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Tri Tip, or Santa Maria Tri Tip

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    Posted: 01 March 2010 at 05:51
Calif. has one prominent claim to culinary fame, popularizing Tri Tip a triangle muscle part of the bottom sirloin primal cut.  Usually triangular in shape about 1.5 to 3 lbs.

In particular Santa Maria Tri Tip is a traditional style of cooking this wonderful cut of meat.  There are many stories about how this cut was elevated from tough stew or ground meat, but one fact remains, Santa Maria Calif. is where it all started.  The traditional way of cooking Santa Maria tri tip is the essence of simplicity.  Seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic salt, direct cooked over red oak coals on a grill with a grate that can be raised and lower to adjust for the heat.  Usually served with toasted French or garlic toast, pinquito beans, pico de gallo salsa, and a tossed salad.

Personally I'm a bit of a traditionalist, so on another forum when Tri Tip is discussed and people are smoking tri tip or trying to fast grill with real high heat, it reveals to me they haven't experience true Santa Maria simplicity, because this great inexpensive cut requires very little to deliver to the plate juicy, deliciously tender slices of meat.

I'm not a butcher or a trained chef, so this info is base on my cooking Tri-tip for about 25 to 30 years.

In Calif, you can always find Tri Tip in the meat case, so we wait until it is on sale, usually about $3-$4 a lb and get several, sometimes it is even under $3 a pound.

When you first get the raw meat, tri tip comes both trimmed and untrimmed, I like to trim any fat down to about 1/8", and remove anything hanging loose.  Study the grain of the meat, Tri Tip has to ALWAYS be cut on the bias "across the grain".  You can season it and grill right away, or put a little rub on then wrap and put back in fridge for a few hours.  Since this discussion is about Santa Maria Style I won't discuss marinades, and even the use of a rub isn't traditional, personally I do it both ways.

Simple Santa Maria Rub

Kosher Salt, Fresh Ground Black Pepper, Onion & Garlic Powder, some cayanne, some rosemary.

I like to grill tri tip on my weber kettle, using a two zone,  hot / cold side method.  Coals are built on one side and the other side has no coals.  I use a divider I have made from an old baking tray, it is about 3-4 inches tall and I try to build a level bed of hot coals about 3" high on one side of the divider.  I use soaked hickory wood chips wrapped in foil to generate the smoke, you can use wood chunks if you have them, one 3x3 chunk wrapped in foil will last the whole cook.  Be sure to poke a couple of holes in the foil.

I usually cook two tri tips at a time, one for the dinner and the other for sandwiches the next day.  a 3" bed of coals is going to be a hot fire, you might start with 2" to have better control and avoid burning your meat.  I start with the fat side up. If I have a piece of meat that has a lot of fat, it may start a grease fire, I have a 2 1/2" alum ring that I use placed on the cooking grate above the coals, and another smaller grate on top of the ring which elevates the meat to keep if from the heat and flames.  Or you can just turn the meat and put the lid back on, usually the flames will die.  Note with Kettle always cook with lid on.  Depending on the thickness usually I will cook the first side 10-15 minutes.  I only want to turn the meat one time if possible.  You want a crusty char on each side, but not black  and not so burned it is hard char.  Rem. you want it to cook at least 10-12 min. over direct heat, if it is cooking too fast then elevate it.  *If you have no way to elevate the grate to adjust heat, then you will have to turn the meat.

If you want to try a grilling baste, only baste after you turn not before.
Garlic, veg oil, red wine vinegar, a little mustard.


After I turn the meat, I insert a remote probe thermometer, The probe lead goes through one of the Lid Vent holes, and the digital readout rests on a stool next to the Kettle.  At about 10 minutes check for exterior char look.  If necessary elevate the meat if it is cooking too fast.  Note cook about the same time on each side over direct heat.  When the exterior has the right char look, pull the meat to the cold side of the fire.  Notice you have the inside elbow and outside elbow, the outside is thicker, so keep it toward the heat.  Leave in the cold zone until the temp hits 135º, remove to a plate or pan and cover with alum foil.  I let it rest about 15-20 minutes.  Normal cook time depending on size is 35-45 minutes, I have had some piece go longer due to thickness, but that is uncommon.  Med. rare is the way to serve this meat.

There will be a lot of juice from the resting meat.

Rem. to slice on the bias.  Instead of slicing straight down, I try to slice at an angle pieces cutting pieces about 1/4" to 3/8" thick.

I usually make a little Au Jus, this is quick and dirty au jus.  Most of the time au jus isn't necessary, but some people always use it.
• The tri tip liquid from resting
• either beef base, or (read my pork liquid flavor secret) if you have demi-glaze use it, or Kitchen Bouquet.
• some beef stock or warm water
• Seasoning salt only after tasting
• Cornstarch
• fresh ground pepper.

Another trick is keep the above thin and light in color, add Pico de Gallo, about 3/4 cup or more, this goes great over the meat.

The great thing about Tri tip is first price, this is serious bang for your buck.  Next it is very versatile and is delicious cooked a variety of ways.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Whisky Fish Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 January 2011 at 09:24
My experience with Tri Tip is a little different. I'm fortunate to live in an area that is littered with Santa Maria grills, so I have two. One purchased from Costco(yeah they carry them around here) and one really big homemade. I purchase UNtrimmed Tri tips for grilling. They come with a thick fat cap that protects and self-bastes the meat. I've done them marinated, rubbed, injected, stuffed with garlic and they are all delicious. The majority of cooking time is spent with the fat cap down and it gets pretty charred which also imparts that true grilled flavor. I trim the fat before slicing. Oh yeah, another authentic tradition is basting with beer. Since we always do these for round-ups there is never a shortage of beerWink
Also don't be afraid to pull em off early, 125-130. They are excellent rare and it is such an irregular shaped meat, you'll get some medium pieces off the muscle.
JT
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