The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Tri-Tip Trifecta

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This third blog entry on tri-tip focusses on some new things I have learned. When I was looking up tri-tip recipes I found two recipes in Weber’s Big Book of Grilling that looked equally interesting. The ROSEMARY TRI-TIP I made last Saturday won by a nose, but I really couldn’t wait to try the other recipe: SANTA MARIA TRI-TIP. It turned out I was going to be home all day Sunday and the temperatures were going to be in the 50’s in January. I figured it was a sign and I was off to the butchers. Since the tri-tip I get is frozen in cryovac, I decided to buy 3 to have plenty around.

This time around I would need to quickly defrost the 2 pound (1 Kg) Tri-Tip. It doesn’t marinate for 8 hours. Instead I would need it to be ready as soon as I was done making the salsa, which was part of this meal. The first few times defrosting the tri-tip I had used 15 minutes in luke warm water. This had defrosted the surface but not the inside. This was fine where the tri-tip had 8 more hours marinading where it could finish defrosting. today I needed it completely defrosted. I was afraid the luke warm water would warm the outside surfaces too much by the time it defrosted the inside. The butcher on duty this day said 30 minutes in cool water. This did work better because after 30 minutes the meat was defrosted throughout and the outside was not getting warm like it had using the luke warm water. Instead of a marinade this recipe called for the meat to receive a spicy rub and sat at room temperature while the grill warmed. The other thing that needed to happen before this recipe went on the grill was the wood chips needed to soak for an hour.


Now your grills can look like the picture on the left, or you can still go ahead and fire them up in the snowy weather. Actually these pictures are both from 12-26-08 where we got about 6” (15 cm) of snow. The point is: Your gear doesn’t mind the snow if you don’t.

To soak the oak chip I got to try out a new gadget I’d picked up on sale for 4th of July. It was the Steven Raichlen Best of BBQ Wood Chip Soaker. Since I bought my smoker I really haven’t used the smoker drawer in my gas grill too much. Right off the bat I liked the fact one bin held the same amount of chips (one cup) as my smoker drawer. I would no longer have to dirty a measuring cup measuring out the chips. The way this tool works is the perforated bins have clips on each end that mate with corresponding slots n the plastic base of the unit. There are 2 sets of slots. The lower slots suspend the baskets in the cold water. Turning the baskets 90 degrees allows the baskets to sit up out of the water and drain using another set of slots on some high side rails. Quite ingenious actually. I used to use small foil pans to hold each batch of chips and I’d drain them into a colander. I liked the fact that I would no longer need to use any kitchen utensils for wood chips. Why are there two baskets? Well I thought it might be for folks like me whose smoker drawer goes through chips in 45 minutes which is faster than the one hour they say you need to soak the chips. As I was putting this unit away I discovered another reason. The picture on the box showed the chip basket actually sitting right on the hot charcoal on the grill. So while you are using one batch you can be soaking the next. In my case I don’t need to do that. I pour them into the smoker drawer.


The Misto brand mister allows you to apply liquids like olive oil in spray form. The lid on the left is put on and you pump it up and down several times which pressurizes the liquid. You remove the lid and press the spray button and the liquid comes out in a fine mist. When the charge is gone you use the lid to re-pressurize it. It is simple and works extremely well.

The rub was 5 ingredients and seemed like it would be spicy since those ingredients were: granulated garlic, salt, pepper, celery seed and cayenne pepper. The recipes in the Weber Big Book of Grilling often have you covered without necessarily telling you why. What I mean in this case is that to help keep the rub on during the sear and to help keep the meat from sticking to the grill grate, they have you spray or brush the rubbed meat with EVOO. In the picture above I show the mister I use for this purpose. Using a brush would dislodge too much of the rub in my mind whereas the spray does its work without disturbing the rub. Also it is faster than brushing and doesn’t dirty a utensil. After spraying it was out to the grill, which had been heating for about 20 minutes. I’d added the wood chips at the start and they were beginning to make a little smoke.


The tri-tip is ready to be rubbed. The wire rack allows the meat to drain before rubbing. The open rack also retains more of the rub on the bottom side, than when you put it an a solid surface after it is rubbed. The mistake I made here is not putting the probe in before rubbing the meat.

You cook this Tri-Tip with a 10 minute direct sear, turning once. I have added one minute a side to the time, partly to compensate for the cold weather and patly because a good sear is what give the meat it’s incredible flavor. Tri-Tip tastes a lot like a grilled steak and the inner meat has the consistency of a tender roast. Actually I turn the meat once on each side to get crosshatch grill marks and get more seared areas. The Rosemary Tri-Tip recipe give the meat a long marinade in the fridge. Even though the meat sits out for an hour I found the temps were in the mid 30’s from marinading in the fridge for 8 hours. I should mention I use my remote read thermometer to help me gauge when the meat is done. I place the probe in the meat before it goes out to the grill. This means you need to be careful not to dislodge it when you turn the meat during the direct grilling process. The other thing you’ll want to do is insert the thermometer before you apply the rub, Two reasons: the meat is easier to hold and you won’t dislodge the rub. It is a bit tricky getting the thermometer in the rather thin Tri-Tip. At only 1 1/2” (3.75 cm) thick you really do need to get it in the middle and as I found out this day there is no margin for error.


One side of the tri-tip has been seared.

Where this was a direct/indirect cook I set my 6 burners as follows:
Burner 1 which also covers the smoker drawer was on high. This gets you the most smoke in the shortest time.
Burner 2 was one notch above medium as it was back in the 40’s when I started so I needed to compensate a bit to get a true medium.
Burners 3 & 4, the middle burners were off. This gives me the place to land the meat for the indirect portion of the cook.
Burners 5 & 6 were one notch above medium like Burner 2.

Once I got to the indirect portion of the cook, I bumped up burner 6 to high. This was to even out the temps, since burner 1 is also on high for the smoker drawer. Where this meat is triangular in shape I put the point facing burner 6. My theory was the smaller end would cook faster anyway and since it would take a few minutes for burner 6 to go from Medium to High this might even out the cooking somewhat. Once thing about having the probes in the meat from the start is I knew what the internal temps were the entire cook. The tri-tips I’d made that had been in the fridge for 8 hours were hitting the grill at 34 - 35 degrees (1-2 C). This tri-tip was in the high 40’s (4 C) when it hit the grill. So it didn’t surprise me when the end temp during the sear portion was 108 degrees (42 C) instead of mid 90’s (33 C). This made perfect sense as both were a 60 degree (33 C) rise. What didn’t make sense was what happened next.


The tri-tip is a small roast with big flavor. Here it has rested for 10 minutes and is ready to carve.

I moved the meat over unlit burners 3 & 4 to go indirect and dialed up burner 6 to high to match burner 1. I figured this meat would finish closer to the 20 minute end of the 20-30 minutes the recipe gave. In the past the meat seems to rise about 1 degree (0.5 cm) every 45 seconds. This meat was rising 1 degree (0.5 cm) every 30 seconds and was headed for a 10 minute finish to reach the 140 degree (60 C) end temp. This just didn’t make sense even allowing for the higher start temp. Under indirect heat the same sized meat at the same cooking temp should rise the same amount. Rather than continue to scratch my head I grabbed an instant read thermometer which told the story. The meat was only in the low 120’s (49 C) in the middle. This was where it should have been if it rose a degree every 45 seconds and suddenly things made sense again. Rather than try to pull the probe already in the meat which would have been awkward, I simply added the second temperature probe for this thermometer. I grabbed some rubber cooking gloves to hold the meat and I put the thermometer in at a shallow angle from the top so there was at least an inch (2.5 cm) of the probe in the meat when the probe got to the middle. This second probe also read 125 (52 C) and it all made sense again.


The tri-tip cooked to 140 (60 C) retained more of the internal juices within the meat. I slice it across the grain and at an angle like you do with London broil. Unlike London broil I slice it on the angle to get a large slice, not to help make it tender. It is plenty tender already.

I noticed that when the meat was almost done, I’d started getting a lot more smoke. I hadn’t given it much thought but with the colder temps this made sense. In the cold weather it took the burner longer to raise the temp to the point where the chips start smoldering. Normally I simply fire up the grill and when the grill is ready the chips are too. From now on in the cold weather I’ll light the burner under just the smoker drawer for an extra 15 minutes or so before firing up the rest of the grill. When the meat hit 140 (60 C) I pulled it and brought it in to rest for 10 minutes. Both tri-tip recipes I have made call for an end temp of 130 (54 C) and a 5 minute rest. I did it this way the first time and where 130 (54 C) is a bit low, not unlike the way you cook beef tenderloin, I checked it with an instant read thermometer before shutting the grill off. I’d wanted to make sure it really was 130 (54 C) and no lower. Now the various tri-tip recipes all say you need to be careful not to cook it to too high a temp, which will dry it out. But to me 130 (54 C) was just a bit to low. Plus whether it was the 5 minute rest or the 130 degree (54 C) end temp, there was a ton of juice coming off the meat. I decided to cook the next one to 140 (60 C) and use a 10 minute rest to see if I liked it better. It was indeed better. The meat was still tender and juicy but much of the juice stayed in the meat instead of pouring out onto the cutting board as you sliced. I have since found some tri-tip recipes that go to 140 (60 C) and rest for 10 minutes, so I wasn’t alone there. Another bonus is the 10 minutes of resting and 5 minutes to carve the roast gives you plenty of time to get your sides finished up


The tri-tip cooked to 130 (54 C) (left) is red and quite runny-a little too much so for my tastes. The tri-tip on the right at 140 (60 C) is more pink, less runny and still very very moist

Even though I am getting the hang of tri-tip, I still learned 3 important things this time around. The first is be very careful with the probe placement. This I knew already, but what I’ve learned since this tri-tip is a better way to place the probe. I now pick up the tri tip and hold it so it is hanging vertically. You do this before the rub goes on to avoid disturbing the rub and the meat is easier to hold. Then I insert the probe straight down into the middle of the meat. You couldn’t do this with a big cut, but with the small cut of meat gravity takes care of keeping the meat vertical and you can sight down the shaft of the probe to keep it straight. The second thing I learned is in the cold weather I need to light the smoker drawer even before I light the rest of the grill. It takes about twice as long to make decent smoke. Third and last is that for my tastes at least, cooking the meat to 140 (60 C) degrees and resting for 10 minutes is the way to go.


The spicy bark and the spicy salsa go well together..

So how did it taste: Incredible!!! The meat tastes like a steak and eats like an incredibly moist and tender roast beef. The rub made for a tasty and somewhat spicy crust, which was a perfect compliment for the spicy salsa served with it. Three out of the four people who have had both like this recipe better than the rosemary tri-tip plus one tie vote. The first time I made this recipe I said I liked the
ROSEMARY TRI-TIP better. The second time I made the SANTA MARIA SMOKED TRI-TIP I would have to say it is a tie. The tie breaker may be the next time I do this one and give the smoker drawer more time to heat up. Speaking of smoke I’ve found a recipe for this for the smoker which cooks it low and slow and then finishes it with a high heat sear. I am looking forward to making this real soon.

  ROSEMARY TRI-TIP Beef Picture Entry
  SANTA MARIA TRI-TIP Beef Picture Entry
  TRI-TIP TRY AGAIN Tri-Tip Blog Entry


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