Santa Maria-style Tri-Tip!

With weekends (and mountains) of smoked pork in the rearview mirror, I wanted to shift things into a local-style BBQ, the Santa Maria-style smoked tri-tip.  You can read up on this regional culinary marvel here, but short version, this style of BBQ originated in 19th century Santa Maria Valley when ranchers prepared a seasonal feast for their cowboys. The meal typically consisted of beef grilled over local red oak logs, and was served with pinquitos and salsa.

I’ve grilled a number of tri-tips on the Weber grill in the past, sometimes marinaded with a wet honey-mustard-chipotle marinade, other times dry-rubbed with a simple 3 or 4-spice mixture. Tri-tip meat is very tender with an excellent large fat cap (this tends to melt down during the grilling process, further enhancing the meat). It wasn’t until I started cooking on the WSM that I applied smoke to the tri-tip, but after doing this a couple times over the summer, I can’t imagine going back to prior methods.

With plans to further inflict my weekend smoke-cooking on co-workers tomorrow, I used two 3.5 lb. tri-tips.  I trimmed a very small amount of fat from the sides of the meat, but left the majority of the fat cap intact on both.  For the rub, I kept things simple as per the CA tradition:

2 TBSP kosher salt (fairly coarse)
2 TBSP granulated garlic
2 TBSP dried parsley flakes (I use Penzey’s)
1 1/2 TBSP black ground pepper

Mixed the dry rub thoroughly, placed each tri-tip in its own ziploc freezer bag, added equal amounts of rub to each, sealed, and shook to ensure total meat coverage. The bagged and rubbed tri-tips went back into the refrigerator for a couple hours.

Around 2:30PM, I prepared the smoker with one chimney of unlit Stubb’s briquets, added three fist-sized chunks of California Red Oak, and got things rolling by adding a half-chimney of lit Stubb’s briquets.  As usual, I set the lid vent at 100% open, and set the lower three vents to 100% open on one, the other two closed. I didn’t wait for the temperature to rise, I just put the meat on the grill immediately.  The smoker quickly settled in at 260F, with a good, steady plume of oak smoke.

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By 3:30PM, one tri-tip was pinging 125F, the other close behind at 115F, and the smoker lid temp had risen to 280F.  I moved the 125F one to the Weber grill, where I’d prepared some coals for a quick (90 second) sear on each side of the meat. Once seared, the tri-tip was wrapped in foil to rest, and I repeated this sear process with the 2nd tri-tip once it hit 125F a few minutes later.  While it’s possible to smoke tri-tips at low & slow temps (225F) for a couple-few hours, I wanted to try a quicker method this time around, and allowed the smoker to creep into 280s-300s.

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The meat rested in foil for about 45 minutes while we prepared other items for this evening’s dinner.  I unwrapped one of the roasts, and cut about half of the roast into thin slices, against the grain. The meat had perfect moisture, had a mild reddish smoke ring, and the meat was a perfect pink medium-rare. The outer crust retained good flavor from the spice rub, and overall the meat retained awesome oak smoke flavor, without being over-smoked (like my last one had turned out).

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While we didn’t go full vaquero with the pinquito beans and salsa, serving them up on fresh sourdough hoagie rolls with Sweet Sauce O’Mine sauce and deli coleslaw was pretty incredible in its own right. Paired with a salad of greens and tomatoes from our garden, and some grill-roasted onion-flecked potatoes, this made for an excellent Sunday afternoon meal.  Looking forward to tomorrow’s ‘team’ lunch at work!

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Thanks for reading,

Colin

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