In the U.S., Santa Maria Style tri-tip is something of a West coast regional specialty. This cut of beef used to be destined for the meat grinder to become part of your next burger, but since discovering its beefy flavor and tender flesh (when sliced thinly against the grain), the tri-tip has been a favorite for backyard grilling. A traditional Santa Maria style tri-tip is rubbed with salt, pepper, and garlic salt and cooked over a live or red oak fire. The cooking is often done on large grill with a wheel that can be used to adjust the grill grates up or down as needed to control heat.
My rendition departs from tradition by using a smoker to infuse the meat with some wood smoke complexity before searing it over high heat to develop that familiar grilled crust. This version also does not use live or red oak, but any good hardwood smoke produces excellent results. Cooking first over indirect heat, followed by high-heat direct cooking is commonly known as a reverse sear.
This is an easy recipe to cook on a weeknight because there is little active time involved — I’ll throw the garlic oil marinade together when I get home from work, rub it all over the tri-tip, and throw it in the refrigerator to marinate. By the time the tri-tip is ready for the rub, the smoker is up to temp and the family is beginning to get hungry.
To fully embrace the Santa Maria style, serve this up with some chunky salsa, macaroni & cheese, green salad, grilled garlic bread, and pinquito beans. For quick weeknight meals, I like to serve garlic bread and a simple arugula and grape tomato salad dressed with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The peppery arugula and sweetness of the tomatoes pairs well with the tender slices of garlicky beef.
I use my Yoder YS640 to make this tri-tip, but any other smoker will do. You can also use a standard gas or charcoal grill, set up for indirect cooking, and some hardwood chips to achieve a similar result. You can even forego the wood if you don’t mind giving up the smoky flavor.Print
This rendition of Santa Maria style tri-tip is slow-smoked first to impart a complex wood smoke flavor before being seared over high-heat to develop a crisp exterior. It’s a smoky, garlicky, beefy, hunk of deliciousness.
Note: you will need a smoker that can be set up for direct high-heat grilling to develop a good sear on the tri-tip. A gas or charcoal grill will also work well for this.
- 1 Beef Tri-tip roast 2-3lbs
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoon good olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (e.g., Morton’s)
- 2 teaspoons garlic salt
- freshly ground black pepper
Make the garlic marinade:
- Add the minced garlic, kosher salt, and olive oil to a small bowl and mix to combine. The marinade should have an almost paste-like quality.
- Rub the tri-tip all over with the garlic-oil marinade and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Marinate the tri-tip in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, set up your smoker or grill for 225ºF – 250ºF.
- Unwrap the tri-tip, wipe off the marinade with a paper towel, and season all over with the garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper. You may need a little more than 1 teaspoon of garlic salt depending on the size of your tri-tip.
- Smoke the tri-tip until a digital thermometer reads 10ºF below the desired temp (I take mine off at 120ºF for medium-rare) in the thickest part of the roast, about 20-30mins.
- Remove the tri-tip from the smoker and set aside.
- If your smoker can be set up for direct grilling over high heat, do so now. Otherwise, you’ll need a charcoal or gas grill to sear the outside of the tri-tip. You could also roast the tri-tip in a very hot oven if you do not have access to a grill.
- Once the smoker or grill is hot, sear the tri-tip on all sides to develop a nice char, taking it off the smoker when the thickest part of the roast registers about 5ºF below the desired temperature (125ºF for medium-rare). Tent with foil and let rest for 5-10mins.
- Thinly slice the tri-tip across the grain and enjoy. I like to serve it with garlic bread, and an arugula and grape tomato salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.
- For a traditional Santa Maria flavor, use red oak hardwood for smoking.
- This recipe can be done on a gas or charcoal grill setup for two-zone cooking. Two-zone cooking has one hot (direct heat) side and one “cold” (indirect heat) side of the grill. This can be achieved by turning on only half the burners on a gas grill or moving the coals to one side of a charcoal grill. Smoke by putting the meat on the indirect side of the grill and putting hardwood chips directly on the coals, or in a foil packet on the gas burners.
Keywords: Smoked Tri tip, tri-tip, smoked, Santa Maria