gallon (3.75 L) press and seal plastic bag (left) and is ready to go into the fridge. The meat is set on a wire rack and rests at room temperature before grilling (right).


Every time I’d go to a new butcher’s shop, tri-tip was one of the things I’d inquire about. Recently the Alpine Butcher Shop in Chelmsford moved to a new and bigger location on the Chelmsford/Lowell line. They carry some hard to find meats and I figured I’d inquire about tri-tip when I went in to check out their new digs. I was surprised to hear the answer was: “Yes”. I already had my meal planned for the next Saturday, so I decided I’d do tri-tip the following weekend. On Sunday I started looking for a tri-tip recipe to make. I settled on
ROSEMARY TRI-TIP from Weber’s Big Book of Grilling. I was so excited by the concept of being able to get tri-tip, that by Monday morning I had decided I couldn’t wait 6 days for the weekend. Now there was more to it than eagerness, although honestly that was definitely part of it. Where I’d never made this cut before, I figured it might be smart to try it before I served it on the weekend. I figured I could make my mistakes on this first round. One concern for me was: Where this meat was such a small cut, I wanted to make sure one tri-tip was enough for four people. With my discovery that my latest gas grill could direct grill in the cold weather, temps in the 40’s (4 C) would be a heat wave.

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The meat has been seared on both sides and I am about to move it to the unlit center area of the grill. The remote read thermometer’s temperature probe can be seen on the left..


I wanted to give the marinade a full 8 hours, so I was customer number one when the butcher shop opened. The last time I was in, the butcher mentioned it was frozen in cryovac. I used to look down on using frozen over fresh meat, but some of my readings about the subject have suggested that done correctly you don’t lose much if anything freezing the meat. I did make a point of asking the butcher the best method for defrosting this meat. This is one area I will work on a bit for my second try this weekend. The butcher suggested putting it in a bowl with some luke warm water for about 10 minutes. This is what I did and when I pulled it out of the water it was not cold on the outside but when I squeezed it, the middle still felt like it could be frozen. I figured it would finish defrosting in the fridge, but evidently it didn’t defrost as much as I thought. When I went to take the meat out to the grill and put in the temperature probe for my remote read thermometer it read 33 degrees (1 C). I have a feeling this contributed to the cook taking a bit longer than what the book said. I will ask the butcher for some more advice, since I’d worry about leaving the meat in the water any longer as the outside would start to get too warm.

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The meat rests for 5 minutes before slicing.


While the meat was defrosting, I made the marinade which consisted of whole grain mustard, EVOO, balsamic vinegar, steak sauce and chopped fresh rosemary. I put the meat in a 1-gallon (3.75 L) press and seal plastic bag and put it on a plate in the fridge. I flipped it over every hour or so until 6:30 PM when it was time to get started. I pulled the meat out of the marinade and set in on a wire rack for 30 minutes or so. I went out and lit the gas grill and set burners 1 and 2 plus 5 and 6 to medium. I left burners 3 and 4 off because the meat would start with direct grilling and finish indirectly. Just before bringing the meat out the grill I seasoned it with some salt and pepper and inserted the temperature probe. This was when I noticed the temperature reading of the center of the meat was 33 degrees. I figured this would add some time onto the indirect portion of the cook as the meat had farther to go to reach the end temp of 135 (57 C). The propane tank was starting to get below the midway point and so I opened the valve up a bit more to help with the lower pressure. I noticed the temperature gauge in the grill lid was a bit lower than it would be in the summer but I was not concerned. In retrospect I should have turned the burner knobs up a notch. What I was thinking was just temperature loss through the grill lid in the cold weather, may have been lower temps due to the lower pressure in the propane tank. I did decide to increase the 5 minute per side sear time to 6 minutes. I got a sear but it could have been more. Also the slightly low temps affected the indirect portion which took about 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes. One nice thing about a remote read thermometer is I was warm and toasty monitoring things from the Kitchen. Also when a meat runs longer than the recipe implies you are not running back and forth to the grill, inserting an instant read thermometer over and over again. I did still make a couple trips out to the grill, just to make sure the temps weren’t dropping down signaling the end of the propane.

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Angled slices make for a wider piece of meat (left). I served rosemary and garlic fries and green beans with the rosemary tri-tip. hopefully there will be many more of these roasts in my future.


 When the meat came off the grill, it was almost time to eat. It needed only a 5 minute rest and I sliced it across the grain and at an angle like London Broil. This helped create some nice wide slices. The meat was taken to 135 (57 C) and the slices were rare to medium rare. Evidently tri-tip is a cut you don’t want to take beyond medium rare. The meat was easy to slice and my “quality control” sample was tasty, moist and tender. At a relatively low price of $5.99 a pound it was an excellent piece of meat. The marinade gave the roast an interesting flavor, almost tart. I was asked to make it again on Tuesday night. I am glad I did this test run as I learned several things. First: I need to work on my defrost technique. Secondly: I am going to set the temps a bit higher the next time so I get a deeper sear and a quicker indirect cook. Lastly I confirmed it will serve four, even eating more than expected because the meat is so good. After this test run I feel like I am in good shape for my next tri-tip cook this weekend. The only question is: Will I actually wait for the weekend, or make it again sooner? But if you are going to have a problem, this is the kind of problem to have.
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SOME RELATED LINKS:

  ROSEMARY TRI-TIP Beef Picture Entry


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