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Duke's Food Obsession

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Duke's Food Obsession

California BBQ!

No, the title is not a mistake. And even if you are a multi-generation, logging, elk-hunting, Republican-voting Idahoan who naturally dislikes all things related to the “C-state,” I would ask you to read a bit further and your stomach might someday thank you.

If you say BBQ to a Californian it only means one thing: tri-tip. I had never heard of tri-tip before I moved to California in the late 80s but quickly found out it is everywhere. I mean everywhere.

Tri-tip is the defacto meat for BBQ in California. I have one foot solidly in the tri-tip camp, and one foot solidly out, for a reason I will explain later. But first, why is tri-tip so popular?  

A couple of reasons. First, it has a historical significance as it is the preferred cut of meat used for the Santa Maria style BBQ of the California central coast. There, vaqueros would grill meat over native red oak, seasoned simply with salt and black pepper, and serve it with Santa Maria salsa and pinquito beans. Any time you grill beef over hardwood you know what you get—an out-of-the-park home run. The traditional Santa Maria meal evolved further to include a green salad, French bread, macaroni and cheese and coffee. All of the staples.

Another reason the tri-tip is so popular, is that it is a relatively cheap cut that comes from the bottom sirloin; and it is well-marbled and beefy tasting—something that the tenderloin has trouble staking (get it?) a claim to.

So what about the meat itself? The tri-tip is indeed part of the bottom sirloin, typically weighs about 1.5 to 3 lbs per piece and is about 2” to 3” thick. It is triangular in shape and should have good marbling for flavor and “mouth feel.” Also, according to the Beef Producers of America, the price of tri-tip stays relatively steady year round.  

So, you have your tri-tip. What should you do with it? This is a cut of meat that is extremely versatile and lends itself to many cooking styles, perhaps a third reason for its popularity.  

For my money, about the only thing you shouldn’t do with it is cook it past medium where it will toughen significantly, but I feel that way about most meats. Tri-tip can be cut into steaks or cooked whole. It can be sliced thin, and made into that sour cream-mushroom bliss that is stroganoff. It can be marinated any number of ways from simple rosemary, sea salt and olive oil, or Asian style. I have made tri-tip marinated in red miso for 48 hours and pan sautéed that was greeted with that silence that comes with focused feeding. Also, tri-tip makes a helluva satisfying steak sandwich made with horseradish mayonnaise and arugula for a peppery bite.

Since this is my column, I will tell you my two favorite ways of making this California favorite. The first is to stay traditional. I like to coat a whole tri-tip liberally, as it is a big piece of meat, with kosher salt and black pepper. Then I like to grill it over live coals, preferably with some hardwood mixed in like chunks of mesquite or hickory. For pictures of this you can go to my website. www.bbq-recipes-for-foodies.com/steak-tri-tip.html.

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Duke Diercks Duke Diercks is the owner of Duke’s Cowboy Grill in Ponderay. Visit his blog at www.bbq-recipes-for-foodies.com

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