But first, the rub I use for smoking tri-tip is based upon a Santa Maria rub, with a few tweaks. I believe that these tweaks end up making a difference in the end product. Here are the ingredients, in their relative proportions, I don't really measure this stuff anymore.
My basic rub...almost
I use what I call a 'mother rub' which, much like a mother sauce in French cooking, forms the basis for almost all of the rubs I use. It is also my basic top rub in any layered rub process. The approximate recipe is what I use for a Santa Maria style rub as well. For this particular cook, in a rough measure...
4 parts each of fresh medium grind black pepper and kosher salt
1 part each of granulated garlic, granulated onion, chile powder
1/2 part of turbinado sugar and allspice
Now, I use Phu Quoc black pepper, which is rather an intense version of black pepper, this rub will have a pronounced black pepper aroma and flavor, you could use a little less if you are senstive. I use RealSalt Kosher salt as I like the size and shape of the grains. I omitted the citrus peel I would normally add, as I forgot to buy some, normally, there would be 1 part citrus peel as well. I like Allspice or Nutmeg in almost all meat dishes, a small amount adds depth without being obtrusive. The sugar functions as a means of creating better adhesion, aids in creation of a pellicle and actually accents the salt and moderates it's harshness, this rub does not have detectable sweetness once it is cooked.
The meat was a Harris Ranch tri-tip, it was on the small and over-trimmed side, but, it had good marbling, I would imagine it could have graded out as choice.
The Raw Materials
Like many over-trimmed tri-tips, this one has a long thin 'tail' that will easily overcook before the rest of the roast cooks up. I like to fold and tie the 'tail' back onto itself to slow the cooking. The next shot shows the 'tail' tied back and the rub applied. I only used about a third of the rub from the above 'blended rub' shot, this is an aromatic rub and not that much is needed.
Rubbed and Tied
I setup my Weber kettle to run at a nice 225F, or so I thought, with some hardwood lump and a chunk of apple wood for smoke. My plan was to cook it at no more than 225F so it would have a nice even pink color with most of the interior being done to about 130F for pulling. But, I was working on some designs, and was careless is setting up the intake vent. I checked the thermometer, and the internal temperature was 115F in 45 minutes, soimething was wrong. The kettle was up at 325F, not a disaster, just faster than I expected. The alarm on the remote thermometer, which I used since I was working, alarmed me at 125F, and I pulled at 130F internal.
The Tri-tip and a couple of sausages
From here, I tented the meat under a foil sheet and let it rest for an hour, this allowed for cooling and for equalizing of fluid pressure in the meat. Since I was eating it as a sandwich, it being super hot was not a consideration and letting the meat rest really helps in juice retention when slicing. The cooler meat temperature makes slicing easier as well. Here is the cut roast and the slices.
Very close to overall medium rare
It sliced up nicely
As can be seen, I got very close to having a uniform level of medium rare meat. It was certainly juicy and full flavored, tender to the point of melting in with each bite. I could easily have eaten this off the board and been happy.
Tomatoes, Onions and SauceAdd a little Bart's Blazing 'Q' sauce and a little spicy mustard, you get a great sandwich. Bart's Blazing 'Q' sauce is a new product being produced by my friends Dave and Deny Bart, a couple of competitive BBQ folks out in Livermore, this stuff is worth finding, complex and unique.
Now, to the idea of smoking a tri-tip, I know many folks consider this to be a blaspheme to the spirit of Santa Maria BBQ and the tradition of open pit grilling over an oak fire. While I understand how this might be seen in that light, I learned a great deal from old pitmasters in the region and realized that they are doing open pit cooking, but, in a manner that replicates the condition of smoking meat. Their old pits, not the modile ones you see now, had the ability to lower the meat into the well of heat and smoke, this created an environment of moist smoke and heat that cooked the meat slowly. It would take an hour to two hours to cook up a rack of tri-tips, this resembles the environment of a small cooker very closely. I have adapted my process to create results the are reminiscent of the final product I learned to cook.