Santa Maria Tri-Tip

Award-Winning Santa Maria Tri-Tip over Oak

Wow, Santa Maria style Tri-Tip! Since the first time we had this at a pop up outside a grocery store in California, we have been all over it. Here’s one of our favorite recipes, popularized by Food Network’s Barbecue Brawl: California (S4E1). Tri-Tip is by far one of the least understood cuts of beef and among the best bang for your buck.  Found in a triangle below the bottom sirloin in front of the rear legs, for decades butchers didn’t know what to do with it, grinding it up for hamburger as only two can be found per animal.

The story goes that California farm workers would get it cheap and cook over wood – vine vines and oak. It also happens to be one of the tastiest cuts I’ve ever had, able to stand up to smoke on a high sear and delivering the tenderness of a much more expensive cut when roasted at lower temps.

Enter Costco and Sam’s Club.  Now you can find Tri-Tip in most locations nationwide (I have found in California, Oregon, Missouri, Oklahoma, and even Hawaii) and at two per pack for roughly $20, you can easily feed eight people and have enough for leftover sandwiches.  We’ve tried many different Tri-Tip recipes but the one that works best by far is a Santa Maria Tri-Tip Recipe that I learned to cook personally from Morro Bay Rich, a former biotech scientist under whom I “studied”, taking 2nd place overall in a competition among 30 cooks. Don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy grill- my best cooks according to friends have been on a $90 kettle grill in 110-degree weather in Oklahoma and a gas range on the coast of Maui (hey, I was desperate).  It’s the smoke and the cut of meat that makes all the difference.  For an amazing complexity, try old wine barrels for the wood – it’s the best!

Tip #1:  If you’re using a gas grill, go with oak wood chips double-wrapped in foil and placed directly on the burner under the grate.  Put the meat on only after the smoke starts or the sear will seal the meat before the smoke gets to it.  Put a second pack of smoke for the resting period to impart more smoke flavor via the baste.

Tip #2: If your Tri-Tip are on the smaller side, you may get “curling” like you see in the pic.  Take an aluminum cookie sheet (not non-stick) and place on steak with a brick as weight to get full contact with the grill. 

Tip #3: If you’re looking to punch up the flavor, check out our Argentinian chimichurri sauce recipe!

Cooking Time: 1-1.5hrs (depending on time for grill cool down)

Number of Servings: 10-12 Adults (5-6 servings per Tri-Tip)


  • 2  2-3lb Tri-Tip roasts  (not to be confused with Tri-Tip steaks)

  • Oak Wood Chunks or Chips, preferably from Wine Barrels

  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tsp. white pepper

  • 2 tsp. cayenne pepper

  • 1 tsp. onion powder

  • 4 Tbsp. granulated garlic

  • 5 Tbsp. salt (not a typo).  I use Diamond Kosher Salt.

  • 1 Tbsp. Smoked Paprika

  • 4 cloves Garlic, peeled and quartered

  • ½ c. Red Wine Vinegar

  • ½ c. Olive Oil

  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard


  • Mix Tri-Tip rub ingredients (Pepper, granulated Garlic, Salt, Paprika) in a small bowl and transfer to an airtight container.  You will find you use about 1/2 per cook and can reserve the rest.
  • Optional: A few days or hours before the cook, mix the Olive oil and garlic cloves in a glass bottle. When you’re ready to cook, whisk together vinegar and oil in a small bowl. In a pinch, granulated garlic will work, add about 1 tsp. to the oil and allow to rehydrate.
  • About 1/2 hour from grill time, take the Tri-Tip out of the packaging and coat both sides generously with the seasoning mixture, rubbing it in as you would a dry rub.  Then let the seasoned Tri-Tip rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
  • Set up your grill for direct heat, as hot as possible.  For smoke, place some oak wood or wine barrel chunks directly on the grill/fire.  If you’re using a gas grill, place some wood chips (not chunks) in a foil pouch and poke with holes.  Then put the foil directly on the burner (underneath the grate).  
  • Sear each side of the tri-tip at highest heat possible on your grill for about 5 minutes per side or until a nice char bark/sear appear. 
  • Cover seared Tri-Tip with foil and let it rest while setting the grill for indirect cooking, bringing the grill  temperature down to 350 to 400 degrees. During this cool down period we usually toss in a couple more wine barrel chunks. 
  • Remove Tri-Tip from foil and put the Tri-tip back in the grill, basting with reserved juices in the foil at first and then with the basting sauce every 5-10 minutes. 
  • Cook to an internal temperature of 126 degrees for medium rare, basting with the sauce every 5 to 10 minutes. Remove Tri-Tip from the grill, cover it with foil and let it rest 15 minutes.
  • Cut into ½” slices against the grain for a tender piece that will rival Tenderloin. The ends will be well done

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  1. Easily the best Tri-tip i have ever enjoyed; hands down!!

  2. GREAT! I never really did know what to do with this cut, but this is delicious!

  3. Looks good, but you can’t call this Santa Maria style. I grew up in Santa Maria (I’m mid 60s) and that name and style of seasoning and cooking is trademarked. True Santa Maria style calls for the meat to only be seasoned with garlic salt and pepper, then cooked over red oak. I’m sure yours is tasty but not true Santa Maria style!

  4. Terry you raise a good point, that’s what’s great about the BBQ community. I’ve updated to say, “Inspired”. Thanks for the feedback!


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