Tri tip …

tri tip lead photo

I was introduced to Santa Maria Tri Tip BBQ in the mid ’70’s, and it quickly became my favorite cut of meat to BBQ. Like most people visiting the California’s Central Coast, after my first taste of tri tip I was on a quest to find the tri tip cut in my hometown. It has a deep meaty flavor so different from any steak. It took until the ’80’s before the tri tip cut was introduced to my area (in Central California,) although it is only 3 hours from Santa Maria. Finally when I did find a butcher shop that sold tri tip any day of the week there was a long line of customers waiting for a chance to score the cut for their weekend BBQ.

Santa Maria Style Tri Tip has an interesting history. I always think its fun to know the story behind food I cook. When visiting any of the small Central California Coast towns you can purchase tri tip meals from street grillers! It smells great…the meat blackening over white-hot red oak coals.

Photo: Melissa D,

Photo: Melissa D,

tri tip bbq copy


Traditional street grilled Santa Maria style tri tip is served with Paquito Santa Maria Beans, grilled french bread and sometimes a simple green salad. Serving fresh Salsa along side of the tri tip goes back to the mexican cowboy tradition. Perfect combo. I recommend our family’s method of grilling tri tip because it is so totally fool-proof, producing the same result every time. The finished meat should be blackened (don’t be afraid of the black, it is part of tri tips deep flavor profile.) Slower cooking doesn’t produce that deep flavor. We now use a propane BBQ grill instead of the covered coal Weber, used by grandpa, but the taste is almost the same.

Everyone has their own tri tip seasoning recipe around here. However, our favorite seasoning is a family recipe from an Uncle, Bill Book’s Famous Tri Tip Seasoning, it is so special it is now being passed down to a 3rd generation of grillers. Uncle Bill, a real man’s-man, was known for his grilling skills in Ojai, California.

Here we go…

Uncle Bill ‘s Famous Tri Tip Seasoning

*Note: Horseradish Powder is not an ingredient you find in most grocery stores. I buy it online at  (You will love this site, lots of unusual spices to try)

RECIPE: Mix together the following dry ingredients:  (this makes a lot, so have containers or zip locks to separate as hostess gifts)   13 oz. (good quality) Salt,  16 oz. Lawry’s Season Salt,  2  3/8 oz. Garlic Powder, 4 oz. (large grind)Black Pepper, 3 1/2 oz. Meat Tenderizer, 3/4 oz. ground Sage,  2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper, 1 1/2 T. (or can double, to taste)  Dry Horseradish Powder*

Meat Prep:  Marinate meat a day prior to grilling, rub both sides of washed & patted dry meat with Uncle Bill’s dry rub. Cover & refrigerate over nite.

While waiting for the dry horseradish spice delivery – Note: We also will use Pappy’s Choice Seasoning, a store-bought brand or just a good layer of Lemon Pepper from the spice section. Traditionally tri tip has a layer of thick fat on one side. This fat burns off on the hot grill, but I like to, nowadays, trim most of that layer of fat off, it’s a personal preference. It helps prevent Captain from having to use the fire hose on flame flare-ups. Anyway, seasoning goes on top of the fat layer side if you don’t trim that side.

Day of BBQ: Remove meat from refrigerator so it comes to room temp before grilling.

Grill Instructions: (Using gas or propane BBQ) Heat grill on High. We drop our grill to Med High to grill. Quick sear both sides of meat to seal in juices. Close hood, check & spritz  any flare-ups that don’t die down.  You don’t want the meat to catch fire, but flare-ups are normal. Grill meat for 15 min on one side, do NOT flip between sides. After 15 min flip and grill 15 minutes more. So the total grill time is only 30 minutes. That’s it. Remove meat to rest, tenting with foil, for at least 10 min before cutting. Do not skip the resting or juices will not stay inside.



The beauty of this grilling method, is that meat will vary from well done to rare, everyone gets the doneness they prefer. Ok, now I have to tell you it is traditional here at the lakehouse, while the tri tip rests, Captain will cut off pieces from the tip end and will pass them around to all the men, who are ALL standing nearby. I think that tradition came from his dad. Funny how those things get passed to the next generation…my son does the same when he grills tri tip at his house. I don’t recall that ever happening with chicken or fish, just tri tip 😋. So, now that the meat has rested and all the men have approved of the taste,  here is how to cut the tri tip – Tri tip carves like a blade or shank steak. On the cross grain and not too thick or too thin. About 1/2″ thick.

Don’t forget the salsa!  Enjoy!

Since Father’s Day is coming later this month, I have a post next week on what I do with Tri tip leftovers. Truthfully that is never going to happen lakeside, unless I buy an extra Tri tip to use as a second dinner. Tri tip Fajita will my treat for Captain’s special dinner.  I will share that recipe so you have time to plan to do it too.

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