Santa Maria Tri Tip Barbecue

by Julie Cohn
Santa Maria Barbecue Tri Tip 8

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It is time to fire up the grill and make some tasty barbecue!  What is your favorite?  Most people are familiar with tangy North Carolina-style barbecue, saucy St. Louis-style barbecue, and slow-cooked Texas barbecue, but are you familiar with Santa Maria Tri Tip barbecue?   In the central coast of California, this is the only game in town, and for good reason!

Legend has it that the Santa Maria tri tip barbecue recipe was created when local ranchers in the Santa Maria valley of California, with an abundance of fresh beef, fired up their BBQ pits, threw some locally grown dried red oak into the pit, and slow roasted seasoned pieces of beef for their hungry cowboy ranch hands.  In the 1950’s, a butcher, Bob Schultz, created a cut of beef called the tri tip, known for its triangular shape, perfect for roasting in a Santa Maria-style BBQ pit.  Santa Maria barbecue tri tip is often served with the freshest produce of the Santa Maria valley, including locally grown pinquito beans, local tomatoes mixed into a fresh salsa, lettuce salad, fresh strawberries, and grilled pieces of french bread.

Santa Maria barbecue tri tip is one of our favorite barbecues to make for a crowd, as you can season the beef in advance, then throw it on the grill and quick it quick, or slow roast it.  We cannot get pinquito beans in Arizona, so used ranch beans, but we had the fresh lettuce salad, fresh strawberries, and the grilled french bread.  I added avocado, another California central coast staple, to the menu, and whipped up some guacamole as well.

Santa Maria Tri Tip Barbecue


  • 2-3 lbs Tri Tip Roast (if you cannot find it at the store, ask your butcher to cut a piece)
  • 2 tsp. Onion Powder
  • 2 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/8 tsp. Ground Cumin
  • 2 tsp Liquid Smoke (optional)

Mix the seasonings together and rub on the Tri Tip.  *If you cannot get oak chips for your grill, mix in the liquid smoke to the seasoning and brush it over the beef.  Let the beef sit out for about 45 minutes.  Fire up the grill to high and throw a few oak chips on the grill to add a smoky flavor to the beef.  Turn the heat down to medium low and slow roast it for about five minutes.  Turn back up to high and sear the beef over high heat for about 5-7 minutes on each side, cooking with the lid up, to allow the air to circulate around the beef.

Santa Maria Barbecue Tri Tip2


The outside of the beef should have a slightly blackened crust, but be careful not to burn it.  Put the grill to low, and set the beef on one of the upper shelves of the grill to slow roast for about 15-20 minutes.  Grill the french bread (buttered first) for about 2-3 minutes, then remove everything from the grill.

When you bring the beef in, it should still be pink in the center, so take it off the grill when the beef reaches about 125 degrees.  Allow the beef to set about five minutes, then slice it thin and serve.


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