Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Here’s a little photo-treatise on how to prepare a pretty darned succulent hunk of tri-tip beef roast to impress friends and first dates.

The night before you’re going to barbecue, place the roast in a re-closeable bag.  Pour in your favorite marinate.  Half way through the process – this might be 2:00 AM, but if you’re like me you’re probably getting up about then anyway – flip the bag over so both sides get good contact and absorption.  [I used to experiment with my own marinate concoctions.  One day I stumbled across a store bought sesame teriyaki that made the time I spent steeping and rendering and spicing and boiling and reducing not quite worth the effort.]

An hour or so before you intend to cook, soak a hunk of hardwood in water.  Never use a soft wood like pine, fir or cedar!  For beef, think almond or oak.  [While these two woods work well with beef, try fruitwoods like peach, cherry or apple (along with almond, oak or hickory) with pork.  Each wood imparts a different flavor, which is particularly noticeable when smoking pork.  But we’re doing beef.]

Fifteen minutes before cooking, light up a small pile of charcoal briquets in the fire chamber of the pit barbecue (or on one side of the kettle.)

Understand that the process of smoking meat is long and slow.  It is not inappropriate to line up a few friends to assist you in the process.  You may be wishing to visit with them throughout the afternoon.

Allow time for the smoker to heat up.  Temperature in the smoke chamber should register between 200 and 220 degrees.  The lower the better.

To begin cooking, spread out the coals in the fire box.  Install a grill and heat it up.  Place the roast on the grill for about three minutes, then flip it over for another two or three minutes.  This sears the meat.  Some purists will tell us that this isn’t necessary.

Transfer the roast onto a rack in the smoke chamber – or to the other side of the kettle with the top vent directly over the meat.

Carefully – use a tool! – remove the grill from the fire box and place the soaked hunk of hardwood on the charcoal.

Then wait.  An aromatic plume will soon curl forth from the smoker’s chimney attracting the attention of the back fence neighbor.  The slow-cooking process can take between two-and-a-half and four hours depending upon the size of the roast.  Monitor the heat closely adding more air as the fuel burns down.  If using a kettle, employ the bottom vents as a damper to restrict or increase the amount of oxygen available to the fire.  It is critical to not let the temperature slip too much or the meat simply won’t cook.  It is also critical that you appear busy during this protracted cooking time otherwise it will look as if you’re just out in the back yard with a cigar, a few beers and the radio turned up too loud.

Minimize opening and closing the smoke chamber as this impact the chamber’s temperature.  As you near the end of the process, insert a meat thermometer to determine when the roast is ready to remove from the grill.  I cook it to “rare” – about 140 degrees – pulling it off five or ten minutes before the dinner bell rings allowing the roast to rest and continue to cook.

Slice the roast with a sharp knife across the grain.  Notice how the exterior of the meat is nearly blackened.  Just inside of that, the meat is a brighter shade of pink indicating (perhaps) the degree to which the smoke penetrated during the cooking.  The middle of the roast is light pink and juicy.

Arrange on the plate as shown leaving a portion of the meat whole to retain moisture and temperature.

The product will be tangy and will require a wine with a certain character to complement it.  [I generally select a Bogle Old Vine Zin (Clarksburg, CA, Lodi and Amador area fruit) because its not-too-fruit-forward – not-too-tannic balance seems to stand up to the roast’s subtle intensities.  But I like a Marietta Zin (Geyserville, Sonoma County) better.]

Serve with brown rice, a nice hunk of rustic French or some roasted corn on the cob, some sautéed vegetables and a crisp green salad.

Finally, act pretty worn out when you bring the thing in.  After all, you’ve been out there for most of the afternoon battling a blazing sun and billows of smoke.  If you play your cards right, someone else will gladly do the dishes.

All things considered, this is a pretty pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. "Subtle intensities?"

    1. C'mon, now. I think that's a great phrase. Since when did a food or wine commentary have to make sense? :)

  2. Damn. You made me hungry and grateful that I'm NOT a vegetarian. e2

  3. Mr. B.

    You, Sir, are making me hate the fact that I live in Ohio. Though the Calendar has indicated spring -- the weather has not.

    Thanks for another great article.