Santa Maria-Style Barbecue Tri-Tip Recipe

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Santa Maria-style barbecue is technically a fast-cooking method--that is, the meat is cooked over an open pit burning with red oak and cooked just until medium-rare. No low-and-slow smoking, no breakdown of connective tissue (which, luckily, tri-tip is very low in), no fancy barbecue sauces. Just seasoned beef, grilled, sliced, and served with a bowl of pinquito beans, a tomato salsa, and buttery garlic bread.

This is a classic Santa Maria style barbecue tri tip with a simple garlic, salt, and pepper rub, cooked over an open fire to medium rare. It's best served with Santa Maria-style Salsa.

Recipe Facts

Active: 40 mins
Total: 40 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 4 teaspoons)

  • 1 whole tri-tip roast, (about 2 1/2 pounds) or 1 top sirloin roast (about 2 1/2 pounds)

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 recipe Santa Maria-style salsa


  1. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. If desired, add a few chunks of oak that have been soaked in water for 30 minutes directly to the coals.

  2. Rub steak with garlic and season well with salt and pepper. Place over cooler side of grill, cover, and cook, turning and flipping occasionally until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the steak registers 115 to 120°F for medium rare, 20 to 30 minutes

  3. If coals are not hot, remove steak from grill, add another quart of coals, and wait five minutes for them to heat up. Return steak to hot side of grill. Cook, flipping regularly until well-charred on exterior and center of steak registers 120 to 125°F on an instant-read thermometer, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly and serve with Santa Maria-Style Salsa.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
327 Calories
16g Fat
6g Carbs
38g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 327
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 16g 20%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 118mg 39%
Sodium 1110mg 48%
Total Carbohydrate 6g 2%
Dietary Fiber 2g 6%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 38g
Vitamin C 2mg 11%
Calcium 57mg 4%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 704mg 15%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)