Ah…bourbon. A great icebreaker in social situations, we can just break out the bottle, give everyone a pour, and sit back relaxing, telling stories, and just having a good time. But bourbon is not satisfied with that single responsibility. No, bourbon can multitask, serving as a brain tickler of sorts, helping unlock those thoughts that seem stuck in your head, unwilling to come out during the light of day. It was during one of these brain-tickling sessions that I began thinking about the connection between bourbon and barbecue, namely beef. Both glorious by themselves, when combined in the right mix of wood smoke and flavor, well, that can be a life changing experience. With bourbon in hand, as you can expect, I commenced to gettin’ a little hungry. Because as you know, all that sitting, pondering and thinking, especially about barbecue, can work up a man’s appetite. But while a great steak with a nip of the brown water always has the makings of a successful meal, I longed for more. My immediate beef resources on hand were limited, but spying a 2-pound tri-tip ready to meet the wrath of some sparked up hardwood made me smile. Normally a searing type of meat, the thought provoking bourbon begged the question, “Why can’t we smoke this beauty, you know, kinda brisket style, basting it in bourbon and finishing it off with a smoky, bourbon glaze of some sort?”
Hearing no dissenting remarks, I convinced myself it would be a worthy effort. So I removed myself from my thinking position, replenished my drink, and got to work on my beef and bourbon project, smothering the tri-tip roast with a fresh and goodly amount of yellow mustard, nothing more. Wrapped in plastic wrap, it was simply put in the fridge for a 24-hour marinating experience.
The next day, a generous amount of rub was patted on over the mustard, making it stick like a thick paste. My choice on this day was a simple combination of 1 part Chicago Steak Seasoning to 2 parts of a quality, seasoned pepper. As if ceremoniously transporting a sacrifice to the smoke gods, the beef was carefully paraded from the kitchen counter, out past the back screen door, down the deck stairs to the billowing smoker, now belching plumes of hickory smoke like a runaway locomotive. It held steady at a mellow 200 degrees, a temperature that I would maintain throughout this cook.
Pro tip here: The grill, as always, should be well lubricated, and while you’re at it, the griller should be lubricated as well. It’s like a synergy type of thing. Trust me!
At 150 degrees internal, already higher than I would normally cook a tri-tip, I wrapped the beef in foil, brisket style, adding herbed butter and a couple “glug-glugs” of bourbon. I would normally also toss in some beef stock at this point, but running across a bit of leftover French onion soup in the fridge, I used that instead. Hey, life is full of decisions. Wrap that beauty up and return to the smoker, now looking for an inner temp of about 190. It’ll take another couple of hours, so as to give you time to hang out, lollygag, and refill your glass as well. It’s all part of a pit jockey’s master plan.
When the tri-tip is in the home stretch, it’s time to get a small sauce pot and throw in about three quarters cup of peach preserves with a couple more glugs of bourbon, and start heating it up. You can do this on stovetop, but while I already had the trusty old Weber warmed with a low fire, I just warmed and reduced the sauce on the grill, occasionally giving it a stir. After hitting that 190-degree internal temperature, pull the tri-tip off the grill and unwrap it. Don’t lose all that great juice in the foil, because you need about a half-cup to add to your bourbon peach glaze mixture. Add it in and stir, keeping it on the heat.
Now crank the heat up on the smoker, or just use the grill if you had that sparked up. Start brushing that glaze on the tri-tip, rotating and flipping the meat to get the caramelization going.
Once everything looks shiny, shellacked, and sticky, transfer the beef to a plate to rest for at least 10 minutes, saving the rest of the bourbon peach glaze for serving.
I’m not lying when I tell you that I really didn’t know what to expect when I cut into this beauty. It sure looked and smelled good, but I was hoping that this little experiment didn’t end with a great piece of beef transforming into a moon rock. The anticipation made me nervous. With a sharpened knife, I sliced into the tri-tip and immediately saw the smoke ring. I smiled. As I began to slice the beef, thinly against the grain, the juices became apparent, hanging on like dewdrops on a humid St Louis morning, letting me know that this dense piece of beef had no intention of drying out. It was beefy, and it was bourbon-y, a classic combination.
I couldn’t help but start thinking about all the different uses for these thin, flavor packed slices of tender tri-tip. They were great just as they were, but layered on crusty, cheese garlic bread, they were simply life changing. Maybe on crostini, or in a tortilla or wrap…
Oh man, maybe just a little more bourbon will jog my brain…