Happy Tri-th of July

To give you a sense of how thoroughly ingrained in the collective California consciousness the tri tip is, I need tell a story.


The 4th of July was approaching, I was at the market, and tri tip was on sale. I figured that would be the perfect thing to grill for a few friends who were coming by, so I bought a nice three pounder, brought it home, sprinkled it with salt, wrapped it in paper towels and put it in the fridge to cure for a few days.

The morning of the 4th, we would be going over to my wife’s parents house for a lunch barbecue and to watch the local parade. A couple days before, my mother-in-law Sharon called to ask me if I could help with the cooking. Of course, I said. She wanted to make satay with peanut sauce, and said she would drop by the meat. The next morning, the fridge was filled with tri tip “cap” my father-in-law had dropped by. I never even knew tri tips had caps!

Somewhere in the middle of all that, I connected with pal Ernie about what we would be grilling the afternoon of the 4th, and he told me he had two tri tips in the fridge that he would be bringing up. They were sitting pretty in parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Clearly, the theme of the day — as it often is on a summer holiday in our neck of California — would be tri tip.

Ernie at my grill

Ernie at my grill

Wikipedia describes the tri tip as “a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin primal cut.” I like that “primal” part. I certainly feel primal when I eat it. I’m not sure why the cut is so popular in California — where it is often most associated with the small central coast town of Santa Maria — and virtually unknown in the rest of the country. Perhaps only California cows have the cut. I even had difficulty finding it on the variety of beef cut charts I explored. This is too bad, since it’s such a wonderful piece of meat. However, lucky us as the price has remained relatively low as compared with rib steaks, for example.

A plate of medium-rare grilled tri tip, some corn and a fruity zinfandel is as Californian as it gets.

I’ve written about tri tip before on this blog, I’m writing about it now, and I will write about it in the future. My famous Topanga tri tip sandwich will one day be the cornerstone of my local restaurant empire. And what was my favorite tri tip of the day this 4th of July? I don’t know, because I haven’t had any of it yet! Pal Ernie has a deft hand with meats, so I’m sure his will be stand out. And I can’t imagine thinly sliced tri tip not making a spectacular satay.

Ernie's tri tips

Ernie’s tri tips

Happy Independence Day, and on the off chance you’ve got a tri tip sitting around and no plans for the afternoon, here’s my satay recipe. Otherwise, save it for next weekend. Unless you’re on the East Coast, in which case try New York steak instead.


*    *    *

Tri-tip satay with spicy peanut sauce and cucumber relish
serves 4 – 8

One 2 lb tri tip (or other cut of steak)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 inch piece of lemongrass, chopped
1 tsp. chopped ginger
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. turmeric powder
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. curry powder
1/4 cup water
bamboo skewers

The day before:

Slice the tri tip into 1/4 thick strips. Combine all remain ingredients (except skewers) in a food processor or blender and puree until relatively smooth. In a large bowl, toss tri tip strips with marinade and cover. Let marinate overnight.

Soak the bamboo skewers in water for one hour before you begin cooking. When you are ready, thread the meat onto the skewers as in the picture above. When all the meat has been skewered, heat your grill to medium high. Cook satay, turning once or twice, until brown and beginning to crisp (2 to 3 minutes per side, depending on how hot your grill is).

Remove from heat and serve with spicy peanut sauce and cucumber relish (recipes below).

spicy peanut sauce:

1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. chopped ginger
1 chopped Thai chili (or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes)
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp. Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tbsp. sugar

Heat oil over medium in a sauce pan. Add garlic, ginger and chili and saute for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peanut butter, peanuts, water, coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar. Bring to a simmer, turn heat to low and cook for 15 or 20 minutes. (If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more water.)

Remove from heat and let cool. Serve at room temperature.

cucumber relish:

2 Japanese cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt

Toss together all ingredients. Place in a non-reactive bowl, cover with plastic and leave in fridge for 2 -3 hours before serving. Toss and serve in a bowl with liquid and a spoon so guests can help themselves.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. glennis
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 05:06:02

    damn! that looks good! We went to Other Neighborhood Party and had a nice time and connected with the Older Set in the canyon. We ate our fill, and so were too lazy to come over. We came home in time to hear your kids all having fun with fireworks, and then we stayed home with Jack to make sure he wasn’t scared (altho, really, he didn’t seem to care one bit).

    Did you get some plums from the tree? I made some jam and chutney I’d like to share with you if you aren’t already overwhelmed with plums.


    • scolgin
      Jul 05, 2013 @ 14:49:44

      Yeah, we’re the black sheep of the neighborhood with our contraband fireworks. I’m sure I’m on the Arson Watch List now.

      I was going to do my post on the plums yesterday, but got writing about tri tips instead. I’ll do the plum post Monday. Sure, we’d love some jam and chutney thanks!


  2. Jessamine in PDX
    Jul 06, 2013 @ 09:08:10

    That sounds awesome, especially the sauce! I love tri tip — we actually sell a good amount of it, but mostly in the summer. Such a perfect cut for the grill.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: