Brisket-style Smoked Tri-tip

With Memorial Day here, it’s time to dust off the bar-b-que and get cooking. Perhaps the holy grail of bar-b-que mastery is smoked brisket. If you have a large crowd to feed, and at least 12 to 24 hours to devote to cooking, brisket is sure to please. But if you don’t want to spend the better part of your weekend tending the grill, and you don’t want a ton of leftovers, tri-tip is an excellent alternative.

The key to smoking tri-tip and brisket is temperature control, and of course, smoke. If you have a pellet grill, this is an ideal cut to prepare. If you have a gas powered grill, you’re in luck. Simply use some hickory or mesquite wood chips, or a smoke tube to add that irresistible smokey flavor. This can be done with a charcoal grill as well, although it can be difficult and time-consuming to maintain a consistent temperature.

If this is your first cook of the season, be sure to give your grill a thorough cleaning. If using a pellet grill, don’t forget to check and vacuum the firepot. Also be sure that any pellets in the hopper and feed tube haven’t swollen up or broken apart due to high-humidity.

Normally when cooking meat, the ideal internal temperature for medium “doneness” is 135° to 145°, with well-done at 155° to 165°. Anything beyond that will leave you with a dried-out, tough piece of meat. However brisket is a tough, fatty cut of beef. Cooking it requires requires a low-and-slow method to reach a temperature of 204°. This technique can be used to cook a tri-tip. Tri-tip is a smaller, leaner cut, so it requires significantly less time. Having consistent heat and a good temperature probe are essential to cooking either cut.

First, trim the meat, removing as much of the fat and silver skin as possible. Then choose a dry rub you enjoy, and generously coat the meat. A good dry rub can be simple, usually just salt, pepper and a touch of garlic. The smoke will provide most of the flavor.

After smoking, wrap in foil, add some butter, rosemary and garlic

Fire up the grill and get it smoking. If you have a pellet cooker, put it in “Smoke Mode”. Otherwise set your grill temperature to around 250° and add your smoking chips, or use a smoke-tube. (A smoke tube is a stainless steel tube, specially designed to be filled with wood chips or pellets, that can be placed in the BBQ to create consistent smoke.) This step should take 2 to 3 hours.

When the meat hits an internal temperature of 155° to 165° at its thickest point, remove it from the grill and wrap it in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Since tri-tip is a fairly lean cut of beef, it is a good idea to add a few tablespoons of butter at this point. You may also want to add a couple sprigs of rosemary and some garlic cloves as well.

Set the grill temperature to 300° and return the wrapped meat to the grill. If you’ve been using a charcoal bar-b-que to smoke the meat, you can finish it off, indoors, in the oven if you prefer. This step should take another 2 to 3 hours. Once the internal meat temperature hits 200° to 205°, remove it from the heat and let it rest for 30 to 45 minutes.

The finished tri-tip, at 202°

Save the drippings, as they make a nice au jus to accompany the meat.

For tender, easy to chew slices, beef should be cut across the grain. One peculiarity of the tri-tip is that the grain of the meat runs in two different directions, meaning you will need to adjust the direction of the slice as you progress.

If you can cut the meat thin enough, perhaps with a deli slicer, the direction of the cut isn’t as critical. This is a great way to enjoy leftovers. For best results on obtaining thin cuts, refrigerate the meat until it is completely chilled.

The tri-tip cut of beef is popular on the west coast, and not as commonly available in other parts of the country. It is gaining popularity though. If it’s not available from your local grocer or butcher shop, ask around. It’s worth the effort.

No matter how you enjoy your bar-b-que this season, adding smoked tri-tip to your menu is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

– 2 to 4 lb. tri-tip, trimmed of fat.

– Dry rub: salt-pepper-garlic rub.

– Hickory or mesquite wood pellets or chips.

– Smoke at 250° until meat temperature is 155° (2 to 3 hours)

– Wrap in foil, with a few tablespoons of butter, some garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs.

– Cook at 300° until meat reaches internal temperature of 202°. (2 to 3 hours)

– Let rest for 30 to 45 minutes

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