Published February 20, 2013
Tri-tips work on grill, in slow-cookerSABINE MORROW
We all know the South claims bragging rights to smoked pulled pork, and Texas holds the brisket as its holy barbecue grail. But were you aware that California crowns the tri-tip roast as its king of the grill? It does. And rightfully so. Locals know it as Santa Maria tri-tip, named after the town on California’s Central Coast where the cut first came to light in the 1950s, and is still among the area’s greatest claims to barbecue fame. It’s that good. Tri-tip – which you can treat as a steak or a roast with equal success – is sometimes called bottom sirloin roast and triangle roast. It’s a hindquarter cut from the bottom sirloin that’s blessed with a rich flavor and not too much, nor too little, marbling. In fact, it qualifies as lean according to government guidelines, meaning a 3.5-ounce serving boasts less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol. Each steer yields only two tri-tip roasts. On looks alone, this boneless slab brings to mind a baby brisket. Part of the tri-tip’s appeal is its triangular shape. It starts out fairly thick and wide at one end, gradually gaining girth toward the middle, which can be several inches thick, then the roast tapers down to an obvious point. When the meat is grilled, the oddball shape allows you to offer rare slices from the plump section, and more well-done from the tip, thus pleasing everyone. But, note that the tri-tip is better when grilled not past medium-rare or medium. The longer you let a tri-tip linger over the flames, the tougher and drier it gets. On the other hand, the tri-tip isn’t called a roast for nothing. It lends itself beautifully to braising or roasting and shines when prepared in a slow cooker. Tri-tips come in slightly different sizes, but they don’t top out at much more than three pounds or so. But pay attention when you spot a tri-tip. Unless you find one labeled “hand trimmed,” you’re also buying a thick layer of flab called a fat cap that covers one side. And that’s the side you won’t see facing up in the package. So, pick it up, then try to peek to see how thick that fat is because you don’t want to pay around $9 per pound for excess flab. Some folks like to keep all of the fat on the meat while grilling so that it bastes the tri-tip. But beware that all of that melted fat can cause five-alarm flare-ups. Tri-tip is a fantastic hunk of beef, but it’s no hoity-toity filet mignon. It’s not even an uppity rib-eye. It’s a little chewy when grilled, but not tough — unless you cook it to death. When making sandwiches or simply serving sliced grilled or roasted tri-tip, be sure to thinly slice the meat against the grain so that you end up with more tender pieces. The goal is a fragrant pile of rosy tri-tip, not a fat slab. PERFECTLY GRILLED TRI-TIP ROAST 1 2- to 3-pound tri-tip roast 1/2 cup olive oil 6 cloves garlic, crushed 1 shallot, finely minced 1 tablespoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper 1 lime For the marinade: Combine the olive oil, garlic, shallot, oregano and black pepper in a heat-proof container and microwave for 45 seconds on high. When the marinade has cooled slightly, add the juice and zest from the whole lime. Set marinade aside to cool completely. Meanwhile, trim the layer of fat from the tri-tip. Place the tri-tip in a large plastic sealing bag and add the cooled marinade. Press or massage the bag to coat the meat with the marinade, which looks like a cross between a rub and a marinade. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. About 45 minutes before you’re ready to grill, take the tri-tip from the refrigerator to bring it almost to room temperature so that it’ll cook evenly. Remove the meat from the bag and leave as much of the marinade on the meat as you can. Sprinkle the tri-tip with salt to taste. To grill: I use a gas grill, which I heat to 500 degrees to get a good crusty sear on the meat. Cook the tri-tip for about 4 or 5 minutes on both sides until you get a good sear on each side. Lower the heat to about 400 degrees, and cook each side an additional 8-10 minutes. Depending on the size, the tri-tip should be medium rare. When done, remove the meat from the grill and let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Slice thinly against the grain. SOUTH OF THE BORDER SHREDDED TRI-TIP For marinade:1/4 cup olive oil 4 garlic cloves, crushed 2 tablespoons dried oregano 1 finely chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce Juice from one Mexican or key lime, about 1 tablespoon Tri-tip roast about 3 pounds, trimmed For the tri-tip: 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced 4 bay leaves 2 poblano chilies, roasted over an open flame until charred all over, then diced 5 garlic cloves, crushed and lightly browned in 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Be careful not to burn garlic. 14.5-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper For the marinade: Combine oil and garlic in a heat-proof cup and heat in microwave for about 45 seconds on high. Set aside until cool. Once garlic oil is cool, combine with oregano, chipotle pepper and lime juice. Place in a large plastic sealing bag and add the tri-tip. Massage the bag so that the roast is completely coated with the marinade paste. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 6 hours. Remove tri-tip from refrigerator 45 minutes before cooking. For the tri-tip: Place the onion slices and bay leaves on the bottom of the slow cooker. Combine rest of the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside. Place the tri-tip and marinade on top of the onion and bay leaves. Pour the tomato mixture over the roast. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for about 8 hours. Tri-tip should be easy to shred when done. Perfect for burritos or tacos. Shredded tri-tip can be tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen. Hands on: 30 minutes. Total time: 6 hours, 30 minutes. Serves: 6 Per serving: 313 calories (59 percent from fat), 30 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 20 grams fat (8 grams saturated), 98 milligrams cholesterol, 87 milligrams sodium. Hands on: 5 minutes. Total time: 14 hours, 10 minutes. Serves: 8-10 Per serving, based on 8: 378 calories (63 percent from fat), 33 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 26 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 111 milligrams cholesterol, 109 milligrams sodium.