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Nov 25, 2007 03:49 PM

Looking for tri-tip advice

A year ago, it seemed like tri-tip was the big topic around here, and I could *never* find it in my local markets. Now that I've moved, I can finally find it, but my searches here are fruitless! (the search engine returns "try" instead of "tri," so it's frustrating.)

Please advise on your favorite recipes/marinades and best ways of cooking. I had good results one time, but have been less than impressed the last two times, but I'm blundering my way through it.

Many thanks!

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  1. try london broil as a search. I usually either marinate in soy, lime, garlic and grill or make italian beefs in the crock pot. Every once in awhile for kicks I slow cook in the oven with *GASP* campbells cream of mush with roasted garlic mixed with, white, whatever. Its very forgiving.

    1. What you will probably find is the "santa maria tri-tip". Some sort of marinade that I tried once. So called "barbeque" from California. As if. I hate the stuff. What I do is roast the tri-tip at extremely high temperatures to medium rare. Salt, pepper, maybe some garlic, and then let it rest, slice and enjoy. Great flavor, and if sliced against the grain, pretty tender. You'll like it.

      Good luck!

      21 Replies
      1. re: dhedges53

        ****for the record,dhedges53,

        Santa Maria Style Barbeque takes its history from the Mission/California Rancho period of history (1700's to late 1800's) when gatherings at the far-flung ranchos meant cooking wholesides of beef over an open fire for dozens of guests. Enclosed smoking boxes did not exist.

        Current day SMSBBQ was developed in the 1920's in Santa Maria, California by members of a local men's club, using WHOLE TOP BLOCKS skewered over iron rods and suspended above a pit of native hardwood oak coals. Seasonings were only salt and pepper. Nowdays onion and garlic salt are sometimes added.

        Tri tip use in SMSBBQ started in Santa Maria as an innovation of a local meat cutter at Williams Brothers Market, probably during the 40's. It has since supplanted top block as the meat of choice because it is smaller, easier to handle, and is a rich and delicious though fatty cut of beef.

        Tri tip needs to be either cooked whole, low and slow in a covered kettle, or fast over a hot bed of coals. It can be cut into "steaks" for faster cooking (sometimes called coulotte steaks in out-of-area restaurants) Tri tip takes well to dry rubs and to wet marinades, but goopy glazes or wet Southern style mop sauces do it no justice. Soy-based garlic and ginger flavored is my favorite wet marinade.

        As with most meats, it should be cut across the grain, slightly on the diagonal.

        AND, If you like tri tip, ask your meat cutter to order some Baja Steaks (cut from the shoulder.) These are much leaner, though smaller, with a richer flavor than even tri tip. Grill in the same manner as tri-tip.

        1. re: toodie jane

          Here's a typical santa maria marinade recipe that I've seen:

          1 tablespoon olive oil
          1/2 cup finely diced red onion
          1 teaspoon minced garlic
          1/2 cup chicken broth
          1/4 cup ketchup
          1/4 cup steak sauce
          1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
          1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
          1-1/2 teaspoon ground coffee
          1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

          Of course there are many variations.

          From the viewpoint of a Texas barbeque afficianado, who grew up with a variety of southern barbeque, I like my brisket and ribs rubbed and smoked without ketchup, steak sauce, chicken broth or fresh parsley and, of course, without barbeque sauce, and my steak (which, for me, is exactly what a tri-tip is), grilled and eaten without distorting the wonderful beef flavor the tri-tip imparts, with so-called steak sauce. I've eaten the Santa Maria tri-tip a few times, and once again, for me, sadly I didn't like it. I guess I've grown up with a different view of barbeque and beef from Texas, KC, Memphis, and North Carolina But, I understand that there are a lot of people in California and elswhere who love it. I think I can understand that.

          1. re: dhedges53

            traditional santa maria bbq has no ketchum anywhere near it. What you posted may taste great, and might be common in places, but it's no more common or typical to california than anywhere else. You'd probably like it a whole lot more the way it was/is done normally, as it sounds like you like the flavor of tri tip (who wouldn't!).

            tri tip is great. It doesn't need much doctoring up. It's a very flavorful cut of beef. Most important thing is to not treat it like low and slow Q. it's lean and needs to be cooked hot and to just medium rare (or whatever you like for your steak). Then slice it very thin, across the grain on a bias. The flavorful is tremendous.

            It's a grilled piece of meat, not a long slow smoked one. Brisket is amazing too. Just different. Like steak and brisket. Or pork chops and pulled pork. Different cuts, both great when done well, etc.

            1. re: adamclyde

              When I see it done in parking lots up north on that BBQ grill with the adjustable grate, it looks like it is being done fairly slowy, so I am confused. I agree that the seasoning is minimal in order to just let the beef shine through.

              1. re: torty

                sorry... I wasn't clear was I? :) What I meant was that tri tip isn't cooked past well done to extreme tenderness like traditional southern barbecue (brisket/pulled pork). It's not that cut of meat. It's best cooked to medium rare.

                at home, where you don't have really good adjustable grates, I've found it better to sear then move to the cool side to replicate the big adjustable grills. The final product is really similar, I've found.

                1. re: adamclyde

                  Exactly right, we have tri-tip often. And like you say, the traditional marinade is not made with ketchup. steak sauce or fresh herbs. Anyway,not the traditional. There are some seasonings that are pretty closely held, but the one recipe with vinegar & oil, garlic, cayenne, paprika, onion powder, salt and pepper is the closest to the taste.
                  We make it that way, and sometime spice it up.

                  We found since that cut can be really thick in the large end it's best to spit the meat up, then slice it horizontially for a perfect medium rare. Otherwise you can get a black and blue (really blue). Always cut across the grain, and if done right it's just perfect for a BBQs dinner or sandwiches and later on used in a salad.

            2. re: dhedges53

              You can cook a tri tip any way your little heart desires, but....

              There is no marinade for true Santa Maria Style Barbeque. Salt. Pepper. Garlic salt. Direct grilling over Red (Quercus agrifolia) oak coals. Period. No mopping sauce, just a fresh tomato salsa served on the side with beans, green salad and grilled bread.

              a nice video here:


              1. re: toodie jane

                What about the red wine vinegar and olive oil basting? Which i think might be a spin off, a bit like a carne asada but not marinated?

                1. re: chef chicklet

                  Sorry, but not a tradition with "official" SSBBQ. No basting. The flavors sound like it might be good, though. I love a good garlic/oo/vinegar marinade on sirloin. I dab it dry before grilling, as I don't like the way an oil baste makes the fire flare. Got some baja steak defrosting, I'll try that.

                2. re: toodie jane

                  So, it is just a grilled steak. Then I have to say, calling a grilled steak, "Santa Maria Barbeque", barbeque, is a misnomer.

                  1. re: dhedges53


                    Flogging regional BBQ dogma is outside the realm of the op's request.

                    My comments have been made to clarify misperceptions voiced in reponses here about SMSBBQ.

                    1. re: toodie jane

                      I'm glad we agree. So-called "Santa Maria" barbeque is simply a grilled steak. That is, if you have "oak briquettes", which are available to anyone. Personally, I love tri-tip, especially the way you have described it.


                      1. re: dhedges53

                        except that tri tip isn't steak...

                        1. re: adamclyde

                          I believe it is an either/or situation, using steak and roast as a description. Look at this:


                          Has cooking tips, also.

                          1. re: adamclyde

                            Sure it is. A tri-tip is taken from the bottom of the sirloin. Check this out.


                            1. re: dhedges53

                              folks, tri tip is a roast. it can be cut into steaks, yes, but it's a roast. Both links specify that clearly. A roast that can be cut into steaks. but all of that is independent of the manner of cooking.

                              Not that any of the semantics really matter though, as all of us agree it tastes great when done well. I'm hungry now, actually, so I think I'll pick some up today...

                              1. re: adamclyde

                                I haven't eaten many sirloin roasts, but I have eaten several sirloin steaks, in my time. It is a 1 to 2 lb. piece of beef (described as a "Santa Maria Tri-Tip steak"), according to the link that I have just posted. If you cut a salmon steak in half, you have 2 salmon steaks cut from one salmon steak, not 2 salmon steaks cut from a salmon roast. If the tri-tip is a "roast", then the 1 1/2" Porterhouse that I ate the other day, which was pretty much the same size as a tri-tip, was a Porterhouse roast. Not to get in a pissing contest over "names", but I call it a steak. You, and anyone else here, are free to call it anything you want. All I know is that it has a beef flavor that is hard to find, anymore.

                                1. re: dhedges53

                                  I believe the term roast is used because it is referring to the whole tri-tip muscle, not a strip cut from the muscle. A tri tip steak would be what restaurants offer as a "culottle steak"--a strip of tri-tip cut against the grain off the whole roast (or muscle) before cooking.

                                  Interesting to note the linked Wikipedia entry shows the roast improperly cut WITH the grain, instead of across it. This is a good lesson for the OP--the roast should be sliced across the grain--easily done by cutting across the point opposite the longest side. After properly rested, of course, to avoid the puddle of juice on the cutting board.

                                  1. re: toodie jane

                                    Amazing. I don't know what the picture shows, but this is what it says, just below the picture: "After cooking, the meat is sliced across the grain before serving." I remember a cooking show on Saturday Night Live, with Phil Hartman, that reminds me of this message string. Does anyone remember what that show was called? Because it certainly applies here.

                          2. re: dhedges53

                            dh I have attempted only to define for historic purposes that which is called SMSBBQ.

                      2. re: toodie jane

                        Toodie Jane is absolutely 100% correct!!

                        Just adding on to her post...

                        Gotta be Santa Maria Pinquito beans.

                        San Luis Sourdough doesn't hurt...


                3. To paraphrase a great LA Times recipe, chop up about 12 cloves of garlic, mix with a good amount of salt and pepper, bind with olive oil and rub all over the tri tip. Let it sit while the grill heats up (around 30 minutes to an hour is all it really needs).

                  Grill it quite hot to get a great sear on both sides. Then move it to the cooler side of the grill until the internal temperature reaches about 130-ish for medium. Depending on how large and thick the tri-tip is, it will only take around 20-30 minutes max.

                  Let it rest for 5-10 minutes, then slice thinly across the grain on a bias.

                  Serve with tortillas and salsa, or with grilled garlic bread and pinto beans. Extremely simple and extremely tasty...

                  1. Here are some good recipes for Tri-tip that can give you an idea on how to cook it. I oven roast mine to med. rare, slice thin and serve with au jus.


                    1. The marinades here all sound good. I would advise grilling it, searing each side over direct heat for 5 minutes per side, then moving to indirect heat until 115-120 degrees internal temperature. (Tri-tip really needs to be no more than medium rare at the most to deliver any kind of flavor, it's just the nature of the cut.)
                      Make sure to let it rest for at least 10 minutes after removing it from the heat. And also be sure to slice perpindicular to the grain.
                      Cooked too well-done, not allowing the meat to rest or slicing parallel to the grain will all guarantee a less than spectacular meal.