When it comes to tri-tip, you get what you pay for.
"There's $1.99-a-pound tri-tip and $9.99-a-pound tri-tip, and everything in between, and you can tell the difference," said butcher Danny Johnson, owner of Taylor's Market in Sacramento.
Which leads to the first guideline for cooking California's cut: When quality goes on the grill, quality comes off the grill.
Here are some other tips:
A trimmed or "denuded" tri-tip has had most of the fat cap removed. For more flavor, look for a tri-tip that has some of the fat cap intact. Too much remaining fat cap will result in flare-ups on the grill. Plus, marbling is good.
To marinate, use a fork to poke holes in the meat before placing it in a plastic bag of marinade. Turn the package over every few hours. Leave it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. After removing the tri-tip from the bag, discard the marinade, and salt and pepper the meat. Never use marinade for basting. It often contains bacteria that can cause illness.
Al's marinade: Chop up a ginger root, a few garlic cloves, a couple jalapeños, sliced, and one bunch of chopped cilantro. Mix with white wine, apple cider and white pepper. Put it in a resealable plastic bag and drop in the tri-tip.
Don't have time to marinate? Rub a generous amount of spice mixture onto the meat at least two hours before cooking.
"Cutting across the grain" shortens the long fibers in the tri-tip, which is a muscle, and yields tender pieces. Slicing "with the grain" produces stringy, dense pieces.
"The 'grain' in a tri-tip looks like vertical stripes going through the meat, "Johnson said. "It's like looking at a pine-wood plank and seeing the direction of the grain. Cut perpendicular to that direction."
Leftover tri-tip is versatile. It's perfect for sandwiches, steak and eggs, tacos, nachos, tostadas, enchiladas and to lay across a summer salad with avocado, tomato and roasted corn. Leftovers can also be used to make a great pot of beans, chili and chili colorado.