Most barbecue joints have their signatures. Whether it's a side dish or a main course, the best always have one item they can hang their hat on. At Lillie's Q in Bucktown, nearly all of the slow-cooked meats are flawless, but the tri-tip is something special.
"Tri-tip - it's the bottom cut of the top sirloin. We picked it up from California," said Brian Musinski, the GM at Lillie's Q.
This west coast cut is rarely seen in Chicago, and here, they begin by slicing off the fat cap, then trimming away most of the excess fat, including the silver skin - the membrane between the fat and the meat. Once it's fully trimmed, the three tips are evident, and the proprietary rub is applied. Then the tri-tip goes into the smoker, where it cooks slowly, for about two hours, over smoldering peach wood.
"It's a very mild flavor, as like a hickory or mesquite will give you a very, very intense smoke flavor, we just like to complement the meat, so we add, we use peach wood," Musinski said.
Slicing this lean cut is a breeze. The slightly thick slices can be plated as-is, left to the customer to sauce as they wish at the table.. or, it's sliced a bit thinner, then piled onto sturdy brioche buns, again, sauced as much as you like. For a buck more, you can make it "southern style" and add a dollop of creamy coleslaw. Either way, you're going to love this rarely seen cut of meat, especially if you're used to the fattier cuts of brisket in most barbeque joints. Musinski says that's one of the reasons more places probably don't carry it, due to the ease with which it can potentially dry out if not monitored.
"There is a low fat content in it, so it's probably very easy to dry out. Like I said, here we only smoke it for about two hours, so some people may try to do it, you know, cook it for a little too long," he said.
You can find tri-tip at some Trader Joe's locations, already marinated. But for slow-smoking, Lillie's is pretty much the only place in town to find it.
1856 W. North Ave.