Traditional "Santa Maria BBQ" Oak Wood–Grilled Tri-Tip


Wood-grilling tri-tip brings rich, smoky flavor in this easy grilled steak recipe, while allowing plenty of time for the meat to become meltingly tender over the coals.

Traditional Santa Maria BBQ Oak Wood Grilled Tri Tip
Photo: Victor Protasio
Active Time:
1 hrs 20 mins
Chill Time:
1 day
Total Time:
1 day 2 hrs 35 mins
8 servings

A peppery spice rub and garlicky basting liquid amp up the flavor in the roasts. Frank Ostini, chef-owner of The Hitching Post II just north of Santa Barbara, California, serves grilled tri-tip alongside Santa Maria–Style Pinquito Beans and fresh, mild tomato salsa for a Santa Maria–style summer barbecue. Most butchers will carry a tri-tip roast, and all grocery stores should have them. Just be sure to ask for 2-pound roasts without the fat cap. To reheat this crowd pleaser, place it in a 300°F oven until the internal temperature reaches 115°F.


Basting Liquid

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup canola oil

  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Spice Rub

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt

  • 1/4 cup granulated garlic

  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper

  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

  • 2 teaspoons dried minced onion

  • 1 teaspoon ground celery seed

Remaining Ingredients


Make the basting liquid

  1. Smash garlic cloves with flat side of a chef’s knife on a cutting board. Sprinkle with salt; smash again, pressing salt into garlic to create a rough paste. Transfer garlic paste to a small bowl; whisk in oil and vinegar. Cover and refrigerate basting liquid at least 24 hours or up to 5 days.

Make the spice rub

  1. Stir together all spice rub ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Season and cook the tri-tip

  1. Place tri-tips in a large metal bowl. Baste evenly with 1/4 cup basting liquid, reserving remaining basting liquid. Sprinkle meat evenly with one-third of the spice rub. (Reserve remaining spice rub for another use. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 month.) Refrigerate tri-tips, uncovered, 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove from refrigerator; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

  2. Open bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light charcoal chimney starter filled with briquettes. When briquettes are covered with gray ash, pour them onto bottom grate of grill and push to one side. Adjust vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 400°F to 450°F. Coat top grate with oil; place on grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high [400°F to 450°F] on one side.) Alternatively, prepare an oak wood fire on a Santa Maria grill.

  3. Place tri-tips on oiled grates over side of grill with coals (or lit side of gas grill). Grill, uncovered, until lightly charred on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Move tri-tips to side without coals (or unlit side of gas grill). Grill, uncovered, until a thermometer inserted in thickest portion of meat registers 130°F, 30 to 35 minutes, flipping and basting meat with reserved basting liquid every 5 minutes.

  4. Remove tri-tips from grill and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let rest 15 minutes. Thinly slice meat against the grain. Serve with tomato salsa and pinquito beans.

Suggested pairing

Robust Central Coast Cabernet.

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