Origin: American West Coast
Method: Grill or SmokerJump to Recipe
I am not going to lie. This cut of beef was the bane of my existence for a few years. When I was first getting into competition BBQ I was living in the Pacific Northwest where, at the time, you were much more likely to come across a tri-tip at the market, than a brisket. As such a common cut out there, the tri-tip would often make its way into bonus categories at competitions. Being from the Midwest, I had never heard of a tri-tip, let alone did I have any idea how to cook it. As my kids would say, I was a noob. While I began to have some success in competition BBQ, tri-tip was not one of those success stories. In fact, it became a running joke with my family that I was trying to see just how close I could get to taking last place in tri-tip, without giving anyone a foodborne illness.
Fast forward a decade and I finally have a system to turn out a pretty killer tri-tip. Nothing fancy is required for this recipe, just the heat of a grill, a nice cut of meat, and your favorite beef rub.
What is Tri-tip?
A cut of beef made popular in Santa Maria, California, the tri-tip is a triangular cut of beef originating from the bottom sirloin. In other regions of the U.S., you may find this labeled as a Santa Maria Steak, or simply a triangle steak.
Tri-tip is a fairly lean cut, however, it is still tender and flavorful. It is best cooked using a tradition sear then finish method. Tri tip has become much more available lately across the US, but some of the best tri tips that was have grilled have been from Snake River Farms, which always provided high quality AMERICAN WAGYU BEEF.
Preparing the Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip
Making the Santa Maria Seasoning
When it comes to a Santa Maria style seasoning, I will put out the disclaimer that a lot of purists will say that true Santa Maria Style Tri Tip can only be seasoned with a SPG (Salt, Pepper, Garlic). Without a doubt that is a fantastic way to do it. Like Texas style brisket, however, adding a few more flavors to your seasoning profile can really help elevate the dish.
There is also another camp that insists that Santa Maria Style seasoning should include parsley. If it makes the purists feel better we can refer to this as a Santa Maria inspired Tri Tip. Regardless, salt, pepper, and garlic should be the mainstay of your rub, and it is with the one we provide. We do add a slight savory element with some parsley and rosemary, and a slight bit of spice with a variety of ground chilis.
For those that do not want to spend the time making their own seasoning, we have found that Oakridge BBQ’s Santa Maria Seasoning is by far our favorite Santa Maria style rub available commercially.
Trimming the Tri-Tip
The first key to turning out a great tri-tip is to realize that it is actually made up of a couple different muscles, and to complicate things the grains run in different directions. This was a fact I neglected for several years, as I could not figure out why the texture of half my roast never turned out quite right.
If you find your roast has a big variation in the grain direction then I highly recommend making a small, shallow cut to differentiate where these 2 muscles run before you do anything. It becomes very difficult to make out the grain directions after seasoning, cooking, and after a few drinks.
Costco will occasionally carry tri-trip which they trim heavily. This results in it losing its triangular shape. They still taste great but it can make finding the grain more of a challenge on certain cuts.
Trim away any excess fat and then season liberally with the seasoning mix. I will typically use all of the homemade seasoning for a 3 pound tri-tip.
At this point you can let the tri-tip rest at room temperature for 30-60 minutes while you prepare your grill.
Prepare the basting liquid
In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup avocado oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 2 minced garlic cloves. Mix well to combine. If you do not have avocado oil you can replace it with another neutral oil.
Cooking the Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip
Traditionally tri-tip is cooked over red oak on a traditional Santa Maria grill which allows the cooking temp to be adjusted by raising or lowering the grill grate. Don’t worry, if you do not have a Santa Maria grill, just about any grill or smoker capable of using direct and indirect heat will do. We do recommend cooking over oak if possible.
Using a Santa Maria Style Grill, of cooking over an open flame
We really love using our Breeo fire pit for cooking tri tip. This “smokeless” fire pit allows you to adjust a cooking grate above it, just like a Santa Maria style grill.
First get a hot fire going and heat your grate close to the fire.
When your coals are nice and hot, add the roast and cook for 3 minutes. Baste with the basting liquid and flip the meat. CAUTION: the basting liquid may cause a brief flare up so be careful!
Repeat the process of basting and flipping the meat every three minutes until the meat has cooked for 12 minutes.
At this point raise the grill grate up to finish the cook on a lower heat. We recommend monitoring with a meat thermometer at this point. For a nice medium rare, remove the meat from the heat at about 123-125 degrees. For medium remove at about 130 degrees. Cover the Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip in foil and let it rest for 10 minutes. The internal temperature of the meat will continue to climb during the rest.
Cooking using a grill
As mentioned, you can use any grill in which you can set up for direct and indirect heat. A ceramic grill such as a Big Green Egg also works very well for cooking a Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip. Heat your grill to 400 degrees.
Cook the tri-tip over direct heat for 3 minutes. Baste with the basting liquid and flip the meat. CAUTION: the basting liquid may cause a brief flare up so be careful!
You may also need to adjust the vents at this point because the temp may try to creep up. Try to maintain a grill temp of 400-450 degrees.
Repeat this process until the meat has cooked for 12 minutes. You should have a nice char at this point. Next, move the tri-tip to a cooler portion of the grill, or to indirect heat. When using a ceramic grill, I add the heat deflector at this point.
Continue cooking until you reach your desired doneness. This is typically about another 10-20 minutes but will vary depending on your grill and size of your tri-tip. We highly recommend using a meat thermometer.
For a nice medium rare, remove the meat from the heat at about 123-125 degrees. For medium, remove at about 130 degrees. Cover the Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip in foil and let it rest for 10 minutes. The internal temperature of the meat will continue to climb during the rest.
Serving the Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip
At the end of the rest, remove the tri-tip to a cutting board and slice against the grain. Depending on the grain pattern of your roast you may need to halve the roast into 2 parts or you may be able to just “chase the grain.”
Looking for more great steak recipes? Check our some of these classics:
Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip
- Grill or Smoker
- 3 Pound Trimmed Tri-Tip Roast
Santa Maria Style Seasoning
- 1 Tab Garlic Powder
- 1 tea Black Pepper Preferably smoked
- 1 tea Coarse Black Pepper
- 2 tea Kosher Salt We use 1 tea fine kosher and 1 tea black sea salt
- 1 tea Onion Powder
- 1/2 tea Parsley
- 1/2 tea Rosemary
- 1/2 tea Turbinado Sugar
- 1/4 tea Paprika
- 1/2 tea Chili Powder We use equal parts Chipotle and California
- 1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
- 1/4 cup Avocado Oil
- 2 Garlic Cloves minced
- 1/4 tea Sea Salt
- Prepare the seasoning by combining the spices in a small bowl.
- Trim the tri-tip and make note of the waqy the grain is running so you cut it properly after it is cooked.
- Liberally apply the rub to both sides of the try tip and let set at room temperature for up to an hour while you prepare your grill.
- Combine the basting ingredients in a small bowl.
Cooking the Tri Tip
- Heat your grill or smoker to about 400 degrees. You will need the ability to cook over direct and indirect heat, or the ability to adjust the distance from the fire if using a Santa Maria Style grill.
- Grill the tri-tip over direct heat for 3 minutes. Baste with the basting liquid then flip the tri-tip. Repeat this process 3 more times until it has been grilled for about 12 minutes in total.
- Move the tri-tip to indirect heat or raise the grate height to decrease the heat reaching the meat. Continue to cook to desired doneness. For medium rare pull off at about 123-125 degrees. Pull at about 130 for medium.
- Wrap the tri-tip in foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
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