California tri tip

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Time for dinner.

It often seems that when it’s time to fire up the grill, tri tip steaks are always worth a consideration. A California classic, tri tip is one of the only cuts of steak that were developed on the West Coast. My understanding is the cut originated on the large Haciendas, or ranches that comprised California when it was part of Spain and later Mexico.

Vaqueros would roast the meat over open fires and serve it sliced alongside beans simmered with jalapenos.

When ever I visit family and friends in the midwest and East Coast most of them have never even heard of the tri tip cut. To me, and most other Californians, grilled trip tip is as ubiquitous here as slow smoked barbecue ribs are in the south.

Recently, some relatives from New York were in town for a visit and I decided to treat them to my own special tri tip. I use a dry rub and then baste the meat with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and red wine. The rub gives the meat a spicy and savory flavor while the baste helps the meat retain its moisture even when grilled to medium well. The recipe is based on a few I found on the ‘net and one by television chef Bobby Flay. I tinker with the rub every now and then to add different nuances to the flavor. For example, for this most recent tri tip I gave the rub a dose of cinnamon. The cinnamon added a nice counterbalance taste to the spicy heat of the cayenne.

For cooking the meat, I use indirect heat for about 45 minutes to an hour. I light the front two burners on high on a propane grill and put the meat on the unlit back burner. I turn the meat about every eight to 10 minutes basting it each time. Tri tip often comes with a fatty side so the trick is to cook the meat without letting the fat burn. Also, when basting, it’s handy to have a spray bottle of water to knock down flare ups. When done cooking, it’s crucial to cover the meat with tine foil and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. Some people slice tri tip and then cook the sliced steak. To me this is an abomination. Trip tip should be cooked slow and low like a roast and then served sliced.

Here’s the ingredients for a good rub for one good-sized trip ti:

Four teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper

Three teaspoons cayenne pepper

One teaspoon ground chipotle

Two tablespoons granulated garlic

Three tablespoons salt

One tablespoon garlic salt

Half teaspoon cinnamon, or one teaspoon of brown sugar.

For the baste:

1/8 cup balsamic vinegar

1/8 cup red wine

1/4 cup garlic infused olive oil.

Grilled meat and plinking

After dinner shooting

The perfect digestif, firearms.

During the past weekend, Christine and I had some friends over at the cottage for dinner. It was a typical, breezy evening in Carneros and we started off with drinks outside on the patio. When our friends Kate and Justin showed up, I should not have been surprised that Justin had brought his .17 rifle along. The sight of a couple of jackrabbits off in the vineyards got him primed for some shooting. I had never shot a .17 before and found it similar to a .22 magnum. His .17 had a smooth lever action and a dialed in scope. I had read quite a bit about the .17’s high velocity and how that translates into accuracy and can attest it’s true. I brought out my Ruger 10/22, a classic albeit a bit boring. We had a good time shooting (and missing) at the rabbits that are really more like vermin than lil johnny cotton tail and then had fun setting up and knocking down some beer cans.

For dinner I grilled up some tri tip and asparagus and Christine made a cilantro rice dish with queso fresco. I tried something new with the tri tip this time, I slow cooked it on a Weber with mesquite wood chips. I’ve never really believed that a handful of wood chips would translate into real smoky flavor but I was wrong. I slow cooked two roasts using indirect heat and sprinkled the water soaked chips on the hot coals. I changed the chips after flipping the meat over, after about 40 minutes of cooking. After about a hour and a half of cooking, the meat had that deep, dark color of barbecue and also a lovely aroma and taste of mesquite smoke. I’m not a complete convert to slow, low and smoky — because gas is just so much easier — but I have to admit that wood chips really do bring the flavor. I’ve got an old Weber at the house in Lodi and I think my next grilling adventure will be slow cooked brisket.

After dinner we did a little more shooting, (Christine even shot a few rounds with the .17) and then played some board games. Now, Bennie had brought over several different bottles of wine from his collection and I was a bit enthusiastic in my approach to tasting as many as possible. Justin and Kate, I swear next time I’ll make it through a round of Cranium, I swear!

The penance for my overindulgence was spending the next morning picking up spent brass with a raging, raging red wine headache.

Ahhh, the good man’s weakness.