Santa Maria Grilled Tri-Tip

The Santa Maria style grill is the classic way to prepare tri-tip. Finish it off with an easy homemade Chimichurri.
tri-tip on the Santa maria grill with flames underneath

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If you are not from the West Coast, you may never have had the pleasure of cooking tri-tip. This cut of beef is wildly popular in California and along the West Coast of the United States, but it doesn’t tend to be as readily available in other parts of the country.

While the cut is gaining popularity nationwide, and there are many different ways to make it delicious, the best way to prepare a tri-tip is by grilling it on a Santa Maria-style grill and serving it alongside a fresh, homemade chimichurri.

If you don’t have a Santa Maria grill, you can also make this recipe on any charcoal grill.

Santa Maria Tri-tip with homemade Chimichurri

tri-tip sliced on a wooden board with a bowl of chimichurri

Ingredients you’ll need

a plastic wrapped piece of tri-tip on a wooden chopping board with a knife in the background

Equipment you’ll need

What is tri-tip?

A tri-tip roast is a cut of beef from the bottom of the sirloin. Its triangular shape gives it its name.

Tri-tip is a lean cut of beef without a lot of fat, though many butchers will leave the fat cap on the bottom of the roast. It’s a versatile cut packed full of beefy flavor.

Other names for a tri-tip are Santa Maria roast, Newport steak, and bottom sirloin.

What is Santa Maria grilling?

Santa Maria-style grilling dates back to the mid-1800s when cowboys known as vaqueros lived in the Santa Maria valley of what is now the Central Coast of California.

The vaqueros and ranchers grilled meat over pits of hot coals on grates that could easily be moved up and down to adjust the heat exposure during cooking.

Santa Maria grilling is known as one of the most classic forms of grilling in California and is gaining popularity across the country and around the world.

I used my custom Santa Maria grill for this recipe, which is attached to my offset smoker.

santa maria grill with a charcoal chimney start on top smoking
AJ’s Custom Cookers built my custom offset in Fort Worth, TX.

The offset’s firebox is completely insulated, and the bed of the Santa Maria sits on top. I can add wood and charcoal to the grill on the Santa Maria without affecting the firebox’s temperature.

What is Chimichurri?

Chimichurri is an acidic and herbaceous sauce made from fresh herbs, vinegar, and olive oil. It originated in Argentina and is a popular sauce throughout North and South America.

a spoonful of chimichurri over a bowl of chimichurri
The great thing about chimichurri is that you can play around with various herbs, spices, and peppers to really make it your own.

A simple chimichurri only contains parsley, jalapeno, and garlic, but you can add things like poblano peppers, mango, or bell pepper to create a unique flavor.

Chimichurri adds a level of freshness and acidity that works perfectly with cuts like tri-tip, Picanha, and other cuts of beef from the sirloin.

How to make Santa Maria tri-tip with homemade chimichurri

1. Prep

Preparing a tri-tip for cooking is very easy. You don’t need to trim off the fat cap, as it helps to protect the meat from the heat of the fire.

Sometimes, you will find loose pieces of meat or fat hanging off of the roast, and you can use a knife to remove those.

a piece of tri-tip and a bottle of beef rub on a white board

Some people like to keep it simple and just season their tri-tip with a bit of salt and pepper. For this recipe, I used our Smoke Kitchen Beef Rub. It’s a blend of salt, pepper, and spices with a hint of truffle that really tastes amazing on all different cuts of beef.

Once you’ve seasoned your tri-tip, you can let the meat rest at room temperature while you fire up the grill.

2. Fire up the Santa Maria

I like to start with a bed of charcoal before adding wood to get a good coal bed going. You can place your charcoal in a charcoal chimney and light it.

a chimney starter with smoke coming out sitting on a santa maria grill

Once the charcoal is covered in about 85% ash, you can pour the hot coals into the grill’s bottom.

lit charcoal in the bottom of a santa maria grill

Add a few wood chunks on top of the charcoal. I used Post Oak wood for this recipe.

wood on top of hot coals on the grill
You can use any wood that you like or have available.

You want to allow the wood to catch fire before adding your meat to the grates. This will give your beef a nice, smoky kiss of flavor.

Once your grill is hot, you can use a paper towel to add olive oil to the grates to prevent sticking.

4. Chimichurri

Finely chop the parsley, garlic, and jalapeño, and add to a bowl with the olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt to taste. Mix to combine and set aside.

a bowl of chimichurri with a spoon in it

3. Grill

When the grill is hot and the grates are greased, you can add the tri-tip right above the coals. For the first 30 minutes, you want to start with the meat about 8” away from the coals. Then, you will lower the grates down and give the meat a sear at the end.

tri-tip on the santa maria grill

You want to continue to flip the meat every 5 minutes or so to build up a nice crust and char on the steak. This will also help with more even cooking.

Once your tri-tip reaches 115°F internal, you can lower the grates to just a few inches above the coals and finish it off with a nice char. The perfect temperature to serve tri-tip is medium rare, so you are shooting for about 130°F.

a piece of cooked tri-tip on the santa maria

The final step is to pull the tri-tip off and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. You can tent the roast in foil to keep it hot, but it’s essential to let this cut of beef rest before slicing in.

4. Carve

One unique aspect of Tri-Tip is that the grain of the meat actually runs in two different directions.

a piece of cooked tri-tip, a knife and some parslet on a wooden chopping board

At the crook (corner) of the roast, you will see that the grain of the meat changes. Be sure to slice both sides of the roast against the grain to get the most tender slices possible.

We have a more detailed guide to slicing tri tip if you’re unsure.

More charcoal grill recipes

tri-tip on the Santa maria grill with flames underneath

Santa Maria Tri-Tip with Homemade Chimichurri

Tri-tip roast seasoned with a beef rub, and grilled the traditional way over charcoal and served with fresh homemade chimichurri.
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Resting Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Breanna Stark

Ingredients

  • 2 lb Tri-tip roast
  • 2 tbsp beef seasoning Simple salt and pepper or a SPG blend work great as well.

Chimichurri

  • 1 cup parsley finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1 red jalapeño finely chopped
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt to taste

Instructions

  • Take a knife and trim the loose fat and meat from the roast. You do not want to remove the fat cap as it helps protect the meat from the flame's heat, but you want to remove any loose pieces.
  • Season the tri-tip liberally with the beef seasoning, then allow the roast to rest at room temperature while you make the chimichurri and fire up the grill.
  • Prepare a bed of charcoal with a charcoal chimney, then add a few chunks of your preferred wood on top. Once the wood catches fire, the grill is ready to go.
  • Lightly oil the grill grates, then place your tri-tip on them. Set the grill grates about 8” from the bed of coals and wood.
  • Allow the tri-tip to cook for about 30-40 minutes at this height, flipping every 5-7 minutes, until it reaches an internal temperature of 115°F.
  • Lower the grate so that the roast is a few inches from the coals and allow it to sear on all sides until it reaches an internal temperature of 130°F (for medium rare).
  • Remove the roast from the grates and allow to rest, tented in foil, for 15 minutes.
  • Slice the roast against the grain and serve immediately alongside homemade chimichurri.

Chimichurri

  • Add all of the ingredients to a bowl and stir until well combined. You can let this mixture sit at room temperature until ready to serve.

Notes

Carving – the grain of the meat actually runs in two different directions. At the crook (corner) of the roast, you will see that the grain of the meat changes. Be sure to slice both sides of the roast against the grain to get the most tender slices possible. 

Nutrition information is automatically calculated and should be used as an approximation only. If you’re worried you could always add a side of kale.

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