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Oct 21, 2001 03:49 PM

Ultimate Cut for Texas Barbecue...Not the brisket?

  • g

I've been doin' some work out back lately, experimenting with a new-to-me cut of beef called a tri-tip sirloin. Apparently, this cut is well known in and around Santa Monica, CA and I've heard about it for years. Naturally, I never gave the thought of California Barbecue much thought. It always seemed to me that they'd have something on the grill made out of tofu and other high-estrogen products. Nothing a real pit man in Texas would wanna mess with.

Then, a couple of years ago, I saw some tri-tip sirloins at Central Market here in town. I bought one and tried grillin' it low and slow, but it was awful lean and didn't really ring my bell. Then, about three weeks ago, Costco opened out here near the house and the butcher there was cuttin' up a fine looking Tri-tip.

Apparently, this cut is also called a bottom sirloin but is really part top sirloin and part sirloin tip. I've always considered the sirloin a second rate cut for 'cue (even out at Cooper's in Llano) but these here tri-tips from Costco are somethin' else.

They're choice grade beef (one notch below prime) and they're well marbled right through. In fact, they're so well marbled they look like prime. At Costco, they're $3.39 a pound and come two to a pack. The first one I grilled, low and slow, to a juicy perfection. I mean good and crusty outside and medium rare inside. This stuff was great! Hot off the grill and cold the next day for sandwiches, damn it was good.

So then I ventured into dangerous, barbecue-infidel territory. I put a couple on the pit instead of a brisket. I gave 'em about 7 hours at 210F and damn, these things were also great! Lots of marbling through the meat so they're really forgiving, little chance of a tough'un, just perfect.

Now, I recognize that part of the high art of Texas 'cue is turning boot-leather brisket into tender, succulent smoky perfection. But I'm tellin' ya'll that these tri-tips are worth fiddlin' around with.

Well, I've said my piece about these tri-tips, and I shore would like a little feedback. Maybe even a little good natured back-talk. Give 'em a try and let everyone know what you think. 'Course as Texans, you'll be lettin' us know what you think, anyway.

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  1. Greg, the tri-tip is the basis for famous Santa Maria "barbecue" (not Santa Monica) found on the Central Coast. I recall several posts on the California board about the best practitioners of the art. Yes, it's a very versatile cut and it's edible rare. This was an inexpensive cut of meat but has crept up in price to "steak" levels in the last decade.

    You gotta learn how to make the beans too.


    8 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Here's another link with more history and additional recipes.


      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Thanks to all for the recipes and links.

        1. re: Cliff Abrams

          Actually, I had dinner in Dallas on Monday at a Brazilian style churrasceria and the most flavorful cut among more than a dozen I was served was the bottom sirloin.

      2. re: Melanie Wong

        As usual, Melanie, you are absolutely right that it's Santa Maria barbecue and beans. Not that a California preperation could EVER live up to a Texas beef preparation. Never the less, I do have some bean cookoff notes coming up that would suggest that some surprising areas of Texas can't do a bean worth a durn. More to follow.

        1. re: Greg Spence

          I'm sure the cattlemen and cowbelles of Santa Maria would be raring to take you on. Remember that San Luis Obispo County where Santa Maria is located is one of California's cow counties. It's a world away from SF and LA.

          These things taste better with a glass of Santa Maria's other gift to civilization - world-class Pinot Noir wines.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I'll second that ... especially the Pinot Noir called Highliner made by The Hitching Post.

            1. re: Gary Cheong

              It must be noted that while the tri-tip was indeed ``invented'' in Santa Maria - - there's even a plaque in front of the supermarket where it was first sold - - it is not considered a cut fit for Santa Maria barbecue, the other specialty of this beef-mad region. You'll find Boy Scout troops and band boosters barbecuing tri-tip at parking-lot fundraisers, but the classic Santa Maria barbecue cut is top sirloin.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              Wrong....Santa Maria is in Santa Barbara county.... I live in SM .

        2. Hey Greg,

          Well shoot, I'm glad you've discovered what us California carnivores have known for years...tri-tip rocks!

          Man, now if I could only find tri-tip here in Tokyo!


          1. There's a Costco in Austin? Cool. Another reason for my parents to visit. The first thing my dad does in any town is seek out the Costco. I hear they have a lot of good stuff and am not a fan of Sam's Club.

            1. Hi,

              I may be late here, but hopefully will have something good to add. First of all, congrats on discovering the "tri-tip" -- it is what I believe to be the best "bang-for-the-buck" piece of beef available if cooked properly.

              Next, "Santa Monica-style BBQ". Out of towners are certainly forgiven for this, but among Californians this is a real ROFLMAO! Santa Monica style BBQ is about as unfathomable a term as could be imagined (they are way too uppity to lower themselves to BBQ!).Definately "Santa Maria" style. Santa Maria is a small town in the central coast area (about an hour NW of Santa Barbara and 30 minutes SE of San Luis Obispo, home to cattle ranches and wineries) known for developing this simple style of "BBQ" if you want to even call it that. It is not necessarily slow-cooked over low heat, so that might offend some traditional purveyors of "BBQ".

              Not so much a steak, the most popular Tri-Tip cut is a small roast, usually 2-4 lbs in size, and somewhat triangular in shape, hence the name. The roast is seasoned with a salt-pepper-garlic mixture and then cooked over red oak (for traditionalists) or mesquite coals. A trick I learned that has worked beautifully, shortening the cooking time and making it even more flavorful is to do the following: Cut the roast into small, fist-size chunks (think of a baseball), season (I add some bacon bits as well) and place in a zip lock bag. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Grill over coals, turning often to cook evenly. When it reaches 130-140 degrees, take off the grill and let sit for 15 minutes. Slice against the grain. Makes a great main course and an unreal sandwich!

              Texas BBQ is something very special, but for those who have not tried a tri-tip or similar "Santa Maria style" BBQ steak or roast, you are in for a treat. In addition to the style, there a few absolutely great restaurants to visit if you get a chance to make a trip to the central coast area of California.

              Yum, I'm hungry! - Bob in RSM, CA