I've been a fan of Top Chef since the first episode of Season One, so imagine my joy when Wednesday's elimination challenge was Upscale BBQ. If you've read any of my blog, you know that I've been trying to figure out how to meld classic culinary techniques and BBQ for some time now. I was barely able to sit still on the couch as I waited to see what the contestants would do. My excitement quickly gave way to disappointment as Tom Colicchio laid out the the parameters of the challenge. The contestants were given thirty minutes to shop, two hours to prep, and two hours to cook for a gathering of 60 guests. I immediately understood that Tom and the producers had chosen to observe the Northern definition of BBQ, that being food grilled over direct heat and served with copious quantities of alcohol, rather than the Southern "low and slow" version of BBQ. This was really no surprise, given the NY-centric vibe of Top Chef (don't forget that everything great that ever happened in food started first in a NYC restaurant). It took me a few minutes to reset my expectations for a grilling competition, rather than a BBQ competition, but I was still pretty darn excited.
When the contestants arrived at the site to begin cooking, my hopes were dashed even further. Since the show was sponsored in part by Kingsford charcoal, each chef was setup with a bevy of Kingsford products with which to grill. The grill each chef was given to work with was itself a sad, sorry piece of hardware. I've personally seen better grills set up for sale outside of my local Kroger grocery store. Adding further to my frustration, the chefs were given only LIGHTER FLUID with which to start their charcoal. Am I to really believe that Tom and the producers had never heard of a charcoal chimney? Lighter fluid is only useful if you are trying to bring a not-so-subtle hint of gasoline to your entree. Upscale BBQ? Given the tools the chefs were given, it seemed that the challenge was designed to produce Ghetto BBQ. No self-respecting pitmaster would use lighter fluid and still expect to be able to hold their head high on the circuit. We may be rednecks, but we're not uncivilized. Lighter fluid? Pfft. Get outta here, greenhorn.
In the interest of cutting to the chase, I'm just going to say that none of the contestants produced anything that would fit my definition of BBQ. I saw absolutely no evidence of anyone (except Tre) taking advantage of the smoke chips. Nobody used a spice rub. This was basically a grilling competition. In the end, a seafood sausage prevailed over all the others. I understood why, but I still went to bed puzzling over how a show that had always seemed to aspire to great heights could fall so short. I awoke this morning with a determination to see how I would measure up to the challenge.
Out of fairness, I decided that I would adhere to all of the time constraints of the challenge. This decision quickly eliminated many of my favorite BBQ dishes. Pork shoulder? Out. Brisket? Out. Baby back ribs? Out. I had to focus on something that I could quickly kiss with smoke. I've long been a fan of the tri-tip roast and after careful consideration it seemed to be my best hope of delivering an upscale but smokey dish. What follows is my entry in the Top Chef Upscale BBQ challenge......
Spice rubbed, smoke roasted duo of tri-tip served with crostini, baby arugula, maytag blue cheese, onion jam, and served with tri-colored barbequed beans and smoked chorizo sausage.
Here's what you need to do to replicate the above dish.
Tri-tip spice rub: equal parts (roughly 1 tablespoon each) kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and worcestershire powder.
Red Onion Jam: 3 red onions, finely diced. 1 cup red wine. 1 cup red wine vinegar. 3/4 cup honey. Simmer over low heat for roughly an hour until all the liquids have been reduced to a syrupy consistency.
Light a chimney of charcoal and get your wood chunks soaking in H20. Once the coals are hot, set up a fire under one half of your grill and toss a couple chunks on. Go ahead and get your chorizo smoking while you assemble your rub and prep the rest of your mise en place.
Rub the tri-tip roast with your spice rub and allow it to sit at room temp. for 10-15 minutes. Take your french bread and cut out some crostini and get them cooking in a low oven (250 degrees) for 10 minutes. While your bread is toasting, you can chop up some yellow and red tomatoes and throw together a quick vinaigrette for your baby arugula.
Pull your chorizo off the grill when it has developed a nice brown, smokey appearance. Bring it inside and allow it to cool. Go ahead at this point and get your tri-tip on the grill. You are going to start your roast over direct heat to sear it and allow the spices to work with the proteins to develop a nice crust. This shouldn't amount to much more than two minutes per side. After you have seared each side, go ahead and move the roast to the far side of the grill away from the heat. Add a few more wood chunks, replace your grill lid, and walk away.
It's now time to get your beans working. I used one can each of white beans, pinto beans, and black beans. Make sure to rinse and drain your beans first. Place them in a pot and add your bbq sauce of choice. In my case, I used my personal, fresh sauce. I can't do the store stuff. I also added around a cup of chicken stock to keep the mixture loose. Put the heat to the beans. While you are waiting for them to warm, you can chop your smoked chorizo and add it to the mixture. Allow the whole thing to simmer quietly while you continue to work your tri-tip.
Pull the tri-tip when the internal temperature hits between 120 and 125 degrees and bring it inside to rest. While the meat is resting, you can set up your plates. The idea behind the duo is to offer one crostini that focuses on the savory, acidic palate with the arugula and blue cheese and another crostini that focuses on the sweet combination of the onion jam and the smokey tri-tip.
Based upon the sole review of my wife, this dish would stand up well against the Top Chef competitors. Try it for yourself and let me know how it turned out.