Authentic Santa Maria Tri-tip Recipe

In Santa Maria, a city located in central California along the coast, the word barbecue signifies centuries of tradition. It’s not just a method of cooking over a fire. It’s a way of life that takes you back to the 1800’s, when vaqueros roamed the lands with their cattle and threw enormous barbecues after roundups – the classic Santa Maria Barbecues.

The traditional meat used for the Santa Maria Barbecue is a thick top sirloin, boneless and weighing up to four pounds. Unless you’re throwing a party, this is usually too much for the typical family. That’s where the tri-tip comes in. Over the years, the tri-tip has grown in popularity in California to take home the trophy of “most popular cut.” Weighing between one and a half to two pounds, it is a much better fit for family barbecues.

The only issue you’ll have if you don’t live in California is that the tri-tip is difficult to find in your usual grocery stores. You can try Costco, but if you aren’t able to locate this particular cut, any well-marbled, two plus inches in thickness sirloin cut will work well.

  • Hands-on Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours and 15 minutes
  • Serves: 6 people

Cooking Steps

Authentic Santa Maria Tri-tip Recipe2

Step 1 – Prepare the Meat

Mix your salt, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, cayenne and rosemary in a bowl. Then, grab your tri-tip and rub the seasoning all over. Cover it with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for three hours. After refrigeration, let your tri-tip sit at room temperature for another 30 minutes.

Step 2 – Make the Sauce and Heat Things Up

For the sauce, mix together your vegetable oil, vinegar, Dijon and garlic in a lidded jar. Shake the jar until everything is well-blended. After that, it’s time to prep your grill. Heat your grill up to 275ºF, and try to keep it between 250ºF and 300ºF the entire time you’re grilling.

Step 3 – Brush and Grill

Put your tri-tip on the grill and coat it with the sauce you made in the previous step. Keep turning it every three to five minutes, basting it each time you do so. Don’t be afraid to be generous with the sauce.

To get your meat to medium-rare, grill for twenty to thirty minutes. Grill according to your preferences. The outside of your tri-tip should turn dark and take on a charred crust, which a sign that you’ve succeeded in emulating this classic recipe.

Step 4 – Rest and Slice

After you’re done grilling, move the tri-tip from your grill to a platter. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before you slice it into ¼” thick strips. For best results, slice across the grain.

Step 5 – Serve and Enjoy

If you’re looking for a quick and simple serving option, salsa and tortillas is the way to go with this succulent barbecue beef. In California, the Tri-tip is served with the traditional side dishes of macaroni and cheese, tossed green salad, sweet French bread, salsa, pinquito beans, coffee, and dessert.

The pinquito bean is a pink bean that remains firm even after cooking it for a long time and is as much a part of Santa Maria Valley tradition as its red oak.


The tri-tip is a delicious cut of beef for grilling, and this traditional Californian recipe brings in a nice change of scenery from more commonly seen Southern barbecue methods. Over the years, the tradition of the Santa Maria Barbecue has been preserved by various organizations which feature this method of grilling at the center of major events.

While some people may tell you that it can only be made properly for large crowds, that is false. You can do it for your family in your very own backyard. So try it and let us know what you think in the comments below!

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