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Rotisserie Tri-Tip

Tri-tip is an odd cut from the bottom sirloin. It is famous as the cut of beef used for Santa Maria Style Barbecue, which is made with tri-tip rubbed with salt, pepper, and garlic salt, and cooked over a red oak fire. That recipe has been copyrighted by the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce, to make sure it is always “the real thing”. The official recipe is here: Santa Maria Barbecue (pdf), and check out this video which shows the ingenious grill grate elevators they use: Santa Maria Style Barbecue Video.
*That is, if you can tear yourself away from watching the chef’s moustache. My goodness.

Now, I don’t want to get the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce mad at me, so I’m not going to call this Santa Maria Barbecue. Santa Maria is a long way from here, so I have to take a few shortcuts.
*For the longest time, I couldn’t find tri-tip roasts here in Akron. They were a California thing, and not readily available; I had to make do with top sirloin roasts.  Times have changed – over the last couple of years, I can regularly find tri-tip roasts at my local grocery store.

I use my rotisserie to get the same beautifully seared results that come from their elevator grills, and some oak smoking wood with charcoal instead of burning down red oak logs to make the coals.  The results are well worth it.  Now, if I can only come up with an excuse to go to Santa Maria to try out the original…

Recipe: Rotisserie Tri-Tip

Adapted From: Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce Barbecue (pdf)

Cook time: 25 minutes


  • Grill with Rotisserie attachment (I used a Weber kettle with the Rotisserie attachment; the kettle is here and the rotisserie attachment is here)
  • Aluminum foil drip pan (9″x12″, or whatever fits your grill)
  • Basting brush


  • 2 lb Tri-tip roast
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder (or, use 1 tsp garlic salt and cut back on the kosher salt)
  • 1 loaf french bread, split lengthwise, then cut into sandwich size pieces
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 fist-sized chunk smoking wood (Oak is traditional. I use oak wine barrel staves.)

1. Prepare the tri-tip: One to two hours before cooking, sprinkle the tri-tip evenly with the kosher salt, pepper and garlic powder. Skewer the tri-tip on the rotisserie spit, and let rest at room temperature until ready to grill.

2. Prepare the bread: Split the loaf of french bread lengthwise, then cut crosswise into sandwich size pieces. Assume three to four sandwiches per loaf, depending on the size of the loaf and the appetite of the eaters. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the butter, olive oil, garlic, and pinch of salt and pepper. Microwave on high for 1 minute, or until the butter is melted and the garlic is just starting to sizzle.

3. Prepare the grill: Prepare the grill for cooking on indirect high heat (see details here). For my Weber kettle, I light a chimney starter* full of charcoal, wait for it to be covered with ash, then pour it in two equal piles on the sides of the grill, and put the drip pan in the middle, between the piles.
*I highly recommend the Weber Chimney Starter, because it is larger than most chimney starters. It holds 5 quarts of charcoal, which exactly the right size for cooking this recipe.

4. Cook the tri-tip: Place the wood chunk on the coals. Put the spit on the rotisserie, start the motor, and cook with the lid closed for 20 minutes, then check for doneness. It should take 20 to 25 minutes to get to medium-rare. Check the temperature in the thickest part of the roast; the internal temperature should be 115*F for Rare, 120*F to 125*F for Medium-rare, and 130*F for Medium. Once you reach the desired level of doneness, remove the tri-tip from the spit and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before carving.
*Watch out for the spit when you’re checking the temperature – it can throw the reading off. Also, the steak you get from the pointy end of the roast is a little smaller than the others, so it will cook quicker – if the largest steak is rare, the small one will be medium-rare to medium.

5. Toast the bread: Brush the cut side of the bread with the garlic butter mix. The grill should be at medium heat by this point – if using a gas grill, turn the burners down; if using charcoal, the coals should have burned down to about medium while the roast was cooking. Put the bread cut side down on the grill, over the direct heat of the coals. Toast the bread until just browned – 30 seconds to 1 minute, then flip and toast the crust side for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Be careful – bread will burn in a heartbeat, so watch it carefully!

6. Serve: Slice the tri-tip across the grain as thinly as possible, then serve on the toasted bread. Traditionally, pico de gallo salsa (Santa Maria style) is used as a condiment on the sandwiches, and pinquito beans and a green salad are served as side dishes.

*Toasting bread on a grill is tricky, especially over live coals. Bread goes from toasted to burnt very quickly. I usually toast one piece to get a feel for the fire, checking it every ten to fifteen seconds. Then I use that cooking time as a baseline for the rest of the bread.

*I use one baguette of french bread because it is just enough for dinner, and I always have some some leftover tri-tip for sandwiches during the week. Or, at least it worked, until this summer. The kids decided they really like sandwiches on toasted bread. Now I’m thinking two baguettes, minimum.

*I’m still working on my Pico de Gallo salsa recipe for the blog. It’s coming, I promise.

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Click here for my other rotisserie recipes.

Adapted from:
Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce Barbecue (pdf)

Check out my cookbook, Rotisserie Grilling.

Everything you could ask about the rotisserie,
plus 50 (mostly) new recipes to get you cooking.

It’s a Kindle e-book, so you can download it and start reading immediately!

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Filed under: Rotisserie


Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.


  1. Susan Tate says

    Wow nice to know OH finally has Tri Tip I looked for one when back there 2007 no go but I love tri tipon Cali and have been to Santa one now on my inside vintage farberware rotisserie… thanks for the temp tips!

  2. Janice McCutcheon says

    Can you do this with an indoor rotisserie? We don’t have a grill, so the outdoor rotisserie isn’t an option for us.

  3. Tim says

    Great, these tri tips are bullet proof, you can’t mess them up. Couple ways we do these in California is over live burning logs, not just coals, but actually in hot flames moving to indirect heat to rest every few minutes. You can also cook them directly on the coals with no grate at all.
    These cook up as nice steaks also if you cut them thick. The salsa is overrated.

  4. Update on tri-tip question:  450 degrees does the trick… family says best ever!

  5. Mike,
    Just got a rotisserie for Weber Genesis.  Your blog was a great discovery for me.  I have a lot to learn!The picture of your kettle on this tri-tip recipe shows the temperature at 450.  Is that the temperature you cook at with gas, too?Do you cook different meats at different temperatures? 

  6. Great article about tri-tip on the rotisserie. One tip I use when grilling bread is to olive oil and season the french bread and place it crust side down. The oil and seasonings will penetrate the bread. Flip the bread and the sesoned side will cook more evenly and the oil will help moderate the burning.

  7. John K. says

    I’ve never tired tri-tip, but I’d like to. You’ll have to let me know where you find it here — I don’t recall seeing it. I know the folks in Santa Maria are picky about their BBQ. I saw a website where a woman posted her version…there were many comments from people who were from, or had been to SM — “that’s not how it’s done!” I kind of chuckled at how protective they are over their BBQ. I guess as long as you don’t use the name, they will leave you alone…

  8. @John K:

    I got my Tri-tip at Acme, but I know you can order it at West Point Market as well.

    We’ll see about the “don’t use the name and they’ll leave you alone” concept…few things get cooks as riled up as someone else messing with their barbecue.

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