Once upon a time, I ate a really good taco. And 10 years later it continues to live rent-free in my mind. It was a tri-tip taco and I was in San Diego, California. It’s funny, I don’t remember the specifics of the taco. All I remember is the quality of the corn tortilla, and the meat. That meat was so tender, smokey, and flavorful – I just could not handle it. So you can imagine my disappointment when I realized tri-tip was far from common here in Canada. Thankfully, in the intervening years, tri-tip has become easier to find here in Toronto. So without further ado, I present my attempt to recreate a beloved food memory with these Tri-Tip Tacos with Chipolte Peanut Sauce.
But before we tackle the ins and outs of this recipe, let’s talk about the tri-tip itself. The tri-tip is a subprimal cut of beef that comes from the bottom sirloin. It is a well-marbled piece of meat that is best served rare to medium-rare. The meat you see in these tacos was pulled from the grill when the meat registered an internal temperature of 130°F. But as with steak, tri-tip is about preference. So you could serve it well-done if that’s how you roll. The tri-tip is fairly toothsome because it comes from tensor fasciae latae, a hardworking muscle that keeps the pelvis balanced when walking and/or running. So for that reason, a low and slow method is your best bet for a tender finished product.
Now, I am by no means a pitmaster, so if you are, you may just want to heed my sauce advice and dismiss my BBQ advice. I definitely know my sauces. But I will faithfully recount the method I used to grill my tri-tip if you’re at all curious. I opted for a reverse sear method, which means I cooked my tri-tip over indirect heat before finishing it off directly over the coals for that perfect sear. This means placing your coals to one side of your grill. I can’t take credit for this method, I relied very heavily on SJ Cooks for guidance.
Now, the amount of fuel I used in the video below may be more than you will need. If you live somewhere balmy, for instance, you might not need that much fuel at all. I live in Canada, which doesn’t know the meaning of the word “spring”, so we had to compensate for the high winds and chilly temperatures. Basically, you will have to employ some of your own judgment when fueling up your BBQ. Just aim for a grill temperature between 275°F and 300°F and you’ll be fine.
Cook your tri-tip over indirect heat until it reaches an internal temperature of 115°F. And then transfer it over to the coals for a final sear. Pull the tri-tip when it reaches 130°F and don’t forget to let the meat rest. And make sure you let it rest for at least 20 minutes. 10 minutes is fine for steak but tri-tip is a big piece of meat, it needs more time.
Now, let’s talk about the sauce. The Chipolte Peanut Sauce is sort of a hybrid of satay sauce and salsa macha. Salsa macha is a sauce from Veracruz, Mexico that is comprised of dried chilis, peanuts, sesame seeds, and garlic toasted in oil. It’s basically chili oil, which I love. But my sauce is not that. I wanted something creamy, so nothing listed in the recipe below is traditional, but it is delicious.
The sauce requires either an immersion blender or food processor and it comes together in 5 minutes. Word of warning, though, the recipe below makes quite a bit. I didn’t want to scale down the measurements because I wanted to use a whole can of chipotle peppers. I hate having half-finished cans of anything in my fridge, I always forget about them. But you can, of course, halve the amounts below for a more rational amount of sauce. But honestly, you’re not going to regret having leftovers. This sauce is good on just about everything.
The remaining toppings for these Tri-tip Tacos are simple and sparse. The sauce and the meat are so rich and complex that adding anything more than red onion, jalapeño, and cilantro feels like overkill. But as with the doneness of your tri-tip, you do you. Choose your favorite toppings and make the taco you want to see in the world. But just remember, tortillas are not exactly known for their structural integrity. So if you add too much, you’re likely to have a literal mess on your hands.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Tri-Tip Tacos. And if you still have lingering questions, I’m confident the chatterbox in the video below will answer them. I hope you enjoy these tacos. Personally, I think they’re a great way to kick off the BBQ season. Tri-tip takes just long enough to cook that the effort of starting the BBQ feels worth it and it cooks just quickly enough to spare your toes from frostbite. These tacos are basically essentially Canadian spring grilling.
Tri-Tip Tacos with Chipotle Peanut Sauce
- 1 charcoal grill
- 1 BBQ Chimney
- 1 bag charcoal briquettes
- 2 BBQ baskets
- 1 immersion blender, blender, or food processor
- 1 tri-tip fat and silver skin trimmed and discarded
- ⅓ cup BBQ rub **
- 1 (186 ml, 6 fl oz) can chipotle peppers in adobo
- ½ cup natural crunchy peanut butter
- ⅓ cup rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 lime juiced
- 3 tbsp water
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 12-16 corn tortillas
- ½ red onion finely diced
- 1 jalapeño thinly sliced
- 25-30 sprigs fresh cilantro
- ½ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
- Place the trimmed tri-tip inside a small baking sheet and coat it all over with the BBQ rub. Place a cooling rack inside the baking sheet and place the tri-tip on top. Transfer it to the fridge and chill for 12 hours or a minimum of 3.1 tri-tip, ⅓ cup BBQ rub **
- When you’re ready to cook your tri-tip take your meat out of the fridge an hour before putting it on the grill.
- Start by placing two BBQ baskets at one end of the BBQ. Fill the baskets with approximately 10 charcoal briquettes each. Wad up some paper and place it underneath a chimney on top of the grill. Fill the chimney with a layer of briquettes, we used about 20, and light the paper. Once you’ve got a good flame, let the briquettes burn until they turn white.
- Once the briquettes are white-hot, pour them evenly over the baskets. Next, fan them until you can see the barest hint of flame, cover the BBQ and fully open the vents. Heat your BBQ to somewhere in the ball park of 275°F.
- Once your grill is up to temperature, place the tri-tip over indirect heat. Cover and cook until the meat registers an internal temperature of 115°F. This should take about 30 minutes.
- While the tri-tip is cooking, make the Chipotle Peanut Sauce and prep the taco fixings. Place the chipotle peppers in adobo in a food processor, blender, or glass large enough to accommodate an immersion blender. Add the peanut butter, rice vinegar, and honey. Give everything a blitz and the sesame oil, lime juice, and water. Blitz until everything is fully integrated and set the sauce aside.1 (186 ml, 6 fl oz) can chipotle peppers in adobo, ½ cup natural crunchy peanut butter, ⅓ cup rice vinegar, 2 tbsp honey, 1 lime, 2 tsp sesame oil, 3 tbsp water
- When the tri-tip reaches 115°F, transfer the meat directly over the hot coals and sear. Remove the tri-tip once the internal temperature hits 130°F. *** Take the meat off of the grill and wrap it in tin foil. Let rest for a minimum of 20 minutes.
- While the meat is resting, place corn tortillas on the grill. We’re not looking to toast them until they’re rigid, we just want to warm them and get a little color on them. Transfer the tortillas to a tortilla warmer and set them aside.12-16 corn tortillas
- When the meat is done resting, slice the tri-tip at thinly as possible **** Start by placing 3-4 pieces of meat in the center of one of the tortillas. Top the meat with a spoonful of the Chipotle Peanut Sauce and a sprinkle of the finely diced red onion. Add 2-3 jalapeño rings, a sprig of fresh cilantro, and a sprinkling of peanuts. Serve immediately with a couple of lime wedges and a round of ice-cold beers.½ red onion, 1 jalapeño, 25-30 sprigs fresh cilantro, ½ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts