Santa Maria Style Tri Tip

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Santa Maria Tri Tip

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

 

Santa Maria Style Tri Tip Recipe

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  • 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

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.

santa-maria-tri-tip-method-600-2

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

Showing 4 of 51 Comments

  • Brian Healy

    Ok I know it is verboten, But if you love tri-tip and are it is too cold or you are too grill challenged it can be done in an (gulp) Oven, Pre-Heat to 425, place try-tip on rack in a shallow pan cook for 30 minutes,-40 minutes whip out the old instant read or regular meat thermometer 120 for rare, 140 for Med- rare and anything higher if you plan to toss it in the trash because if it’s well it overdone, remove and tent with foil for 10-20 minutes depending on your desired doneness , then thin slice away against the grain.

  • Chris Jones

    I found tri tip at Aldi’s.

  • Doug

    I find that tri-tip is better cooked a bit more than other steaks, such as sirloin. When served rare or even medium rare, it can be a bit tough. Also, slice it as you would a brisket or flank step — thin, across the grain, knife held at a step angle.

  • Matt Smith

    Made this over the weekend on a 3 lb. prime tri-tip over oak lump charcoal and it was excellent! Love that spice rub!

    The only mistake I made was putting the rub on the sides of the tri-tip. That made the end pieces a bit too salty. Next time I’ll just put a nice thick coating on the top and bottom and it will be perfect.

  • Justin

    My local IGA market started carrying tri-tips with several marinades. This is pretty amazing because we’re in Montreal Quebec. I miss the Santa Marias from Trader Joes… But glad to find a recipe for the rub.

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