Tri-tip: for an awesome steak sandwich

Once you figure out how to cook it, the tri-tip is second-to-none for a flavorful, tender steak sandwich.  This easily overlooked cut of meat comes from the flank area of the animal, at the base of the sirloin.  It’s rich in flavor and can be nice and tender if cooked right. 

Here’s what I did over the weekend, and it turned out great:

I got myself 4 Teton Waters Ranch grass-fed tri tips. They were each a nice dark red, with thin strips of fat evenly strung through the top part of the cut.  I had done a good bit of research on how to cook “the perfect” tri-tip, so I decided to take two main approaches: smoked and not smoked.

For the smoked tri-tips, I simply took the two cuts, and put them in the smoker.  No rub, no marinade, no tenderizing.  I cold-smoked them for an hour (around 150 degrees Fahrenheit) with a mixture of apple and pecan woods. Meanwhile, I prepared a couple marinades.  One was a barbecue sauce with bourbon.  The other was just salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, and a little olive oil.  Nothing fancy or complex.

I then marinated one smoked and one fresh tri-tip in each marinade for a little over an hour. While they were marinating, I got a significant and hot bed of coals going on my grill.  When I was ready to throw the tri-tips on, I pulled all the coals over to one side of the grill.  I threw all four tri-tips on the hot grill, on the portion slightly removed from the coals.

The tri-tip cut is pretty much triangle in shape.  I made sure the thicker and wider end of the cut was closest to the coals, exposed to greater heat. Again, no meat was directly over the coals (indirect heat). They cooked fairly slowly, but enough to start to char on the outside. I flipped them once, and only once, but I let the second side cook for only about five minutes, while the first side was on there for a good 15 to 20 minutes.

I let the tri-tips sit for a good 5 minutes before slicing them up thinly.  This lets the juices reabsorb into the meat and is VERY IMPORTANT.

What we learned:  the tri-tip has great flavor.  We had a variety of temperatures among the four cuts, based on proximity to the coals.  One was rare, one was medium rare, and the other two were closer to medium.  The best one was medium rare (still pink on the inside), though the two medium ones were great as well.  All were very juicy.  The one I cooked to rare was not nearly as tender as the others.  I usually prefer meats cooked only a touch past rare, but for the tri-tip, a little more cooked seemed to make a real difference in the tenderness without affecting the juiciness.

People preferred the salt/pepper/rosemary marinade on the fresh tri-tip, and the barbecue/bourbon combo on the smoked cut.  I would maybe add a little more brown sugar to the barbecue one next time, or maybe just less bourbon.  I actually preferred the smoked tri-tip with the rosemary, but I tend to be very partial toward that rosemary flavor.

Give it a shot.  Get yourself some grass-fed beef tri-tip and play around.  It’s a great cut – you can get a nice crust on the outside without sacrificing the juiciness.  If you like to smoke meats, give it a go with a short, cold smoking and then grilling: it shows some similar characteristics to a brisket in that way, though way more lean, but without having to smoke it for hours and hours. 

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Tri-tip: for an awesome steak sandwich
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