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WhiteTrash BBQ -- Real Pit Barbecue from New York City. This is the story of a fire obsessed guy, living in Brooklyn, with a dream of producing award winning, competition busting, real Barbeque. Come live the dream as I compete around the country in the KCBS Championship Barbecue circuit.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Santa Maria Tri-Tip Steak

This came into my in box this morning. Tri-tip is a great cut of meat and certainly one of the classics for outdoor cooking. If you can find it, try it. You'll like it.

While I don't agree that "many people" consider the Santa Maria Valley of California "the barbeque capital of the world," it certainly has a considerable influence. This article comes to us from CBS and The Early Show.

"BBQ Capital" Boasts Little-Known Edge

(CBS) When you think of barbecue, places such as Texas, Kansas City, Memphis and North Carolina probably come to mind.

But Northern California's Santa Maria Valley is thought of by many as the "barbeque capital of the world."

It features tri-tip beef, a little-known cut that's full of flavor.

On The Early Show Thursday, resident chef Bobby Flay gave viewers a taste of tri-tip and Santa Maria.

Flay used the original cowboy grilling method and tri-tip beef to bring old world tradition and smoky flavors to his grill on our plaza.

He says tri-tip used to be a very local to Northern California, but is becoming popular with chefs across the country.

Where did it originate? The Santa Maria Valley is a feast for the senses, with lush rolling hills and fragrant fields of strawberries.

But cruise down Broadway on any given weekend, and it's the mouth-watering smell of barbecue that will greet you.

Santa Maria-style barbecue is the authentic taste experience of Santa Maria. The sumptuous feast of barbecued sirloin, salsa, Pinquito beans, toasted French bread, and green salad has been described by Sunset Magazine as the "best barbecue in the world," and the California's Visitor's Guide raves it's the "No. 1 food not to miss while visiting California." It's the featured cuisine at all festive occasions, both public and private, and so thoroughly ingrained in local culture that it's truly a way of life.

Santa Maria Barbecue has its roots in the mid-19th century, when the rancheros gathered to help each other brand their calves each spring. The host would prepare a Spanish-style barbecue as a thank you for his vaqueros (America's first cowboys), family and friends. Under the oaks of the serene, little coastal valley, they would enjoy a traditional feast that included beef barbecued over a red oak fire, served with Pinquito beans, bread, salsa and homemade desserts.

Today's Santa Maria-style barbecue grew out of this tradition, and achieved its "style" some 60 years ago, when locals began stringing their beef on skewers and cooking it over the hot coals of a red oak fire. The meat, either top block sirloin or the triangular-shaped bottom sirloin known as tri-tip, is rolled in a mixture of salt, pepper and garlic salt just prior to cooking. It's then barbecued over red oak coals, giving the meat a hearty, smoky flavor.

The traditional Santa Maria barbecue menu features, of course, the barbecued sirloin, trimmed, sliced, and laid out in metal pans, so the diner may select the desired doneness. The only condiment for this tender and flavorful meat is a fresh salsa. With it is served grilled French bread dipped in sweet melted butter, perfect for soaking up every last bit of the flavorful meat juices. Also served on the side are a tossed green salad and slow-cooked Pinquito beans. For the most authentic Santa Maria barbecue experience, select a robust Santa Maria Valley wine to accompany your meal. The tasty feast is finished with coffee and a simple dessert.

Once a well-kept local secret, word of Santa Maria-style barbecue has spread around the world, enticing travelers to come by the thousands, seeking a taste of this local specialty, and it's not difficult to find. On a typical Saturday, you'll see clouds of fragrant smoke billowing through the air, leading you to numerous barbecues throughout the city. They range from outdoor feasts along Broadway that are sponsored by schools and local charities, to restaurants offering a more formal dining experience, to backyard cookouts in which families enjoy their own recipes that have been passed down through the generations.

It's no wonder Santa Maria is often called the "Barbecue Capital of the World"!


TRI-TIP BEEF (aka bottom sirloin): The tri-tip is a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin primal cut. It's a small, triangular muscle, usually one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half pounds per side of beef. In the United States, this cut was typically used for ground beef or sliced into steaks until the late 1950s, when it became a local specialty in Santa Maria, rubbed with salt, pepper, and spices and cooked whole on a rotisserie or grilled. (The tri-tip is still often labeled "Santa Maria steak")

Tri-tip is now available in most of the U.S., though it remains a relatively overlooked cut. Most popular in central California, it's begun to enjoy increasing popularity elsewhere for its full flavor, lower fat content, and comparatively lower cost.

Tri-tip is a very good cut of meat. However, usually, by the time you've trimmed the excess fat, you'll find it's more expensive than top sirloin. Tri-tip is mostly used for family barbecues and fund-raising events, since the cuts are small.

Tri-tip has become a popular cut for producing Texas Red Chili Con Carne on the competitive chili cooking circuit.

This cut is very versatile in how it can be prepared. While the preferred method is slow-smoking, tri-tip can also be marinated or seasoned with a dry rub, and cooked over high heat on a grill, on a rotisserie, or in an oven. After cooking, the meat is sliced across the grain before serving.

Tri-tip may be more difficult to find in some areas of the country, but because it comes from the loin portion of the cow, any sirloin or tenderloin cut will make a suitable alternative.

RELISH: A relish is a cooked or pickled, chopped vegetable or fruit food item, typically used as a condiment. The item generally consists of discernable vegetable or fruit pieces in a sauce, although the sauce is subordinate in character to the vegetable or fruit pieces. It might consist of a single type of vegetable or fruit, or a combination, and the fruits or vegetables might be coarsely or finely chopped, but generally, a relish is not as smooth as a sauce-type condiment, such as ketchup. The overall taste sensation might be sweet or savory, hot or mild, but it is generally a strong flavor that adds excitement to or complements the primary food item it is served with.

Chutneys might be considered a type of relish. Crosse & Blackwell says, "Chutney is typically made with fruit; relish is normally made with vegetables."

In the U.S., the most common commercially available relishes are pickle relish. Two variants are hamburger relish (pickle relish in a ketchup base or sauce) and hotdog relish (pickle relish in a mustard base or sauce). Other readily available commercial relishes in the U.S. include corn relish.

Heinz, Vlasic, and Claussen are well known in the U.S. as producers of pickles and relishes.

Pickle relish can be mixed with mayonnaise to make tartar sauce, and piccalilli can be mixed with mayonnaise or crème fraîche to make remoulade.


Santa Maria Style BBQ Tri Tip
Serves: 4-6
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One two-and-a-half pound tri-tip roast, fat trimmed
  • Canola oil
1. Heat the grill to high
2. Combine the salt, garlic salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub both sides of the beef with the rub and drizzle with a few tablespoons of the oil. Place on the grill and cook until golden brown on both sides and cooked to medium-rare doneness, about 15 minutes total. Remove from the grill, let rest for 5 minutes before slicing across the grain into thin slices.

Santa Maria Pinquito Bean Relish
  • 1/2-pound slab of bacon, finely diced
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 poblano chile, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cans pinto beans, drained, rinsed and drained again
  • Salt and pepper
1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until golden brown and the fat has rendered. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.
2. Add the onion and poblano to the bacon fat in the pan and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the beans and cook until warmed through. Fold in the cooked bacon and transfer to a medium bowl.

Tomato Relish
  • 2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 serrano or jalapeno chile, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley or cilantro
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and let sit at room temperature before serving.

Grilled French Bread
  • 1 loaf French bread, split lengthwise
  • 1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place bread on grill, cut side down and cook until lightly golden brown, flip over and continue cooking for 30 seconds longer. Remove from the grill and spread the butter over the cut side and season with salt and pepper.

© MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Growing up in the Santa Maria Valley , I know for a fact that Tri-Tip is the Very best BBQ . If you ever get the chance , you can NOT miss coming here and giving the local Q's a try. If you are in the area , try the local vendors on the main drag , Broadway. Or if you prefer , the Hitching Post in Casmalia , or Jocko's restaurant , both serve up a great Tri Tip dinner. Yum , Makin myself HUNGRY , Gotta cook !!

At 9:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a link to watch Cowboy Billy cook some Tri-Tip


At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Growing up in Salinas, Ca (N of S.Maria), this was what it meant to BBQ. Now living in Montana, I often share the joy of the Tri-Tip BBQ at brandings, bull sales, weddings and backyard gatherings. The only thing left out of the recipie is the basting mixture (banya)made with sauturne wine from Templeton, CA.

At 11:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Santa Maria Style BBQ IS THE BEST BBQ in the world no matter what anyone thinks. Especially somebody who has never been on Broadway on a Saturday afternoon. Growing up in the "BBQ CAPITAL", also known as Santa Maria and experiencing this my whole life I have learned that this tradition truly is a major part of the local culture, however, Santa Maria is not located in Northern California. It is on the Central Coast located quite far from where "Northern" California is known to begin. Just a little FYI for whoever wrote this and disagrees that the BBQ is not the best.

At 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The red oak is the key to the unique flavor. Lots of folks that visit Santa Maria and get hooked on the BBQ try to bring home some red oak. It makes great coals... regular oak will just make ash. Also good to know, Susie Q's now makes a BBQ rub without MSG, and it tastes just as good as the original!

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 10:12 AM, Blogger Joe Horn said...

Hello, love the blog. I just grilled some tri tip and corn and thought you might be interested. Come check it out if you have some time and let me know what you think.



At 11:40 AM, Blogger Joe Horn said...

haha, nice blog and info. I just grilled some tri tip and served with grilled corn and black olive aioli. Come take a look when you have a chance.




At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Santa Maria Style BBQ is the Best!! And the Hitching Post brings it every time. I've since moved out of the area, but am so glad to learn about bbq2you dot com. They ship that great Santa Maria BBQ anywhere in the country. And it's so easy to prepare. All the seasoning, baste, and grilling over that California red oak has been done for you. You basicly just have to heat and serve! Yum!!

At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yea... born and raised in Santa Maria (Central CA, not Northern) and moved to Minnesota 10 years ago. I would always have my parents bring me some when they visit. I tried time and time again to explain to the butcher what tri-tip is and he just didn't get it. Finally... now that Costco is here I can buy Tri-Tip in MN. Super Targe also carries it... I'm in heaven.

At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously - Santa Maria is not Northern California. It's Central California. And it has the best BBQ....for tri tip. Wouldn't pit it against St. Louis for ribs though!

At 2:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Central Coast native living in Santa Margarita, CA about 50 miles north of Santa Maria. We're about halfway between L.A. and S.F.

Tri tip makes all other steaks taste bland, boring and drowned in a sauce that simply can't compare with the taste of beef and smoke done the true old cowboy way. Insist that your local butcher learns to sell this cut of meat!

I don't know of one soul making salted and peppered french bread to go with it. That's crazy. Here we use San Luis Sourdough (can't get too sour) melted butter, and California style garlic powder (NOT garlic salt) with parsley. Some use fresh minced garlic. Honestly, I've never seen anyone here serve salted and peppered bread.

A.J. Spurs restaurant is local approved.;)

At 11:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also lived in Santa Maria (in the 60's-80's), now living in Portland, OR...and I am wondering if I am the only person who remembers the tri-tip being marinaded in beer, olive oil rosemary and garlic for 8-24 hours before the garlic powder, salt, pepper rub is applied prior to cooking? My dad was a Elk and that is how they always prepped theirs when doing fund raisers downtown. BTW I agree SM is not northern, it is on the central coast..... and for the record, that seasoned junk they sell at Trader Joes labeled "Santa Maria style tri-tip"... just isn't. Not even close.

We can get Tri-tip in Portland now, but it is a battle to get it with the fat still on, which is the only way to cook it on a BBQ.
Sure miss the red oak to cook it over!

At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, the NoCal thing is embarrassing. I lived in Santa Barbara for years. I'm not so sure about the "lovely" Santa Maria Valley. But, everyone in Santa Barbara County loves Tri-Tip, you'll get arguments over the best rub, cooking style, etc. But there all usually pretty good. I like mine marinated with a hard red wine, red onions, garlic salt, pepper and some cayenne for some heat.

I have to agree about the garlic bread comment too. No one makes it that way.

At 10:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the thing about cooking tri-tip, there are sooo many different methods. Mine starts by trimming off the fat, but save it for later. I use my own personal rub. Put it on a HOT grill for 3-5 minutes per side to seal in the juices. Turn down the heat and let it cook to 145 degrees inside. Lay the trimmed off fat on top of the cut as it cooks. It adds flavor, but watch for flame ups that might ruin everything. When you pull it off the grill, let it sit at least 10 minutes or when you cut it open, the juices will pour out and it will dry up. Never heard of this until I moved to CA in 2000, but it is AWESOME!!!!

At 10:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it takes longer to burn down the red oak wood into coals than it does to grill the Tri-Tip, but if you go the whole route, it's really hard to beat Santa Maria Style BBQ. I do it it untrimmed fat side down, 25 mins, then 20 mins fat(charred) side up(6" above coals), then let cool 15 mins, knock off the char, cut AGAINST grain and serve everyone at the same time. I do 6ea 2.5lbs roasts at the same time, 4 to use, 2 to give to the neighbors that had to smell the downwind wood prep and fat burning... I serve it classic style except for the Pinquito's, I sub with my own BBQ bean dish. I only do it 4 times a year, but everyone talks about it all year long.

Martin Brown
Cypress(via Guadalupe, CA), CA

At 3:28 PM, Blogger SkullCap said...

OK- Santa Maria is a part of Southern, CA. San Fransisco is a part of central CA., and Santa Rosa in Sonoma county thru Crescent City, CA. in Del Norte county is the true Northern CA. End of story. Tri- tip is the PUNK ROCK FOOD OF PUNK.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this thread is ancient. However, location is everything. Santa Maria is on the Central Coast of California. From the center of the earth (Central California) point of view: there is Northern Cal above San Simeon (which is not bad); Southern Cal below Santa Barbara (please just go leave us alone), Central California (the great central valley that feeds the world - they also come out to use our ocean) and the Middle Kingdom: The Central Coast of California where God moved the Garden of Eden and the children born there are beautiful. I grew up on the Central Coast and have lived in all the areas of California mentioned. Trust me, what I say is true.

No one does the bread the way it is mentioned here. There are a few secrets not here and I'll keep them secret. Generally, though, get out try it. You'll love it.

At 2:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a bit late in posting a comment since it's already 2010!

I am a native Santa Marian... born and bred on the BEST BBQ anywhere - Santa Maria Style BBQ. Although I no longer reside in SM, the first think I have when I visit is, of course, a BBQ usually cooked by my dad and his BBQ team.

Indeed many people consider this BBQ to be the best. It simply is.

At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Vinny Caicco said...

We sell the original Santa Maria BBQ's here in Santa Maria, CA. Our company, Santa Maria BBQ Outfitters, has been around since the 1980's, however our family has been building these BBQ's since the late 1950's. We build them right here in Santa Maria, CA & they are made of high quality 10 gauge heavy duty metal, cable & rubber wheels. They are our specialty.
See us on our website at


if you are interested! Thanks guys & keep up the best way to cook!

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MMMM tri-tip, growing up in the Lompoc area I came to love tri-tip. Nothing better. I now live in the Washington D.C. area and to my surprise the Costco in Gaithersburg, MD. has tri-tip! After more than a decade of no tri-tip I am able to eat this fabulous steak again.

Everyone around here that tries our tri-tip at our BBQ's fall in love with it, people can't get enough of it.

At 7:32 PM, Blogger danull said...

2011 - still a great post! Thank you for it.

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too grew up in the area, Having lived in Santa Barbara all my life before moving up to the bay area. One thing I would like to point out, a good Tri-Tip does NOT, I cant stress that again, NOT have the fat cut off.

You drop it down low into the fire fat side down, for the first 2 minutes, then flip it and lift it up out of the fire for indirect heat. This will melt the fats and let them run, sealing in juices and giving a bolder flavor. Anyone who trims the fat is ruining the meat! You can cut the fat off once its cooked, but never, NEVER before hand.

At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Costco in Utah carries tri tip ready for the grill. We love it cooked on our Treager grill using apple, mesquite, or a mixture of both. I have never had it California style, but if it is better than this then it must be out of this world!

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might even be pushing the southern limit of Central California in Santa Maria.

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and we Elks do it the best.. Elks #1538

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Santa Maria sits on the edge of So Cal and Central Coast California.

Decidedly, no one ever could find Santa Maria in Northern California.


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