Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip

4.74 from 197 votes
↓ Jump to Recipe 104

This post may contain affiliate links | disclosure policy

Santa Maria style tri-tip recipe perfect for grilling during barbecue season! A smoky, sweet and spicy rub adds instant flavor to this tender cut of beef.

Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip

Santa Maria style tri-tip takes a tender, and mild cut of beef then coats the roast with a blast of spices on the surface for maximum flavor. Instead of grilling the usual chicken, ribs or sausages, why not try this under-appreciated yet delicious steak!

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 like Firestone Grill 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. Yum!

Since graduating and migrating South over a decade ago, we haven’t had much opportunity to get some authentic Santa Maria style tri-tip as often as we would like. Many local BBQ restaurants fall short of the ones we had in San Luis Obispo. I’m sharing my tasty tips for making this flavorful beef right at home.

Tri tip cut of beef seared with black marks on a bbq grill

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.

How to cook a tri-tip roast

Sometimes it helps to have friends in the right places, Jason’s friend Mike 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.

Homemade dry rub blend of spices in a wooden jar and on a spoon

Spice Rub

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. Allow the meat to marinate in the seasonings for at least 3 hours, up to 3 days for the flavors to penetrate the surface better.

Grilling Tri-Tip

For large roasts, I like to rest the meat at room temperature for about 1 hour before cooking. This technique allows the meat to sear nicely on the surface without taking too much time for the meat to cook on the inside. The high heat from the grill and sugars in the rub creates a beautiful crust when seared for 10 minutes on both sides.

This cut is pretty thick, so to nail the right doneness of the meat the heat is turned down, and the grill is covered to roast the beef. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature, 120-125°F (medium-rare) and 130-135°F (medium).


Carryover cooking occurs with meat, so that is why you stop cooking before you hit the desired internal doneness temperature to account for the off-heat cooking that continues to happen. For a 2 to 3-pound tri-tip roast, 15 minutes is a good resting time.

Santa Maria style tri tip with a carving fork placed in one of the slices


When slicing tri-tip, it’s easy to see the direction that the grain runs along the muscle fibers. If you’re looking at the beef with the thinner end pointing towards you, the grain runs parallel from the short sides. Make sure to slice against the grain, with the knife at a slight angle, so you don’t end up with extremely chewy slices of beef.

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 that 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 parts 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!

Slices of tri tip steak on a plate with lettuce and red onions

This Santa Maria style tri-tip is fantastic on its own or with a delicious homemade barbecue sauce. Once you give this steak a try, it will often be requested by friends and family at your summertime gatherings! Have you made tri-tip before? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments section.

More Steak recipes

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 it 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 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! (Reference: The Science of Good Cooking)

Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip

Santa Maria style tri-tip recipe perfect for grilling during barbecue season! A smoky, sweet and spicy rub adds instant flavor to this tender cut of beef.
4.74 from 197 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American


  • 3 pounds tri tip

Dry Rub (½ cup)

  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons 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 on a sheet of plastic wrap.
  • Generously coat the tri-tip with about 4 tablespoons of dry rub, 2 tablespoons on each side. Store extra seasonings in an airtight container for later use.
  • Tightly wrap the tri-tip and refrigerate until ready to use. Allow the rub to settle into the meat for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.
  • When ready to grill, remove the seasoned tri-tip from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature, about 1 hour.
  • Clean grill and lightly oil the grates using a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil.
  • Heat the grill to medium-high if using a gas grill. Once hot, place the meat on the grill and sear one side for 10 minutes with the lid open.
  • Turn tri-tip over and sear for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and close the lid.
  • Allow the meat to cook for about 15-25 minutes, checking the temperature until the thickest part reaches 120-125°F (medium-rare) or 130-135°F (medium).
  • The meat will continue to cook after being removed from the heat, so stop cooking a few degrees lower than the desired doneness.
  • Remove the tri-tip from the grill and allow it 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 against the grain and serve.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 6 servings
Calories 458kcal (23%)Carbohydrates 3g (1%)Protein 47g (94%)Fat 29g (45%)Saturated Fat 10g (50%)Polyunsaturated Fat 0.1gMonounsaturated Fat 0.03gCholesterol 142mg (47%)Sodium 181mg (8%)Potassium 43mg (1%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 2g (2%)Vitamin A 700IU (14%)Vitamin C 1.7mg (2%)Calcium 4mgIron 0.4mg (2%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

Tried this recipe?

Tag me on Instagram. I'd love to see how it turns out!

Tag @jessica_gavin

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

Quick & Easy Meals in Under 30 Minutes!
Get 25 simple meals your whole family will love.
Jessica Gavin standing in the kitchen

You May Also Like

Reader Interactions

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

104 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Errol Crones says

    I yesterday I bought this Beef Ralphs. Its packaged in a plasticky pouch.
    On the back of the pouch are the printed c booking directions.
    Well these cooking directions are printed so small I can NOT read them!
    I want to cook them in my oven. Can any one out there to plerase send me the directions?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I would roast the tri-tip at 350-degrees until it reaches medium-rare, 130 to 135-degrees. Cover and let it rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

  2. Linda says

    Excellent! Prepared the rub as recipe stated, but not the sugar as my husband is diabetic. It was delicious. I don’t know what the sugar is supposed to do, but I didn’t miss it. I sprayed the meat just prior to cooking with Avocado oil instead of drizzling with oil. Thank you for this easy recipe.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Great job improvising the seasoning mix, Linda! The sugar adds additional flavor by accelerating browning. But you can definitely omit and it still tastes yummy!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Perhaps asking the butcher for Newport steak, Santa Maria steak, Triangle tip, or Triangle steak if it’s not referred to as tri-tip. Yes, you can cook it in the oven.

  3. Mark Stevens says

    Enjoyed you recipe and comments. I purchase a rub at the meat market in Fresno and Clovis areas. I always rub the meat first with a good high smoke oil before I use the rub and try to let it sit in the fridge as long as possible. A good 24 plus hours seems to be the best but a few hours is fine. Oiling the meat first helps with taste since varieties of meat ie select to prime can be $$ choice and no need to oil grill. I prefer to grill 3-5 min each side first to get a crust then use indirect heat the rest of way. I always try to use charcoal or wood first unless time is an issue.

  4. Marie says

    it seems to be really delicious, especially the Dry rub because it contains all my favourite spices. I will definitely try the recipe this Sunday. Thank you, Jessica

  5. Dee says

    Thank you, Jessica, for the perfect rub recipe and exact cooking directions. I’ve made this recipe at least 4 times for family and friends.
    We used to enjoy Santa Maria premarinated tri-tip from the markets but they are so expensive and the taste is so-so (depending on the brand). I figured I could do better at home and found your fabulous recipe.
    Your dry rub recipe is enough to marinate 2 tri-tips. I usually buy the meat on sale, add the dry rub to the meat, wrap it in plastic wrap, Ziploc bag, and freeze it. I defrost the tri-tip 1-2 days before grilling.
    The meat always comes out flavorful and delicious. No more expensive store-bought marinated meat for us! This is my go-to recipe.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Wow, you’re a tri-tip pro, Dee! So smart to freeze the marinated meat so you can just defrost and cook when the craving hits.

See More Comments