A quick and delicious Santa Maria style tri-tip recipe perfect for barbecue season! A smoky, sweet and spicy spice rub makes this tri-tip more flavorful.
It’s barbecue season and instead of grilling the usual chicken, ribs or sausages, why not try one of the more under-appreciated yet delicious cuts of meats, tri-tip!
When Jason and I attended college at CalPoly, San Luis Obispo, we quickly learned that one of the culinary delights on the Central Coast of California was the famous beef tri-tip cut. Downtown San Luis Obispo has numerous restaurants that offer the seasoned hunks of meat on their menus, often thinly sliced and served on a soft French roll and drenched in BBQ sauce.
Since graduating and migrating South over 7 years ago, we haven’t had much opportunity to get some authentic Santa Maria style tri-tip in quite a while, with many local BBQ restaurants falling short of the ones we had in San Luis Obispo, I decided to make some right at home.
Barbecued tri-tip is said to have originated from the Central Coast, where the workers on the ranches were given less tender cuts of meat that were thought to be flavorless. However, with the proper seasoning and cooking time, people realized that tri-tip could be prepared just as flavorful as the more expensive and desired cuts of meat.
The area of Santa Maria, California has now become known for this kind of barbecue delight and visitors to this beautiful coastline make sure to grab some tri-tip during their visits.
Sometimes it helps to have friends in the right places, Jason’s friend Mike just happens to live in Santa Maria and he helped recommend a few cooking tips. I wanted to infuse extra flavor in the crust of the tri-tip meat, so I created a smoky, sweet and spicy rub for my Santa Maria style tri-tip recipe.
I used a blend of paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, sugar, garlic, onion, salt, and pepper to create a nice balance of flavors for the rub. I seasoned the tri-tip two days before grilling to allow the flavors to penetrate the meat better.
The high heat from the grill and sugars in the rub created a beautiful crust when seared on both sides, then roasted, sealing in the yummy juices from the meat. This recipe makes lots of extra dry rub, so you can use it for your next tri-tip or for adding more flavor to other grilled meats. If you haven’t had tri-tip before, this is a flavorful recipe that doesn’t require a long cooking time and can be prepared days ahead, so you can enjoy within an hour or less of grilling!
Tri-tip is a cut from the very bottom of the sirloin section of the cow, between the ribs and rump, shaped similarly to a long triangle. Due to this shape, you will get some thinner sections of the cut that will cook more quickly than the thicker sections. This is great if you have eaters who like more well-done pieces, or like me, who prefer medium-rare, you get the best of both worlds!
I usually stop cooking the meat when it is closer to medium rare in the thickest part, but you can also pull the meat away from the heat even sooner is you have more rare meat fans. This Santa Maria style tri-tip is fantastic with a rich BBQ sauce. I served mine with my easy homemade sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. I also like to serve my barbecued meats with a fresh summer succotash salad. It’s a nice and light option to compliment the heavier savory slices of tri-tip.
Why is it important to “rest” meat before slicing?
Raw beef consists of mostly water (around 75%), protein and fat. Water is stored in multiple individual muscle myofibril structures, which make up each muscle fiber of the meat. As the meat cooks, the protein chemically bonds together, and some even dissolve, compressing and contracting during the exposure to heat. The contractions force the water out of the myofibrils into the adjacent spaces of the muscle fiber, and the meat visually shrinks. You can physically see the water quickly run out of the meat when you slice right away. When the meat is allowed to rest before cutting, the proteins can relax, allowing some of the expelled water to be reabsorbed by the myofibrils and fill in the spaces of the dissolved protein. The result is a less dry, juicer and more tender piece of meat! For a 2 to 3-pound tri-tip roast, 15 minutes is a good resting time. (Reference: The Science of Good Cooking)