The Best Way to Cook a Tri-Tip

by A.J. Andrews ; Updated November 15, 2017

Paying Homage to Santa Maria for the Best Tri-Tip Steak

Sometimes the simplest cooking methods are the best. Such is the case with tri-tip, a naturally tender beef cut that does so well when simply seasoned and grilled to medium rare that an entire festival is built around it. The Santa Maria Valley Barbecue Festival, which celebrates Santa Maria-style tri-tip along with a few other local specialties, attracts foodies throughout California. Although the mystique of Santa Maria-style tri-tip doesn't reach far outside of California – you might have to ask for it by name if you don't find it in the display case at the market – you can apply its high-temperature, quick-cooking technique no matter where you are.

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Prep Time: 15 minutes | Serves: 4 to 6


  • 1 tri-tip, 2 to 2 1/2 pounds
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Slice off any connective tissue or hanging pieces of fat from the steak. Liberally season the tri-tip with kosher salt, and let it sit in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 1 up to 12 hours.
  2. Set up the grill to cook with high heat. Rub the minced garlic over the both sides of the tri-tip and season it to taste with freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Grill the tri-tip for 6 to 8 minutes on each side, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 125F to 130F.
  4. Rest the steak on a carving board for 5 minutes. Slice the tri-tip across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices.


  • Classic Santa Maria tri-tip calls for salt, pepper and minced garlic, but you can substitute your spice rub or seasoning mixture of choice.

    To make the complementary Santa Maria salsa: Mix 2 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes with 1 chopped and peeled celery stick, 4 chopped green onions, 1 chopped California green chili, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and kosher salt to taste.

    To make the complementary Santa Maria pinquito beans: Cook 1 pound of dried pinquito beans and set aside. Saute 2 slices bacon, 1/2 cup chopped ham, 1 minced garlic clove; then mix together with 1/4 cup tomato puree, 1/4 cup red chili sauce, 1 teaspoon dry mustard and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Add the beans; bring everything to a light simmer, and season to taste with kosher salt.

    To cook Santa Maria-style tri-tip in the oven, season the tri-tip as instructed, and sear it in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until golden brown. Transfer the tri-tip to the oven, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 125F to 130F.

About the Author

A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.