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Santa Maria Tri Tip Roast – Tri Tip Tacos

Santa Maria Tri-Tip Roast is a quick dinner option, easily grilled or oven-baked in no time at all!  Full flavors in each tender bite.  Serve as it is with sides, or make it up into tacos!

Whole tri tip roast being cut against the grain

Santa Maria Tri tip roast is a quick cooking roast full of the flavor of the santa maria seasoning rub.  Cooked fast on the grill and cut across the grain yields a tender mouth watering bite every time!

The Santa Maria Tri tip according to the Santa Maria Valley website was created by a local butcher in the 1950’s from the triangle section of the lower sirloin.  Before this time most butchers would cut up that section for ground beef.  Its typically served with beans, salsa and often even garlic bread.

This tri tip roast cut is very well known in California and the west coast. If you’re having trouble locating it where you live I go over several different names that you might be able to explain to your butcher what you want in my easy seasoned tri tip recipe.

What is in a Santa Maria Tri-Tip Marinade/Rub?

  • cumin
  • chili powder
  • salt
  • brown sugar
  • cayenne pepper (optional)
  • garlic powder (or fresh garlic )
  • onion powder (or fresh onion)
  • liquid smoke
Tri Tip Roast on the grill.

Made with simple pantry spices and ingredients you’ll more than likely have everything to make this tri-tip marinade.  The cumin and chili powder automatically make you think of a Mexican flavor and the brown sugar aides in a subtle sweetness than when grilled gives each bite a crunchy caramelized edge.  (see the caramelized edges above)

The liquid smoke adds a perennial bbq flavor that we love to tempt our guests a little while it’s grilling.  Feel free to leave off the liquid smoke and just use the ingredients as a dry ingredient tri-tip rub if you don’t have it.  It’s a nice tangy addition, but it’s just as delicious without it!

How to cook tri-tip to tender juicy perfection:

  1. Prepare Santa Maria Rub/Marinade and place on tri-tip roast
  2. Allow seasoning to penetrate for at least an hour
  3. Prepare your grill to hot.
  4. Sear each side for 4 minutes on each side.
  5. Reduce heat, or move to off heat to finish cooking to rare or medium-rare
  6. Allow roast to rest for 10 minutes
  7. Cut against the grain at an angle for maximum tenderness.

Cooking the tri-tip on a hot grill to sear the meat before finishing cooking will give you a beautiful flavored crust with the spice rub browning for even more flavor.

If you cook the tri-tip roast much beyond medium, and actually I really feel you should only cook a tri-tip to rare or mediums rare, the meat will be too tough.  The area that this meat is cut from has lots of fibers in there and you dry up the juices and shrink the fibers/fat giving you very tough meat if you cook it too long.

I’ve included several photos showing how to cut across the grain of the tri-tip.  You can see the grain pretty clearly before cutting, but when you cut a slice look at it and check.  If the meat is cut correctly it will give a little very easily.  It’s cut on the bias so it stretches.

What internal temp is ideal for this tri-tip recipe?

  • Rare: Remove from heat at 115-120°, the meat will rise in resting to an internal temp of 125°
  • Medium Rare: Remove from heat at 125-130°, the meat will rise in resting to an internal temp of 135°
  • ****Medium: Remove from heat at 135°, the meat will rise in resting to an internal temp of 140°

**** Although I provide the temps from Medium….I highly recommend rare or medium-rare at the most for the internal temp to maintain tenderness and have it be juicy and not dried out.  If you have people who prefer more well done, you can serve them the smaller tip of the triangle which will be a little more done.

Tender juicy tri tip roast in tacos

This grilled meat is excellent on its own but we often make a full meal in the Santa Maria style by serving it as tacos with fresh homemade guacamole and fresh tomato salsa.


  • 2 large avocados
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons minced onions
  • chopped fresh cilantro (about 2 tablespoons) (optional)
  • juice of one lime
  • minced jalapeño pepper or a couple of dashes of cayenne are optional
  • salt to taste

Use a spoon to remove the avocado from the shell and discard the pit.  Mash it up then add all of the ingredients and stir to combine.

If making earlier in the day place the guacamole in an airtight container and cover the top with plastic wrap to avoid having it turn brown.  It’s best to eat guacamole on the same day.

Easy Salsa and Sauces for Santa Maria Tri-tip Tacos


Santa Maria Tri Tip Roast is a quick dinner option, easily grilled or oven baked in no time at all!  Full flavors in each tender bite.  Serve as it is with sides, or make it up into tacos!

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Yield: 6

Santa Maria Tri Tip Roast / Tri Tip Tacos

Tri Tip Roast on the grill.

Santa Maria Tri Tip Roast is a quick dinner option, easily grilled or oven baked in no time at all!  Full flavors in each tender bite.  Serve as it is with sides, or make it up into tacos!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes



  1. Trim any excess fat from tri-tip.
  2. Into a small bowl mix all spices and blend well.
  3. Sprinkle spices on each side of tri-tip and using your fingers rub the spices into the meat.
  4. Place roast onto a sheet of foil and wrap tightly. Allow to set for 60 minutes minimum, up to overnight.
  5. One hour before grilling remove from fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
  6. Heat grill to high. Place roast on grill and sear for 5 minutes each side. Ideally on your gas grill you will have one area you can turn off the gas and allow meat to cook without being on the flames (indirect cooking it).If you dont have that option, place the meat on the cooler area with out as many flames. Close the lid and cook for 5 minutes at a time coming back to check to make sure the flames are not burning the meat.
  7. Depending on the size and width of the roast will determine how long it takes to cook your roast. Use a thermometer to cook to 5° before desired doneness.
  8. For Rare, you want to remove at 120° (during rest time it will continue to cook to 125°‚. Medium rare 130° (rest temp finish 135). Medium 140° /145° rest temp finish). Any more done than medium the meat will be too dry.
  9. Once roast hits your desired temp, remove from grill and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
  10. Cut meat into slices against the grain to maximize tenderness.
  11. Cut meat into slices against the grain to maximize tenderness.
  12. Serve alone, or as tacos with tortillas, salsa and guacamole (quick recipe in the post)

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

6 Servings

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 375Saturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 147mgSodium: 727mgCarbohydrates: 4gSugar: 3gProtein: 47g
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Tuesday 10th of July 2018

I absolutely LOVE Santa Maria Tri Tip! It is one of the foods I miss the most from when I lived in So. California. We love tri tip tacos and tri tip sandwiches made with garlic bread!! I am so glad you posted this recipe. I will be making it this weekend.


Tuesday 10th of July 2018

Loads of flavor and the slicing tip insures that it’s nice and tender. A new favorite!

Abigail Sotto Raines

Tuesday 10th of July 2018

Looks tender and juicy!

Mani S.

Tuesday 10th of July 2018

Looks so juicy and tender! A must-try!... we'll be making this asap!

Jacqueline DiNuoscio

Tuesday 10th of July 2018

These are so perfect for Taco Tuesday! My mouth is watering!

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