Santa Maria Tri-tip

Before we moved to Santa Barbara, we had never heard of Tri-tip.

From Wikipedia:

Larry Viegas, a butcher at a Santa Maria Safeway store in the late 1950s, says that the idea to cook this as a distinct cut of beef first occurred to his store manager, Bob Schutz, when an excess of hamburger existed in the store (into which this part of the animal were usually ground). Viegas says that that day, Schultz took a piece of the unwanted meat, seasoned it with saltpepper, and garlic salt, and placed it on a rotisserie for 45 minutes or an hour; the result was well-received, and Schultz began quietly marketing it as “tri-tip”.

Roasted tri-tip

It became a local specialty in Santa Maria in the late 1950s. Today, it is seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh garlic, and other seasonings, grilled directly over red oak wood to medium-rare doneness. Alternative preparations include roasting whole on a rotisserie, smoking in a pit, baking in an oven, grilling, or braising in a Dutch oven after searing on a grill. After cooking, the meat is normally sliced across the grain before serving.

Sometimes labeled “Santa Maria steak”, the roast is quite popular in the Central Valley regions and the Central Coast of California.[8] It has begun to enjoy increasing favor elsewhere, as well, for its full flavor, lower fat content, and comparatively lower cost. Along with top sirloin, tri-tip is considered central to Santa Maria-style barbecue. In central California, the fat is left on the outside of the cut to enhance flavor when grilling, while butchers elsewhere trim the fat side for aesthetic purposes.

We bought a tri-tip yesterday and I made up a “Santa Maria-style” Marinade. It was just like the tri-tip we used to get at Pappy’s in Santa Maria. We served it with roasted fingerling potatoes and braised Brussels sprouts.

Santa Maria Tri-tip


3 lbs tri-tip roast
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/3 cup red wine vinegar


  1. Trim excess fat from the sides of the meat. Pierce the meat all over with a sharp fork.
  2. Combine marinade ingredients in a 2 cup measuring cup and whisk them all together.
  3. Place meat in a one gallon zip-loc bag and pour marinade in. Seal bag and massage the liquid into the meat, covering it all over. Let it rest for at least 2 hours, massaging it occasionally.
  4. Heat your grill. I begin on high heat place the meat on, then close the lid and turn the heat down. It takes about 30 minutes total cooking time. I test the temperature at the thickest part and remove the meat when temp reaches 135 degrees F.
  5. Place meat on a cutting board with a juice groove. (There will be a lot of juice). Let meat rest for 5 minutes. If you measure the temperature again you will see it will have risen up to the ideal temperature of 140 degrees for medium rare.
  6. Slice on an angle across the grain and serve immediately.
  7. Leftover tri-tip is great on sandwiches with some mayo and salsa!

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