Santa Maria Style Tri Tip

What are you grilling for Labor Day? My favorite is this cut of beef, a triangle-shaped “tri-tip”, from the bottom sirloin. It’s also called a “Santa Maria steak” because Santa Maria, California is where it first became popular. Typically it is rubbed first with a mixture of salt, black pepper, and garlic salt, and then whatever other seasonings you want, and then barbecued over red oak wood.

I love the cut because it’s just a fat, juicy steak that cooks up beautifully on the grill. You can marinate it, or use a classic Santa Maria rub. In this recipe we are starting with the basic rub and adding some herbs and a little cayenne. Some recipes will have you cut the layer of fat off the roast, I prefer to keep it on, and bathe the steak in the juiciness of fat as it cooks.

Now, the only problem with tri-tip is that it can be hard to find outside of California, though I understand Costco does carry it. If you can’t find it, you can still use this approach and the Santa Maria rub with a thick (look for a two inch thick or greater) well marbled sirloin steak, or london broil.

santa-maria-tri-tip-raw.jpg

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Santa Maria Style Tri Tip Recipe

  • Prep time: 1 hour
  • Cook time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 5 to 8.

Tri-tip roasts range from 2 1/2 pounds to 4 pounds. Figure on 1/2 pound of meat (before cooking) per person. A Santa Maria rub has salt, pepper, and either garlic salt or garlic powder. That's the base of the rub, anything beyond that is optional. If you don't have access to the tri-tip cut where you are, try using a thick london broil or sirloin steak.

Ingredients

  • 1 tri-tip roast, also known as triangle steak, a bottom sirloin cut (anywhere from 2 1/2 pounds to 4 pounds), look for one well-marbled with fat

Santa Maria Rub (enough for a 4 pound roast)

  • 1 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dry rosemary (or fresh, finely minced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry sage

Method

santa-maria-tri-tip-1.jpg santa-maria-tri-tip-2.jpg

1 Mix the rub ingredients together in a bowl. Place the roast in a roasting pan or a baking pan with edges (this will help keep the rub from getting all over the floor). Sprinkle the rub on the meat on all sides, and massage the rub into the meat. Cover and let sit at room temp for an hour.

2 Prepare your grill for hot direct heat on one side, and indirect heat on the other. (By the way, if you are working with a wood-fired grill, Santa Maria BBQ traditionally uses red oak wood.) Sear the roast on all sides, 3-4 minutes per side. Carefully watch the roast during this process as one side of the roast is typically quite fatty and as the fat heats up it can drip down and cause flare-ups. Keep moving the tri-tip away from the flame if flare-ups occur.

sear the tri tip on high direct heat move the tri tip to the cool side of the grill

3 Once the tri-tip is seared on all sides, move it away from direct heat and place it fat-side up on the grill rack. If you are using a gas grill with a top rack, I recommend placing the roast on that rack, with an aluminum tray on the bottom rack underneath to catch the fat drippings. If you are grilling on charcoal or wood, you may want to turn the roast over every few minutes, for more even heating. Try to maintain a grill temperature of 250°F to 300°F.

4 Cover the grill and cook until the temperature of the interior of the tri-tip reaches 120°F for a rare roast, 130°F for medium-rare and 140°F for medium. At this point the meat will take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to cook, depending on how hot your grill is, how well done you want it, and the size of the cut. Note that the interior temperature will continue to rise at least 5°F after you take the roast off the heat.

5 Once the roast reaches temperature, remove it from the grill and let it rest, loosely tented with foil, for 10 minutes. Slice against the grain and serve.

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Links:

Wikipedia on tri-tip
Another take on Santa Maria BBQ - from Food Blogga
A Primer on Tri Tip - from BBQGeek
A Video Recipe for Tri Tip Barbecue - from Chef John of Food Wishes
Grilled Tri-tip with Chimol Salsa - from Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen

45 Comments

  1. Teresa

    Wow, I’m not the only one that didn’t realize that Labor Day was coming up. That tri tip looks delectable! I am drooling. Maybe we will grill ourselves a tri tip on Monday. For tomorrow, I’m trying out a recipe for Korean galbi.

  2. Bill

    This is a cut of meat that is best smoked. Utilizing the rub you describe – a slow-cooked roast would be just the thing…

    • David

      Wrong…slow roasting does not due the tri-tip justice. The texture just doesn’t match a tri-tip that is properly cooked over controlled direct heat.

      And that’s not the way we do it, or it was EVER done in California. Tri-tip has always been cooked over direct heat here where it originated.

      • Paul

        Tri-tip is like a steak, you grill it. It is a thick cut that takes time, but you still grill compared to Brisket which is very fatty and tough and needs the low slow process of bbq’ing.

  3. Liana

    Tri-tip is our favorite to grill quickly too—tender but with good texture and lots of flavor—and it’s thankfully becoming more readily available. I’ve never seen it with very much of a fat layer, but I’m sure that’d make it even better. Will have to try your rub next time!

  4. Bill in Colombia

    If you have trouble finding this steak in your usual market, try a Mexican or other latino grocer. ‘Punta de Anca’ is the name of the steak, and is very popular in Mexican and Colombian grilling.

  5. MaryG

    I love grilling tri-tip, and my rub is similar to yours, but I reverse the cooking order; I cook it slow over indirect heat, then crank the heat and sear it over direct heat when it hits about 115/120 (my husband likes his meat medium well, sad to say). My success rate went WAY up when I started doing it that way – before that I often had too much trouble with flare ups, or had trouble searing it evenly, especially if I forgot to take it out of the fridge early enough. Still juicy and delicious!

  6. Anonymous

    Is this steak the same as the Brazilian “picanha” or the Argentinian “punta de cuadril”?

    • Cgb

      Punta de cuadril. Considering the post is nearly 2 years old, I hope you already found the answer. :-)

  7. Michael

    I just did a Tri-Tip last night…..same basic rub, same cooking technique…..and it was fantastic. Then this morning I come to Simply Recipes….and look at what I see….small world!

    I buy mine at Wegman’s. It’s pricey but well worth it! I’ll look at Costco this weekend, I always keep one or two in the freezer!

  8. Jane

    Tri-tip roasts and steaks are available at Trader Joe’s here on the East coast, for those who can’t find it!

  9. Ryan

    So-Cal native here, tri tip is the number one thing my family grills. Key is to slice AS THIN AS POSSIBLE, against the grain!

  10. C.J.

    I love it! I grew up in Santa Maria, CA. This is the best for BBQ ever. Once you have had tri-tip on the grill, nothing else is the same. We can only get in Roswell, nm by ordering it from albertsons. We have to take the whole case or they wont order it, because nobody here has heard of it! They are really missing out! Try Susie Q’s seasoning on the tri-tip. It is a rub with all the extras. It is also from Santa Maria, Ca. Enjoy!

  11. Suzy

    Yum, I love a good tri-tip. This is the specialty of my brother-in-law in California and he knows it is a required meal to make whenever I visit!

  12. Mike

    Around the Pismo Beach area, I found road-side stands that featured tri-tip sandwiches. Is the tri-tip cut the same one that appears as the point cut for corned beef around St. Patrick’s day? As I recall, the tri-tip sandwiches held meat that seemed to be awfully tough, when merely grilled.

    Corned beef is typically made with a brisket, which comes from the chest of the steer, below the shoulder. Tri-tip is a lower sirloin cut between the flank and the round towards the back of the steer. Tri-tip shouldn’t be tough if you are slicing it properly against the grain, and if you start with a well-marbled roast. ~Elise

  13. Charlene Austin

    I am in Canada and we get ours at Safeway. We usually have to ask the butcher for the cut but they will happily do it. They also coat it in their house spice rub for us. Yum!

    We grill it. 8 mins per side, flipped twice. So 8,8,8,8. Perfection.

  14. Chop

    As a Californian I approve this recipe. I do it high heat all the way with much flipping and baste with what is essentially a vinaigrette, but let’s not split hairs here. Following the recipe posted will result in a perfectly fine Cali style Tri-Tip. Serve with Pinquito Beans and some Pico and you’ve got yourself a little slice of Cali grillin’ heaven.

  15. june w lovell

    elizabeth got it exactly right: those little pink beans and salsa are absolutely necessary to complete santa maria heaven; sour dough bread is also part of my menu. costco’s tri-tip are usually very well trimmed if bought individually; i think the bags o’ tips are usually untrimmed, but lots of meat to freeze or share.

  16. Jon

    I figured this would be a great idea for labor day tomorrow and I decided to try making this last night. Make sure you have at least 2 hours before dinner time if you haven’t made this before! It took me right around 2 hours total time, but it came out awesome!

  17. Whiskey Lima

    I’ve been fortunate enough to find a store in the DC area that sells tri-tip for a reasonable price. I generally stock up, pre-season all the meat (probably sacrilege, but it works for me) and then seal them individually in food saver bags. Thaw and grill and dinner is on the table in no time.

    Make sure to rest the meat properly (~20 min) and slice against the grain – so juicy and tender! Leftovers are wonderful too!

    • Sarah F

      I know this is very late…Can I ask where in the DC area you were able to find Tri Tip?? I have moved here about a year and a half ago from California, and have not been able to find it! I miss it sooooo much!!!

  18. goddess63

    I was able to find a tri-tip roast at Trader Joe’s. The also had tri-tips that were already spiced up and labeled “Santa Maria” but meat that’s already prepared like that is almost always full of things I don’t want to eat (not to mention too salty) so I choose to spice them up myself. I used all the ingredients as written and the only thing I would change is the amount of salt. It was a tad too salty for our taste, but that didn’t stop us from gobbling it up. My husband was surprised by how spicy it was due to all that cayenne but we both liked it a lot. And we’re looking forward to leftovers (in sandwiches) tonight. I also would’ve preferred the roast we got at TJ’s had a bit more fat but I’ll make sure to get that next time….and there most definitely will be a next time! (only with half the amount of salt!).

  19. Thea Molette

    I know all about Tri Tip as I am from Pismo Beach, but now I live in Texas and they don’t sell Tri Tip here. So if you’re a Tri Tip lover, I recommend not moving to Texas. As I remember, if you do the tip right, it should be tender and succulent and full of flavor. I’d love to sink my teeth into a piece right now.

    • chuck D.

      Thea Molette:
      You might look for a Butcher Shop in your area and if you talk nice to the man behind the counter, he just might cut you one to please you. I live in Florida and I found a Butcher here in Orange Park who has California customers who found he would Custom Cut Tri Tips and created a nice Market and the word got around how delicious these Gifts of The Gods were.

    • Cgb

      I live in Texas and have no problem finding it. If your local grocery (HEB?) doesn’t carry it, find a butcher — even Costco sells it.

  20. Javelin Warrior

    This tri-tip is cooked beautifully and looks so tasty! I love the outside char with the perfectly pink center… I’m featuring this post in today’s Food Fetish Friday (with a link-back and attribution as always). Thank you so much for keeping me inspired with such delicious creations…

  21. Pamela Heiligenthal @ Enobytes

    I’m a huge fan of Santa Maria Style Barbecue- that and a good glass of Zinfandel! Like Javelin, I used to live in the area and I miss this tri-tip. Thanks for the memories ;)

  22. tyronebcookin

    Love Tri-Tip, but in the South its hard to find it just shy of East Texas. I will try the costco but I don’t remember seeing it before.

    My friends in California (and me, I used to live there) would cook it in a drum, hanging it over the coals and wood with a clothes hanger, dry rubbed…yep, real high tech! LOL

    Thanks for the post, brought back memories!

    (did not know about the Santa Maria part, learn something new every day!)

  23. Becca

    I used your rub tonight on a tri tip from a local butcher who buys local cattle. It was amazing. I was cautious with cayenne as i made something earlier this week that was way over my limit. aSince it February in WI I had to be creative on how to cook it. I seared it on all sides and finished it the oven at 350. Thank you once again for sharing an amazing recipe. I can’t wait to make it again this summer when my grill isn’t buried under a foot of snow.

    • Kevin

      Hey, was looking for an oven version since I don’t own a grill. How long did you cook this for?

  24. Tracy

    Can’t wait to try this rub! I actually used this recipe as a guide for grilling technique as this was the first time I’ve cooked Tri-Tip. The technique worked fabulously. Used a marinade of olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, A LOT of fresh garlic, lime juice, oregano and onion powder. Turned out great. Thanks for putting out such great recipes. I use them all the time!

  25. shana

    I just visited cali and we had tri-tip one night and it was delicious,well when I got back home to ohio I asked a butcher that I know if his store sold tri-tip and he said people had been asking him for years and he couldn’t get it ;( well I just happen to be in a near by town that had a larger Kroger than my hometown did and just thought id try my luck their and yes they had it in roast or sliced so larger Kroger co. sells it and cant wait to fix it for memorial day to grill it ;)

  26. David

    Ah, tri-tip, just another reason why California is the greatest place in the world. A few points:

    Trim the fat cap…there are some nasty blood vessels running through it that aren’t good eating. The cut has enough moisture without it.

    Tri-tip should always be cooked over controlled direct heat. By controlled I mean having a dome (like on a Weber) so that you can cover the meat occasionally to keep the temperature stable and prevent flare ups. The direct heat provides the char that the tri-tip needs. You have to watch…multiple turnings are required.

    Never cook a tri-tip beyond medium rare. The quality and flavor deteriorate rapidly if its overcooked.

    Finally, always use a dry rub on a tri-tip. My favorite:

    2 teaspoons kosher salt
    2 teaspoons chili powder
    1 teaspoon course black pepper
    1 teaspoon paprika
    1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    1/2 teaspoon onion powder
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/2 teaspoon dried basil
    1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

    Enjoy!

  27. Andy

    Awesome recipe, first time eating this cut of meat but not the last one.

  28. Steve H

    This rub is outstanding! We love visiting Santa Barbara County and are hooked on the local food and wine from this area. I take the rub and put it in a spice grinder and make it into a consistent powder then rub it on the meat the night before and keep it in the refrigerator. About 1-1.5 hours before I cook it I let it sit out and come to room temperature before searing it on the grill and then indirectly cooking it until it hits ~130F using a probe thermometer that stays inside the meat the whole time it cooks.

    I highly recommend using this recipe! It is absolutely delectable. I recommend using a nice Pinot Noir or Syrah from SB County to complement the meat. Perhaps a Fiddlehead ‘728’?

  29. Bill

    The local neighborhood market in Cardiff Ca. has a great meet counter. There most popular item is Burgandy Pepper Tri Tip AKA Cardiff crack. It’s marinated in a vacume tumbler and easily the best chunk of bovine you have ever massicated. However that being said, a well rubbed and and seared tri tip as described above is a very close second. My little Weber Smokey Joe does a fine job of it. Try if you dare with fresh baked french rolls, coleslaw and Carl Strass amber lager.

  30. Kate

    I love Santa Maria style tri-tip. What I do is after rubbing it down with the spice rub, I baste every 15-20 minutes with a simple vinaigrette with red wine vinegar and garlic infused olive oil while the meat is on the grill. The meat comes out super tender and very tasty.

  31. Steve M

    Greetings,

    I found that the reverse sear method as described at amazing ribs website works great see: http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/beef/santa_maria_tri-tip_steaks.html For those who can’t find tri tip, this article states that the cut is number 185c in the NAMP book. your butcher will know what that means.

    For Kevin who was looking for an oven method (no grill) J. Kenji Alt-Lopez worked at Cooks Illustrated and wrote an article about pan searing thick steaks using a reverse sear. This technique could be adapted for tri tip. I don’t have the url, but I’m sure it can be found.

  32. Skip

    I love the recipe and all the great tips and suggestions! I am surprised though that no one has mentioned anything about the grade (quality) of the meat and the difference that can make in tenderness, juiciness and flavor.
    Here in CA most chain stores (e.g., Vons, Safeway) only sell beef graded “select”, which is one level above the bottom grade “standard”. Good meat markets and Costco sell “choice” which is a level above “select” and a level below “prime”, the best. Grading reflects the age of the meat and degree of marbling, or fat, in the beef’s muscle. The more marbling the more tender and flavorful.
    So many times backyard cooks are disappointed with the way their meat turned out yet don’t realize it probably had more to do with the grade they bought than they way they cooked it!

  33. Alyssa

    The dry rub is amazing. I didn’t grill my tri-tip but it still came out great.

  34. Therese

    Just made this tri tip tonight and so glad I did. It was fantastic. I bought the tri tip at Costco. After searing each side for 4 minutes over high direct heat I turned off two burners and left the 3rd on high. The meat was over the 2 burners that were not turned on. I let it cook for 30 minutes which was perfect. Definitely will make this again – Thank you!!

  35. Denise Fennell

    Ok so I bought some tri-tip. Turns out I bought 14lbs of tri-tip. Now that I had 4 beautiful hunks of meat I had to decide what to do with them. I won’t go into all the details here, you can read the reviews of all 4 styles I did on my blog –

    http://oregongreenacres.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/tri-tip/

    But suffice it to say this method was one of them. I had us do a blind tasting. This recipe we both picked as the best choice. It is simply perfect. No no, I know you want to dabble and perhaps change/tweak it a bit. But don’t. Thank you Elise! Wonderful recipe :)

  36. Rick Rigler

    This caught my eye because of the photo and the word Tri Tip in the recipe description. A while back I was searching for how the steakhouse chain Texas Land and Cattle makes their ‘Smoked Sirloin’. Someone on a blog or BBQ site suggested that they use a Tri Tip steak. Or maybe it was someone on the forum that had re-created the ‘smoked sirloin’ using the Tri Tip. I was curious of course as I had not heard of that cut being considered as a high-end steak. Actually I had heard only of a Tri Tip roast and not a steak. Anyone else have any input on the steakhouse mentioned? It is also really smokey (which I like) so would love to hear how to do that with this cut.

    Rick Rigler
    Houston, TX

  37. Pam Poynter

    Without reading all the comments, just want to say that Trader Joe’s in Iowa sells this cut of meat, and it’s delicious. Have followed their directions and roast in the oven. I cannot find tri-tip anywhere else.

  38. sue

    Santa Maria Style BBQ originated in the 20’s using local grass-fed beef whole top blocks cooked for community dinners by a local men’s club. (beats your average Midwestern hot dish dinner by miles)

    The use of tri tip came into being in the 50’s when it was promoted by a local grocery store meat cutter as a more family-sized, and delicious cut of beef. (Tri-tip is really richly flavored, so makes great bbq). The original flavorings were probably just S&P. The food industry did not have all the dehydrated spices on the market yet. I urge all of you who THINK you need herbs and spices like cayenne, to try it with S&P only. It’s the REAL DEAL. The pure beef flavor shines through. Don’t forget to sop your French bread in the drippings!

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