Friday, March 7, 2008

March 7: California Barbecued Tri-Tip

The tri-tip roast is sort of part steak, part roast, and it's not always easy to find, but it's worth it. It's a big, sort of U-shaped piece of meat from the sirloin, near the bottom of it. It's actually kind of delicious--lean, a little chewy, with great big flavor, and it's a relative bargain when it comes to beef.

Californians know the value of a tri-tip roast: it's a Santa Maria Valley specialty, barbecued tri-tip, sliced thin and served with barbecue beans and buttered French bread. I don't get out to California a great deal, and so I've only tasted tri-tip barbecue once, but yowza. Talk about big, well-rounded, balanced, classic flavors.

Cook's Illustrated has their Best Of America's Test Kitchen issue out right now, and there's a recipe for California Barbecued Tri-Tip. This particular cut of meat is worth seeking out for this great regional specialty, but if you can't find it, they suggest bottom round steak. Put on your coat and fire up your grill; you can stand in the cold for a few minutes for this bad boy.

This calls for the fairly common practice of using water-soaked wood chips on a charcoal fire for smoky flavor. In this case, the chips go on after the meat sears over the hot side of the fire, to keep it from tasting like an ashtray.

California-Style Barbecued Tri-Tip

1 2-pound tri-tip roast
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups wood chips, preferably oak
1 teaspoon pepper
3/4 teaspoon garlic salt

Pat the roast dry with paper towels. Using a fork, prick the raost about 20 times on each side. Combine the garlic, oil, and salt and rub over the roast. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Soak the wood chips in cold water to cover for 15 minutes, drain. Open the bottom grill vents. Light a large chimney filled with charcoal bricquets and allow it to burn until the charcoal is covered in a layer of fine ash. Spread the coals over over half the grill bottom, leaving the other half with no coals. Set the cooking grate in place, cover, open the lid vents and heat 5 minutes, until hot.

Using paper towels, wipe the garlic off the roast. Grill directly over the coals until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Carefully remove the roast and grate from the grill. Scatter the soaked wood chips over the coals. Replace the grate and place the roast on the cooler side of the grill. Cover, positioning the lid vents directly over the meat, and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast registers about 130 degrees for medium-rare, about 20 minutes. Transfer the meat to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and rest for 20 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain. Serve.

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