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 Style Tri Tip Recipe

  • Prep: 1 hour
  • Cook: 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.


  • 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


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.

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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Showing 4 of 55 Comments / Reviews

  • Susie Q

    Thank you for bringing attention to the little cut of meat that is such a big part of our culinary history here in California's Santa Maria Valley.

    We also recommend coating the tri tip liberally with a Santa Maria seasoning blend - or rub - as you referred to it in your recipe. And couldn't agree more with your simple approach to a seasoning blend - salt, pepper and garlic. We also add parsley and a little cane sugar to caramelize over the heat, creating a nice crust.

  • Heather Bataille

    Made this into a crockpot meal. I had a 2lb Tri-tip. Made the rub per the recipe. Then grilled the roast in my panini grill for five minutes. Placed the roast in the crockpot. Added 1/2 cup dry white wine and 1 cup beef broth. Cooked on low for 1 hour. Checked the temperature. It was at 130 degrees. Pulled the roast out of the crockpot. Let rest on a cutting board. Pulled about 1 cup of the juices from the crockpot. Whisked 2tbs of flour into the cup of juices. Returned the juices to the crockpot and whisked in. Let thicken in the crockpot on high for 20 minutes to make a gravy. Served with mashed potatoes and vegetable or salad.

  • Peter sutton

    I grilled this awesome cut on July 4th, I've been smoking on a pit barrel and I had forgotten how good tri-tip is on the grill (charcoal and some lump oak).
    I found this recipe some years ago on pre seasoned meat sold at Costco, very delicious and if you follow basic instructions your steak should be just fine. Whatever you do don't over cook it unless you cooking for your pet. Summer = outdoor cooking.

  • Jeremy

    This came out really well for me following the general instructions and using the listed rub recipe (halved for a 2.5lb tri tip roast). I used lump charcoal and royal oak w/ some chunks of pecan wood, seared it on each side for 3-4 per side then put the cover on and smoked it for about 20-30 minutes till the smoke ran out and then another 20 or so minutes to get it to medium rare. Not sure why it took so long but the thermometer on my grill read around 400F the entire time. The actual grill must have not been quite as hot as that so it took longer? I took the meat off when it hit around 130ish for a perfect medium rare. Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes and it turned out very nice. Love cooking tri-tip over the fire.

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