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.
I particularly enjoyed to get my tri-tip sandwiches from Firestone Grill or during thursday night’s farmer’s market from restaurants grilling on their huge BBQ pits in the heart of downtown SLO. 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 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 these less tender cuts of meat which were thought to be flavorless. However with the proper seasoning and cooking time, cooks 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 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 slightly spicy spice 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 actually seasoned the tri-tip two the three days before grilling to allow the flavors to better penetrate the meat. The high heat from the grill and sugars in the rub created a nice 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.
- 3 pounds trip-tip, silver skin and fat removed
- ⅛ cup paprika
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- Combine all dry rub ingredients in a small container and set aside.
- Trim the silver skin and fat layer from the trip tip. Place the tri tip on a sheet of plastic wrap.
- Generously coat the tri-tip with 4 tablespoons of dry rub, 2 tablespoons on each side. Store extra dry rub in an airtight container for later use.
- Tightly wrap the seasoned tri-tip and refrigerate until ready to use. Allow the rub to settle into the meat for at least 3 hours up to 3 days.
- When ready to grill, remove the seasoned tri-tip from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature, about 1 hour.
- Heat the grill to medium high if using a gas grill. Place the meat on the grill, searing one side for 10 minutes with the lid open. Turn tri-tip over and sear for another 10 minutes. Turn heat down to medium and close the lid. Allow the meat to cook for about 15-25 minutes, checking temperature until the thickest part of the meat reaches 135°F for medium rare to medium doneness. The meat will continue to cook after being removed from the heat, so stop cooking at a temperature a few degrees lower than the desired doneness.
- Remove the tri-tip from the grill and allow to rest wrapped loosely in foil for at least 15 minutes before slicing. The foil will catch any juices from the meat, which can be added back to the meat after slicing for more flavor.
- Thinly slice the tri-tip against the grain. Serve with your favorite BBQ sauce or on a French roll. Enjoy!