How To Season A Traditional Tri-Tip Santa Maria Steak

Santa Maria barbecue is the barbecue style you haven't heard of. Granted, when most of us think of barbecue, we conjure up visions of low-and-slow cooking, the kind of barbecue that evokes a slow summer Sunday afternoon with friends and a cold beer. Amongst the various American regional barbecues, there's Texas brisket, slow-cooked and fall-apart tender; sticky-sweet Kansas City style and burnt ends; Memphis style smoked pork ribs; and tangy whole-hog and pork shoulder Carolina barbecue. Santa Maria barbecue is none of those things.

Santa Maria is the California version of barbecue – unfussy, fresh, and flavorful. Found in the central coast region of California, it's less barbecuing and more grilling, cooking meat over a pit of smoldering live red oak, a tree native to the area. Over a century ago, vaqueros (ranchers) gathered together to relax and cook beef, digging large pits to shield the flames from the gusty winds typical of the central coast, according to Men's Journal. Modern technology has allowed grillers to move beyond the pit to create grilling setups with a moveable grate, so you're able to move the meat closer or further from the heat as needed. Grillers and cooks still use red oak because it burns hot but slow with minimal smoke.

According to Salt & Wind Travel, barbecuing Santa Maria style is hot and fast and uses quick-cooking cuts like tri-tip, which uses a seasoning so simple you'll have no excuse not to try it.

Tri-tip steaks are a Santa Maria barbecue staple

The name tri-tip describes the shape of the cut –- it's a triangular tip of meat cut from the sirloin. It's flavorful, cooks quicker than a brisket, and is associated with California, according to Steak School. A Santa Maria tri-tip steak doesn't sit overnight in a spicy rub or get doused in tangy barbecue sauce, nor is it mopped. Santa Maria tri-tip is seasoned in a simple rub of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, per Salt & Wind Travel. Of course, some deviate from tradition and mix in spices like chili powder or dried mustard, but you do you.

Once you're ready to cook, make sure your grill is clean. Executive Chef Anthony Endy of Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort suggests rubbing fat trimmed from your protein on the hot grill – your grates will be clean but you'll retain the flavor of your meat. And, Santa Maria-style barbecuing encourages you to flip your meat, so those of you who like to fuss and flip, have at it –- just don't go overboard, per Men's Journal. After letting the meat rest, make sure you slice it correctly; the piece has two distinct grains, so the best practice is to cut the steak at the point where the two grains meat and cut against the grain on both pieces for juicy and tender meat. 

Santa Maria tri-tip is served with traditional sides like pinquito beans, salsa, garlic bread, and strawberry shortcake for dessert.