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At our house, tri-tip is our favorite summer party fare. A couple
of suggestions:

Buy the biggest Choice Grade (or even Prime Grade) tri-tip that
you can find. At least 3 pounds, and more if you can find it.
And forget Select Grade -- it'll be too tough. Leave the fat on.

Cover the tri-tip with a THICK layer (a "rub") of garlic/salt/pepper.
You can use "garlic salt" but purists prefer to use garlic powder
and then salt, separately. If you have the time, leave it covered
and refrigerate overnight. (If you don't have enough time, no
problem: give it a thick covering and throw it on the grill.)

One hour before starting to grill, take the tri-tip out of the
refrigerator and let it sit, so that the temperature rises about
to room temperature.

When ready to grill, make sure that the charcoal (lump is best) is
VERY VERY hot and that the flames have died down. The charcoal
should be covered with a light gray ash. To get a very hot grill,
you'll need to use lots of charcoal -- for one good sized tri-tip,
use about 5 pounds of lump. Here in environmentally aware California,
to start our charcoal fire, we use a "chimney" rather than charcoal
lighter fluid, and the chimney that I use holds about 5 pounds of
lump. I use a Webber kettle and put the lump in the charcoal
holders so that the charcoal is about 4" deep. After the fire is
perfect, put on the grill and let it get very hot. Just before
putting on the meat, brush the grill with some olive oil.

I start with the fat side up, but in truth it makes no difference.
According to Larry Viegas (see the web site), "If you put the fat
side of the tri tip on the fire first, the moisture will come up
through the meat and make it tender." The problem I have with this
is that, as the fat warms, it will drip down into the fire and will
not evaporate until it's in the fire. But it doesn't make any real
difference, because you have to turn the tri-tip after 1 or 2
minutes per side so that you sear it on all sides. Note that, in
order to sear the thin edges, you have to figure out a way to
balance the tri-tip on one end. If you're cooking several at once,
it's easy to lean them against one another, but if you're cooking
only one, you'll have to use a long wooden spatula or some other
jerry-rigged device to balance the tri-tip on its thin edges.

The BIG SECRET: when you first put the tri-tip on the grill, the
fire might start flaming. This is GOOD to a point: the fire will
totally blacken the meat (which is what you want). Let the flames
blacken one side of the tri-tip for 30 or 45 seconds, and then
rotate the tri-tip to do a different side. (There are a total of
six sides.) But don't overdo the flames: the idea is to sear the
juices in and to create a wonderfully delicious crust, but not to
dry out the meat. After the flames have seared the meat so that
it's black all around, then move the meat to the side or back of
the grill, where it is still VERY HOT but not directly above the
fire so that it will NOT FLAME.

The total cooking time varies, and there is no absolute. Tri-tip
is best when seared (blackened) on the outside, which is crunchy
with the garlic and salt, and when it's red rare in the center.
Cooking time depends on how big the tri-tip is, how rare you like
it, the heat of the fire and the distance from the coals to the
meat. For a 3 pound tri-tip, I'd plan for a total of about 30
minutes, with constant attention, but keep in mind that I like it
very rare. Be careful with timing, though: the web site says that
a tri-tip can take up to 90 minutes!!! It seems to me that, to
take so long, the fire would have to be pretty cool (and/or the
grill would have to be high above the coals), but this would dry
out the meat. No recommended.

About halfway through, put the bell peppers on. I learned that
tri-tip is best accompanied by colorful bell peppers (the red,
orange, and yellow are the sweetest, but some prefer the traditional
green bell pepper, which has a stronger taste). Before hand, slice
the bell peppers in half (plan for one-half of a bell pepper per
person) and de-seed them. Cook them until you can see grill marks
but not until they're soft or black. Then turn them over to cook
on the inside. Finally, turn them back, so that the outside is
down, and place thin strips of Monterey Jack cheese inside the bell
peppers. Continue to cook until the cheese begins to melt a little
bit. Don't overdo the cooking -- they are best when still fresh
and crispy.

When you think that the meat is done, remove it from the fire and
cut it in half (to check that it's done). Remember that, even
after you take the meat off the grill, it is continuing to cook.
So, when you cut into the meat to check that it's done, it should
be even rarer than you want. If it's done, leave it for 7 minutes
(not 5, not 10) -- so that the juices settle into the meat (otherwise,
when you slice it, you'll have a plate full of juice that should
have stayed in the meat). If it's not done, put each half back on
the grill for a few minutes -- but be sure not to overcook it.

After the tri-tip has rested exactly 7 minutes, slice it VERY thin
-- not quite "paper thin" but as thin as you reasonably can with
a sharp knife. Cut across the grain, which is across the triangle.
An illustration: if you can imaging that the tri-tip is in the
shape of a pyramid, then cut it starting at the top of the pyramid
and slice horizontally. Thus, the slices will not all be the same
size, but the meat will be the most tender.

Serve the tri-tip with the fresh salsa, bell peppers with the
cheese, pinquito beans, cucumber salad, and toasted sourdough (or
sweet, if you prefer) French bread.


Fresh Salsa

5 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small Jalepeno chile, finely chopped
5 Tablespoons cilantro, fresh, chopped
1 lemon, use the juice only

Combine all the ingredients except the lemon in a bowl, then add
the lemon juice, cover and let stand 2 hours to blend flavors.
Makes 5 cups.

Can be served with chips (that means corn chips or tortilla chips,
not potato chips or French Fries) before serving the main course.

The Santa Maria Style Beans definitely shows its roots in the 1950's
-- with the addition of the sugar and the MSG. But it's a great
recipe if you eliminate the sugar and MSG.



Santa Maria Style Beans

1 pound pinquito beans
1 strip bacon, diced
1/2 cup ham, diced
1 clove garlic
3/4 cup tomato puree
1/4 cup red chile sauce (Las Palmas brand)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch MSG or Accent (optional)

Pick through beans to remove any small stones. Place in pot, cover
with water, and let soak overnight. Drain beans, cover with fresh
water, and simmer for 2 hours, or until tender.

Saute bacon and ham until lightly browned. Add garlic, saute 1 to
2 minutes longer. Add tomato puree, chile sauce, sugar, mustard,
salt, and MSG (if using it).

Drain most liquid from beans and save. Stir in the sauce and simmer
for 1/2 hour. Add some of the saved liquid if they get too dry.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.



Cucumber Salad:

Make a day in advance.

Buy one large hot-house firm cucumber (about 12" long and not too
fat). Wash it on the outside, and then peel "zebra" style. That
is, using a potato peeler, peel in the long direction one long
strip. Then skip a stip and peel again, so that the cucumber will
have alternating green and white stripes, like a zebra. Then slice
thinly across the round section (so that the slices are round and
1/8" thick). Put them loosely into a large glass bowl and add 1/4
cup of salt. Mix the salt into the cucumbers and leave it uncovered
and unrefrigerated for 45 minutes. At the end of the time, the
cucumbers will be covered in their juices. Rinse them very very
thoroughly in cold water to remove all the salt. Then squeeze them
hard like a sponge to remove all the water. Add 1/2 cup of sour
cream, 2 Tablespoons of red-wine vinegar, and 3 scallions (green
onions), finely chopped. Add black pepper to taste. Cover and
refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours before serving.

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