Santa Maria Style Tri Tip

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.

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


  • 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 rub and massage into roast: 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.

Preparing to BBQ Tri Tip with Tri Tip Rub

2 Cover and let sit at room temp for an hour. Cover the roast with foil or plastic wrap and let it sit at room temp for an hour to take the chill off and allow the rub to work its magic on the roast.

3 Prepare grill: 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.)

4 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.

How to cook tri-tip: sear it on high direct heat how to cook tri-tip: after searing move it to the cool side of the grill

5 Move roast to cool side of grill, fat side up: 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.

6 Cover to finish cooking: 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.

7 Tent roast with foil to let it rest: Once the roast reaches temperature, remove it from the grill and let it rest, loosely tented with foil, for 10-15 minutes.

Slice across the grain to serve.

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  • Beth

    This spice rub was SO good! Love the recommendation to leave fat on and grill it fat side up to baste the meat as it cooked.


  • Donna

    After years of doing the basic salt, pepper & garlic powder, we decided to try something new. So glad we did!


  • Dave

    Recipe is perfect, method is a little odd. What I do is get an old shaker and fill it with the rub. Then I coat my tri-tip, like cover every square inch, trust me it sounds like a lot but this way I’ve gotten invited to cook at other peoples parties just so they can eat it again. Also I grill the tri-tip from start to finish. I just put the grill on lowest heat setting and set it away from the direct flame (using small table top grill). Takes about 15 minutes then I flip, go 10 minutes on that side and done, rare in the center well towards the edges for the kids.

  • Lindsay Velianoff

    Perfect! I get insane compliments every time I use this run on a tri tip! I highly recommend it and wouldn’t change a thing! I’ve been using this run for YEARS!


  • Dolores Gonzales

    Can I cook my tri tip in the oven and at what temperature?

  • James

    You can also trim the fat-side into the largest slab you can. . . and simply place it atop whichever side is ‘up’ while grilling.
    And yes, *always* use an untrimmed roast.

    Santa Maria style traditionally uses an adjustable-height, open-pit grill, as well.

    I miss the BBQ Bus on Broadway. . .

  • Jamie

    Absolutely delicious! The only change I made was substituting smoked paprika for the cayenne since my parents can’t eat spicy foods. I will definitely be making this again! Thank you for the recipe!


  • Jay

    Can this be done on an oven?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Jay, yes you can sear the tri-tip roast on the stove-top (rub a little butter on the roast first), then finish it a 350°F oven for 20 minutes or longer, until the internal temperature of the roast reaches 120°F for a rare roast, 130°F for medium-rare or 140°F for medium.

  • Tom

    I sous vided a tri tip for several hours at 128°. Then let it cool and refrigerated overnight (Saved the juice to make a sauce) The next day I pulled it out of the refrigerator for an hour and then seared it in a very hot cast-iron skillet.

  • Kelly

    Family loved this recipe! So easy and delicious.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Kathleen Kaz

    If I do not have a grill can this be done in the oven????

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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 –

    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 :)

  • 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!!

  • Alyssa

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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • Steve M


    I found that the reverse sear method as described at amazing ribs website works great see: 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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’?

  • 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.

  • Andy

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

  • 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


    • csharp

      Yikes, this is wrong. You do not always need to cook over direct. Smoked Tri Tip is amazing, and even more amazing with the reverse sear method.

      • bobby

        i agree w/ you csharp. i’ve tried tri tips in santa maria and tri tips from that whole tri-city area and i’ll tell you, smoked/indirect w/ sear or reverse sear. and yes, tri tip can be cooked beyond medium rare if that is your preference. please everyone, cook it to your desired doneness – and that goes for any cut, not just tri tip.

    • James

      My wife was taught the ‘low and slow’ method.

      I set up the Weber to simulate SM-style pit.

      The first time we went out to turn the roast. . . she almost had a panic attack – there were smoke and flames shooting out everywhere.
      She later admitted it was the best she’d ever had. . .

      Absolutely, a tri tip without a serious char is underwhelming, to say the least. Even when I smoke one, it gets it’s char first. Now it’s sealed, now it’s ready to go.
      As a guy who has traditionally found less-than-well-done meat to be rather horrid. . . a medium-rare-to-medium tri tip is about as good as it gets.

    • Loren Kinzel

      If your flavor deteriorates past medium rare, you are cooking at too high temp. Low and slow (after the sear) wins every day. If you are in a hurry, consider something other than tri tip.

  • 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 ;)

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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!)

  • 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 ;)

  • 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!).

  • 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!!!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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!

    • James

      Pappy’s Low Salt is also pretty good on an SM trip tip.

      Where I live now, every place but one uses local white oak. . . and it just isn’t the same. . .
      I picked up about a half-cord of red oak last time I went homeward. . .

    • Tom

      Whole case=heaven

  • 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!

  • Jane

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

  • 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!

  • 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. :-)

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

      • Myron

        You’ve obviously not done it, then.

        I cook a ton of tri-tip and they are certainly good smoked. I throw them on the smoker and cook it to 127 or so internal at 225 pit temp, then sear it directly over the coals as close as possible in the firebox.

        Sure, they’re great grilled, but people also reverse sear thick steaks (many in the know consider this the best way!) and doing one in the smoker to rare or medium rare is the same thing with a sear after, plus you get the smoked flavor and a gentle cook so it’s more even color across the inside (no crust -> gray -> med rare -> rare gradient, but rather crust and med rare the whole way through.

        I get that you’re prideful about it being local, but smoked and seared tri-tip is excellent, and I can do it on my pit when I’m making ribs, ABTs, whatever.

    • Matt

      From California and I reverse sear my tri tip, not traditional but I reverse sear most things now. However both ways work great. When cut correctly a tri tip can be over cooked 185 degrees and still be magnificently juicy and tender.