Sunday, January 27, 2013

Product Review: Char Crust Dry-Rub Seasoning

By Dru Chai

As a BBQ enthusiast and home cook, one of the things I love doing is concocting my own dry rub or BBQ sauce. There's just something cool about mixing several types of spices and herbs together and seeing the color and texture change. It's crazy how one or two of your "secret" ingredients can make such a difference in the overall flavor profile. It's why many people guard their own recipe so closely, and I'm sure that's how Colonel Sanders got started with KFC.

Of course, not everyone wants to or takes the time to make their own rub or sauce. There are countless BBQ products out in the market, and I'm always curious to try out something new -- especially if it's sitting in my cabinet begging for me to use them. Recently, I had a chance to use the product Char Crust on four pounds of smoked BBQ tri-tip. Char Crust is a pre-made, dry-rub seasoning blend that comes in various flavors.

The first thing I noticed about Char Crust is the attractive, rustic-looking packaging. Inside is a white pouch containing the dry-rub, and I like how you can re-use the box to keep the rub from going stale. There is actually a shelf life on herbs, spices, and rubs. I think most people say give it about a year before tossing it out. So if you find something at the far back of your cabinet dated 1999, it's probably time to get rid of it!

While the "Only Char Crust seals in the juices" registered trademark and slogan is catchy and nice marketing, most people who are experienced and knowledgeable with cooking know that using a rub doesn't automatically equate to juicy meat. There are various factors and influences when it comes to how juicy a piece of meat or fish is. It generally has to do with the quality of the meat and how you cook it. Of course, using a rub (any rub, really) on the exterior -- especially with a good, hot sear -- doesn't necessarily hurt either.

Char Crust - roasted garlic peppercorn

I tried out two flavors -- roasted garlic peppercorn and original hickory grilled. As you can see in the picture above, there is a good amount of roasted garlic and onion flakes in the rub. If you're a fan of garlic, this would be a good one to use. I thought that it gave the tri-tip a nice, subtle flavor without overpowering the meat. I didn't really taste much of the peppercorn, honestly. If you want a more pronounced peppery flavor, I suggest using a pepper grinder for an added touch. I could see this rub work very well with NY steak strip, chicken, and a white fish like tilapia.

Char Crust - original hickory grilled

The Original hickory grilled rub is a bit more pronounced in flavor. Hickory wood flavor can be very overpowering if you use too much of it -- trust me, as I've made the mistake in my early days of smoking meats. Hickory compliments beef and red meat more than anything, so I would avoid using the hickory rub on chicken or fish. If you do, use sparingly. I thought that the hickory flavor complimented the tri-tip very well, especially after searing the outside to develop a crust. I think this hickory rub would be great on a large prime rib roast.

One thing I noticed looking at the hickory rub ingredients is that wheat is listed as the first ingredient, followed by salt, sugar, and soy sauce powder. Natural hickory smoke flavor is listed last. Wheat is also listed as an ingredient in the roasted garlic peppercorn rub, so if anyone is allergic to wheat, you're outta luck.

My overall impression of Char Crust is a positive one. One can never have too many types of rub in the spice rack, especially if you do a lot of BBQ'ing for your friends and family. If you're in a pinch with a last minute cooking request, it's great to be able to improvise and use some pre-made dry rub seasoning blends if you don't have to time to run to the market and make your own. Ultimately, however, I always recommend making your own signature rub.

Dirty Smoke rating (out of 5 stars)
Char Crust original hickory grilled - 3 stars
Char Crust roasted garlic peppercorn - 4 stars

Friday, January 25, 2013

How to Make BBQ Smoked Tri-Tip

By Dru Chai

I had never really heard of tri-tip before -- I just knew it was some cut of beef. I kept hearing the words "Santa Maria Tri-Tip" so after some research I discovered that the meat had become a local speciality in the city of Santa Maria, which is located just north of Santa Barbara and closer to central California. Traditionally, tri-tip is grilled over red oak wood.

So what exactly is tri-tip? Well, it's the bottom of sirloin -- very lean, low-fat, and low-collagen. Unlike the brisket, you won't find a marbling of fat running through the meat. When grilled to perfection, tri-tip should be medium rare, sliced thinly across the grain, and full of juice and flavor. If you've ever wondered how to make smoked tri-tip, read on.

It can be a bit tricky find tri-tip at your local market. Depending on the grocery store, you may not get the best quality. Personally, I like to pay a little more for USDA Choice at my local Costco warehouse. They're not exactly cheap at $6.99/lb. But there's almost 4 pounds of meat per pack. Remember, this isn't like brisket where about half of the weight will disappear because of all that fat and cooking shrinkage.

Once out of the plastic wrap, I actually don't do too much trimming to them. If there are some pieces of fat that you don't like, feel free to trim. But since there is such little fat to begin with, a little bit will give some flavor. This is what one of those triangular-shaped (hence, the term tri-tip) pieces look like.

At this point, choose your favorite rub, sprinkle liberally, and give that tri-tip meat a good massage. You could follow the guidelines from my rub recipe, keep it simple using salt and pepper, or try one of the many pre-made, flavored rubs out in the market. I had a couple of samples from Char Crust and thought that this would be a great opportunity to try them out.

I gave each of the flavors a sample taste, and I definitely liked how the Original Hickory Grilled dry-rub seasoning gave a subtle, yet not overpowering, flavor profile. The roasted garlic peppercorn would also work well, but I had a feeling it would be best used on some NY or ribeye steak.

Click here for a detailed review on my experience with Char Crust.

After you've given the tri-tip a good rubdown, you can either put it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight to let the flavors meld together. But, there's really no need. Just let the meat sit at room temperature for a bit while you fire up the smoker.

I forgot to take a picture of the tri-tip in the smoker (it was raining outside!), but all I did was use one chimney starter's worth of charcoal for my Weber Smoker. Since I didn't have any oak or red oak wood, I just used a few chunks of hickory and apple wood. I set the temperature to about 250-275 degrees F. All it took was about 1 hour until the internal temperature of the tri-tip reached 130-135 degrees. Then, it was time to sear the meat on both sides on a cast iron grill.

After searing the tri-tip about couple of minutes per side, I was already beginning to drool. The aroma from that crust forming on the grill is absolutely one of the best smells ever. I needed to wait about 15-30 minutes afterwards so that all the juices could redistribute. As you know (or should know now!), cutting into meat right off the grill is a big no-no. All the meat juices would bleed out and you're left with is dry and flavorless rubber in the end.

But, your patience will pay off. After making sure to slice against the grain of the tri-tip, the inside of the meat was a perfect medium rare -- just the way I like it. You can see from the picture that the meat is cooked but still has that pink, juicy center. The dry rub from Char Crust imparted a distinct flavor that was neither too salty nor overpowering -- the hickory smoke subtly complimented the meat. At this point, the only thing left to do was to find the best way to devour all this tri-tip. Personally, I like to throw the slices back on the grill for a few seconds, add some BBQ sauce, and make a tri-tip sandwich. Yum!