This Santa Maria Tri Tip is rubbed with a smoky spice mix, briefly pan seared to caramelize the exterior, then roasted in the oven until rare and tender. It’s a delicious way to prepare beef for dinner.

Though it’s not known as one of the popular cuts of beef, it’s this recipe that has made Tri Tip one of my favorites.

Tri Tip - Sliced on a Cutting Board with Salt

Tri tip is a cut from the bottom of the sirloin area of the cow, that’s well-marbled and flavorful. It needs to be cooked right, but is by no means difficult to prepare.

It’s not a cut I probably ever would’ve picked up from the store on my own, but after my brother gifted me Thomas Keller’s cookbook Ad Hoc at Home for Christmas in 2011, his recipe for Santa Maria-style Tri Tip caught my eye and I set out to try it.

The story is basically that it was a less-desired piece of meat often given to ranch workers in the central California town of Santa Maria. The ranch workers learned how to rid the reputation of tasteless and flavorless and instead make it known as a prized piece of meat in their barbecues. 

And let’s just say, I’m a major fan after tasting it myself.

This beef is amazing thinly sliced for sandwiches, or simply enjoyed in its own glory with a great side like Creamed Corn or Roasted Sweet Potatoes.

This Steak Salad would also be a brilliant place to use any leftover beef.

You can certainly make this recipe on the grill, but Thomas Keller’s version is made in the oven, which is nice when it’s too cold to barbecue. 

Tri Tip Roast - Cooked Medium Rare and Sliced on Wooden Board

How to Cook It Step by Step:

This recipe starts with a simple 3-ingredient rub. Thomas Keller recommends black pepper, sweet paprika, and piment d’Espelette.

The last ingredient is pretty tough to find, so I’ve always subtituted ground chipotle and LOVE the flavor. Chipotle and beef are major flavor affinities, and fortunately chipotle is easy to find.

Rub the spices all over the meat, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 24 hours, to allow the flavors to penetrate. 

Tritip - Rubbed with Spices in Glass Bowl

Pat the steak dry, then sear in a hot skillet to brown the exterior.

Tri Tip Oven Roasted in Cast Iron Skillet

If you want the most even cooking for the tri tip roast, transfer the meat to a roasting rack.

But, I have found it easiest to simply throw the whole skillet into the oven (because the skillet is still hot, the meat cooks slightly more on the bottom, but not noticeably so aside from what’s visible to the eye).

Roast for 35-50 minutes, until the tri tip measures 125F on an instant read thermometer:

Beef Tri Tip - in Cast Iron Skillet Cooked Medium Rare

Let the meat rest for at least 30 minutes, then slice very thinly:

Slicing Oven Roasted Tri Tip on Cutting Board

The beef is delicious eaten on its own as the star protein for dinner, but it’s also great for sandwiches. 

Get some quality crusty bread, and layer the beef with a homemade aioli and arugula. So good.

Tri Tip Recipe - Served on a Wooden Board Medium Rare

More Favorite Beef Recipes:


Tri Tip Sliced on a Cutting Board with Spices

Santa Maria Style Tri Tip

Tri Tip Roast is rubbed with a smoky spice mix, briefly pan seared to caramelize the exterior, then roasted in the oven until rare and tender.

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  • 2 lb tri tip roast
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle chile pepper
  • kosher salt
  • neutral cooking oil for searing


  • Start a day ahead of time. Trim all the silverskin from the meat if necessary, then rub the paprika, black pepper, and chipotle chile pepper all over the meat. 
  • Wrap the meat tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a day, so the flavors can penetrate the beef.
  • Thirty minutes before you plan to cook the meat, take it out of the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  • Pat the meat dry with paper towels and season very generously with salt on all sides. I usually do at least 1 tsp total. 
  • Add enough oil to coat the bottom of a large cast-iron skillet, and heat over medium high heat. When the oil shimmers, sear the meat for 2 minutes on the first side, until golden brown. Turn the meat over, then sear for 1 minute and transfer to the oven.
  • Roast the beef for 35-50 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 125 degrees F. 
  • Remove the meat to a rack or board, and let rest for 30 minutes before slicing, so the juices can redistribute. Cut into thin slices and enjoy!


Recipe adapted from Thomas Keller's Santa Maria Tri Tip recipe. I changed the spices slightly, roast directly in the skillet, and skip the rosemary garlic butter basting, as I find it clashing with the chipotle flavor.


Calories: 179kcal, Protein: 23g, Fat: 8g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 73mg, Sodium: 60mg, Potassium: 369mg, Vitamin A: 125IU, Calcium: 27mg, Iron: 1.8mg

Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.

Post updated in March 2019. Originally posted January 2012.