On the Line: Jeff “Trail Boss” Killough Of Tri-Tip Man, Part One

When I was in school, I truly believed there wasn't a cure for the summertime blues. That is, unless there was a family barbeque. In every culture, grilling meat brings people together. Sizzling sounds, juicy patties and all that smoke equates to one great afternoon. To include Tri-Tip Man's self-proclaimed “Trail Boss” was a no-brainer.

You own a lot of BBQ equipment. What's your favorite to cook with?
I love a good pellet grill. It is so versatile, and puts just the right amount of smoke flavor. You can “set and forget”. No constant monitoring.

What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in the restaurant industry?
They all tell you it's super hard work. They didn't tell me it's way harder than that! Oh, and that your clothes smell at the end of the day, and should probably be burned.


Your earliest food memory:
I was hungry all the time as a kid, and I guess I ate a lot of bologna sandwiches. I fried some one day and thought it was cool when it popped up like a dome. I thought I invented fried bologna.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
OC has the best variety of ethnic food. Within a 30-minute drive, you can find almost anything you want; and good ones at that.

Your best recent food find:
Handmade noodles from a little place called Peking in Westminster. It has three meats in it, and I ask them to put some of their sauteed black mushrooms in it.

Let's discuss the story behind the Kickin' Cowboy Rub.
The rub. A couple of things happened that got that going. I was seasoning a new pellet grill, so I threw a piece of cheap pork in there to do it. I seasoned it with coffee grounds (a Newman k-cup to be exact), salt, pepper, garlic, etc. I used to read a lot of recipes.
It turned out so good, and I decided then that I wanted to develop a coffee based rub, primarily for beef. I spent four months developing it with the help of a coworker who had a lot of food knowledge. And a lot of coworkers got to sample a lot of food along the way. It turned out so good. Better than I could've hoped.

Most undervalued ingredient:
The tri-tip! We buy only upper choice grade meat, and a whole lot of work goes into every batch. With the volume we are doing, it's a 2-3 day process from cryopack to service. Sometimes I'm not as nimble as I'd like to be. We often can't take events on short notice.

Biggest challenge in opening a food truck.
There isn't a clear cut manual on how to do it. I wish I had a consultant, especially when designing the truck. The result is that the layout of the kitchen doesn't flow as well as it could. We are pretty fast, though. Also, the capital requirements are a BIG challenge.

What is your beverage of choice?
I'm kinda boring. Diet Mountain Dew is my drink of choice.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Smoke your meats to the proper internal meat temperature. Do not just cook it for a prescribed amount of time. Buy yourself a good meat thermometer.

Most frequently asked question by guests.
Surprisingly, “What is tri-tip?” A lot of the ladies ask, “Can you cut this in half?”. Not the men, though.

Favorite places to eat.
FĂ©lix's (Cuban) in Orange, Peking Chinese in Westminster. Oh, and I like the chicken and corn bisque off the Ragin Cajun truck. Just Hot Dogs, a Chicago-style hot dog stand and Lino's Italian. Yikes! Better stop there.

One food you can't live without.
A good hamburger. I'm just a big, ex-athlete, and I need a lot of beef to keep this freight train rolling. Okay, don't tell my doctor I said that.

What do you recommend for first-timers?
The Maverick. It's our best seller, and we often run out. The sourdough has an outer cheddar cheese crust, a light garlic sauce, thick sliced bacon and tri-tip. We also just rolled out a great new sandwich, the Steakhouse. My chef and I both wanted to do something like this, and she came up with a winner. Arugula, caramelized mushrooms and onions, horseradish aioli, Swiss cheese and chives. It is so good, and has been well-received since its debut.

What is your goal for Tri-Tip Man: more trucks, a brick-and-mortar, or something else?
I've always wanted to have a little BBQ restaurant. Something small enough to be cozy, yet big enough to entertain a lot of folks.

Learn more about Tri-Tip Man at www.tritipman.com.

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