Santa Maria Tri Tip
This Santa Maria Tri Tip is rubbed with a smoky spice mix, briefly pan seared to caramelize the exterior, then roasted in the oven. It’s a delicious way to prepare an economical cut of beef for a gloriously tender and satisfying 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.
And given how expensive beef is these days, it’s really nice to buy something a bit cheaper than my beloved Grilled Ribeye, even though that cut will always be king for me. Once you try this special cut of sirloin, I think it will become a staple for you too.
What’s the deal with this cut?
The tri-tip cut of beef comes 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. I’ve noticed it has become more popular over time as people discover how much flavor it has.
Tri tip 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 leftovers.
Tri tip is 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 west coast 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. You can certainly make this recipe on a gas grill, but Thomas Keller’s version is made in the oven, which is nice when it’s too cold to barbecue.
Tips for Best Results
Let the spices penetrate the meat for 24 hours – This is not the kind of cut that you want to make in a hurry, as it really benefits from some time for the spices to flavor the meat.
Take the chill off before cooking – Take the beef out of the fridge 90 minutes before cooking, if possible. This will allow the beef to warm up some, which means less cooking and less drying out. This room temperature rest makes a big difference, but if you’re in a rush, you can skip it.
Let the meat rest for 30 minutes after cooking – Again, this cut of meat is best for patient people, because allowing the tri tip to rest for 30 minutes is pretty important. If you try to slice earlier than this, all the juices will run out of the beef.
Step by Step Overview:
This recipe starts with a simple 3-ingredient spice rub. Thomas Keller recommends black pepper, sweet paprika, and piment d’Espelette.
The last ingredient is pretty tough to find in grocery stores, so I’ve always substituted ground chipotle, and LOVE the flavor. Chipotle and beef are major flavor affinities, and fortunately chipotle is easy to find.
I find these three spices to suffice for a delicious seasoning blend, but you may also add garlic powder, garlic salt, cayenne pepper, or whatever other spices you personally enjoy.
Massage the dry rub all over the santa maria steak, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours, to allow the flavors to penetrate.
When ready to cook, ideally you’ll want to take the tri-tip roast out of the fridge and let it sit out on the counter for 90 minutes to warm up.
This takes the chill off the meat and makes it so the cut requires less cooking, which means less drying out and more moist meat. It makes a noticeable difference, but if you must and are in a hurry, you can skip it.
Pat the exterior dry with a paper towel, then sear in a hot skillet set over medium-high heat to brown the exterior.
Now, if you want the most even cooking, transfer the meat to a roasting rack or baking sheet.
However, 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 in a 300 degrees F oven, until the tri-tip steak measures 125F on an instant-read thermometer.
The time varies quite a bit depending on the thickness of the meat, so it’s essential to use a meat thermometer.
Let the meat rest for 30 minutes, then slice very thinly using a sharp knife, cutting against the grain of the muscle fibers:
Because this triangular cut of meat is not as fatty as something like a ribeye, thin slices are the best way to enjoy it.
How to Serve It
The beef is delicious eaten on its own as the star protein for dinner, especially paired with sides like Crispy Smashed Potatoes, Creamed Corn, or Homemade French Fries. But it’s also great for sandwiches or in this Steak Salad.
More Favorite Beef Recipes
Beef is my absolute favorite meat on earth! It is the king of all meats in both flavor and nutrition. I absolutely love Beef Wellington and make it for Christmas every year, and for other very special occasions.
Recipe Tips and FAQ
Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Yes, wrap tightly to prevent freezer burn, then place in an airtight container, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Reheated beef is never as good as the freshly cooked stuff, and you will need to be incredibly careful not to overcook the meat when reheating. If reheating from frozen, first thaw the beef in the fridge overnight. To reheat, I recommend placing in a 300F oven for about 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of the beef, until warmed through. I don’t recommend the microwave, as it’s very easy to overheat the meat. Personally, I don’t like to reheat the beef at all, and will instead slice it and enjoy it cold in a Steak Salad.
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Santa Maria Tri Tip
- 2 lb tri tip roast
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp chipotle chile pepper
- kosher salt
- tallow or 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.
- Ninety minutes before you plan to cook the meat, take it out of the refrigerator. You may skip this if absolutely essential, but the meat will not be as moist (see notes).
- 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 about 2 tsp total.
- Add enough tallow or oil to coat the bottom of a large cast-iron skillet, and heat over medium high heat. When the fat shimmers, sear the meat for 2 minutes on the first side, until golden brown. Turn the meat over, then sear for 1 minute. For the most even cooking, transfer the meat to a wire rack, otherwise, simply transfer the entire skillet 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, loosely tented with foil, so the juices can redistribute. Cut into thin slices and enjoy!
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.