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  • Writer's pictureLuis and JudyAnn

Soul-Satisfying Santa Maria Tri Tip Steak

BBQ Tri-Tip Roast satisfies all and sundry, from the “I like it rare” to the “no pink for me” people all in one cut of beef.

We’ll reveal to you how painless it is to choose, prep, grill and serve this lesser-known cut that presents the wow factor.

For various reasons, including cost and wholesome eating issues, beef consumption is in a state or period of decline, which may be unwelcoming and unfortunate for ranchers, but is almost certainly pleasing for the cows. Politics and culinary classifications aside, there is something extraordinary about beef. The scent, the color, the resistance to your bite, the ability to readily couple with other foods, and that stupendous umami sensory experience. All those elements make eating beef an experience that many people enjoy greatly and take pleasure in.

Rubbed down with a simple rub, or marinated throughout the night in something lusciously savory. Sliced thin for fajitas or enjoyed by itself with a nice baked potato, the tri-tip roast holds its own as one of the most palatable and also under-appreciated cuts of beef. The term "tri-tip" is derived from the fact that the tri-tip roast is triangular-shaped, and it is the tip of the sirloin. So, if you have your cow map handy (who doesn't?), then you know where this cut comes from. Up until the 1950's, this extremely lean cut of beef was usually made into ground beef. If not sliced thin and against the grain, it can be fairly tough and chewy, so it required far less effort to ground it up into burgers. Our friends here in California are credited for changing all of that when the tri-tip itself became a local delicacy in Santa Maria, CA. They loved it so much that the tri-tip roast is still at times dubbed the "Santa Maria Steak". Since there are only 2 tri-tips on each cow, it actually is somewhat tougher to get one’s hands on in some supermarkets these days. Another indication that the tri-tip has come a long way since its ground meat days.

Depending on geographical availability, tri-tip can be a cost-saving cut of beef for weekend grilling or entertaining; grilled as a whole roast, or sliced into steaks.

When selecting tri-tip, look for roasts or steaks with conspicuous or easily seen streaks of fat running through the meat signifying a well marbled, flavorful cut. If the roast is closely trimmed, you can make out the white streaks across the muscle within the grain of the meat.

A dry blend of salt, pepper, dried herbs, or spices used to add flavor and texture; the seasoning functions to form a coating or layer. Salt is the only substance that truly penetrates the meat beyond the surface. Salt needs 40 minutes to penetrate and alter or enhance the taste of the meat, so any rubs with salt should be allowed to rest on the meat for no less than 40 minutes (up to 24 hours) before grilling. If not, apply just before placing on the grill.

The flavor and texture of Tri-Tip Roast is much the same as steak than a traditional Sunday roast, so it is best cooked medium-rare. To help the roast cook more evenly, position the thicker portion toward the coals with the thinner ends pointing away once it is moved to the indirect heat side to finish cooking.

Once the roast has had a chance to rest after grilling, it’s time to carve and serve. Cut against the grain on a slight bias; this shortens the long strands of the muscle making it soft and succulent to chew. Finally, you have to remember, a tri-tip has three points, and the grain may change direction while cutting. Simply turn the roast to keep the knife slicing across the grain.


1. 2 tablespoons onion powder

2. 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt

3. 1 ½ tablespoons granulated garlic

4. 1 heaping teaspoon black pepper

5. 1 tablespoon brown sugar

6. ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

7. 2 tablespoons garlic powder

8. 1 tablespoon white can sugar

9. 1 Whole Tri Tip, about 2 pounds


1. Trim the large chunks of fat (or have your butcher do this) from the tri-tip, and cut the thin silvery skin off if you can.

2. Rub the salt all over the tri-tip.

3. Combine the remaining seasonings in a small bowl and rub into the tri-tip.

4. Place the spice rubbed tri-tip into the bag, and rub it in to coat completely. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal. Place in the refrigerator for 5-6 hours, or up to 36 hours.

5. When ready to grill, preheat the grill to about 350-400 degrees.

6. Place the tri-tip directly over the flames on the hot grill. Close the lid and watch for flare-ups.

7. Cook approximately 8-10 minutes per side for medium rare. It can take up to 20-25 minutes to cook a 2 pound tri-tip, so check the temperature (120 degrees for rare, 130 for medium rare and 140 for medium).

8. Place the cooked roast on a cutting board to rest, covered loosely with foil for about 10 minutes.

9. Uncover and cut in half, where the grain changes direction, then cut each piece against the grain into 1/2 inch slices.

10. Serve immediately.


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