Last Updated on February 8, 2024 by Carne Diem
Origin: American West Coast, North America
Method: Grill or SmokerJump to Recipe
This Santa Maria style tri-tip recipe is seasoned with a homemade tri-tip rub then grilled over oak and basted with a red wine vinegar garlic basting liquid, for one of the most tender and flavorful tri-tip roasts you will ever try.
Table of contents
- What is Tri-tip?
- Preparing the Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip
- Cooking the Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip
- Serving the Grilled Tri-Tip
- Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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. In fact, this tender and flavorful beef has become a favorite cut of beef to make on our grill.
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 or triangle roast.
Tri-tip roast 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 we 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 for Tri-Tip
When it comes to a Santa Maria tri-tip 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. For our homemade Santa Maria rub we use plenty of Kosher salt, black pepper, and garlic powder but do add a slight savory element with some parsley and rosemary, and a slight bit of spice with the addition of a little paprika, chili powder, and onion powder.
For those that do not want to spend the time making their own dry rub, we have found that Oakridge BBQ's Santa Maria Seasoning is by far our favorite Santa Maria style rub available commercially.
How to Trim a Tri-tip Roast
First, trim any excess fat cap from the tri tip steak. 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 muscle fibers 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 liberally season the tri tip roast with the spice rub. I will typically use all of the homemade seasoning for a 3-pound tri-tip.
At this point you can cover the tri tip roast with plastic wrap and let the meat rest at room temperature for 30-60 minutes while you prepare your grill.
Prepare the basting liquid
For extra flavor, we like to baste the Santa Maria-Style Tri-tip with a basting liquid containing garlic, oil, and red wine vinegar.
To make the baste simply combine ¼ cup avocado oil, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and 2 minced garlic cloves in a small bowl. Mix well to combine. If you do not have avocado oil you can replace it with another neutral oil, but we recommend using an oil with a high smoke point.
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. Cooking the Santa Maria tri tip on a gas grill or charcoal grill will also work.
Using a Santa Maria Style Grill, or 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. Traditional red oak wood is the best option but other oak species like white oak or post oak also work well.
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.
To learn more about meat thermometers click here or check out our Tools of the Trade page.
Cooking Tri-tip steak on 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 medium-high heat, or about 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 cooking time will vary depending on your grill and size of your tri-tip. We highly recommend using a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat.
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 aluminum foil and let the meat rest for 10 minutes. The internal temperature of the meat will continue to climb during the rest.
Serving the Grilled Tri-Tip
At the end of the rest, remove the tri-tip to a cutting board and slice the meat into thin slices by using a sharp knife to cut 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."
Traditionally Santa Maria-Style barbecue tri tip is served with pinquito beans, pico de gallo, and grilled French bread. Grilled vegetables or a grilled salad, and charro beans also work as great sides for grilled tri tip. Or you can really step it up a notch with our Smokey Mac and Cheese, smoked au gratin potatoes, or with a Salad with Fried Boursin.
Looking for more great steak recipes? Check out some of these classics:
- Quattro Formaggi Crusted Steak
- Reverse Seared Teres Major
- Garlic Basted Picanha
- Filet Mignon with Goat Cheese Sauce
- Reverse Seared Argentinian Ribeye With Chimichurri Sauce
- Sous Vide Florentine Style Porterhouse Steak
Frequently Asked Questions
Tri-tip comes from the bottom section of the bottom sirloin.
Tri-tip is best grilled, or reverse seared like a steak and cooked to medium rare.
Thanks again for visiting Carne Diem. If you tried and enjoyed our recipe, please share with others. Also don’t forget to tag us @Carne_Diem_Culinary or #CarneDiemBlog, we love to see your pics! To be notified of future recipes please follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest, or sign up for our e-mail notifications.
Grilled Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip Roast
- Grill or Smoker
- 3 Pound Trimmed Tri-Tip Roast
Santa Maria Style Seasoning
- 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
- 1 teaspoon Black Pepper Preferably smoked
- 1 teaspoon Coarse Black Pepper
- 2 teaspoons Kosher Salt We use 1 tea fine kosher and 1 tea black sea salt
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- ½ teaspoon Parsley
- ½ teaspoon Rosemary
- ½ teaspoon Turbinado Sugar
- ¼ teaspoon Paprika
- ½ teaspoon Chili Powder We use equal parts Chipotle and California
- ¼ cup Red Wine Vinegar
- ¼ cup Avocado Oil
- 2 Garlic Cloves minced
- ¼ teaspoon 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.