Help us help you

If we have helped you become a better cook, please become a Pitmaster Club member and help us become a better website. Benefits for members include:

(1) Seminars with famous Pitmaster Professors
(2) Access to The Pit forum
(3) An all new expanded Temperature Guide Magnet
(4) Gold Medal Giveaways of free grills and smokers
(5) Support for Operation BBQ Relief
(6) Support for AmazingRibs.com!

Learn more about the Pitmaster Club

Not ready to subscribe yet? Return to AmazingRibs.com

grill, smoker, thermometer, accessories ratings
AmazingRibs.com BBQ Logo

message from meathead

Meathead the Barbecue & Grilling Lover Cartoon

Get Smoke Signals,
our FREE e-letter.
No spam. Guaranteed. Enter your email:

bbq ad


If you like AmazingRibs.com, please save this link and use it every time you go to Amazon. Amazon and many other websites pay us a small referral fee when you click our links and purchase from them. It works on everything from grills to diapers, Amazon never tells us what you bought, it has zero impact on the price you pay, but has a major impact on our ability to improve this site!

Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

bbq thermapen

GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone


Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $299 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

steak knives for bbq

The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.

tailgater magazine


Santa Maria Tri-Tip: Poor Man's Prime Rib

By Meathead Goldwyn

In the beautiful Central Coast town of Santa Maria on California Highway 101, there are big ranches, plenty of cattle, and ocean breezes that whisper "bah-be-quuuuuu".

Originally settled by Mexican cowboys called vaqueros, Santa Maria has an international reputation for their local specialty, tri-tip steak, the unique grill they invented to cook it, and the clever way they carve it to make it tender.

The story goes that in the 1950s a Safeway butcher named Bob Schutz was overstocked on ground beef and stew meat, so he took a curved muscle from the bottom sirloin usually destined for chopping or grinding, and put it on his store's rotisserie. He and his staff were shocked at how flavorful and tender it was. He called it tri-tip and started promoting it as a barbecue meat. Nowadays, when you say barbecue in this beautiful slice of Californiana, with beaches and mountains, you are talking tri-tip, not ribs or brisket.

Tri-tip is a crescent shaped muscle from the bottom sirloin just in front of the hip. A typical tri-tip might be about 8" long, 3" wide in the center, and 3" thick in the center, tapering at the ends, and weighing 1.5 to 2 pounds. It is available in every grocery of butcher shop in Southern California, but it is hard to find elsewhere. If you don't live on the left bank, your butcher should be able to special order it. Tell her it is the tensor fasciae latae muscle from the bottom sirloin, and it is number 185C in the NAMP book, the butcher's bible.

It has big beefy flavor, it is very lean, so it can be on the chewy side if you don't cook and slice it properly. But cook and slice it the way they do in Santa Maria, and you can have a piece almost as tender, and every bit as juicy as prime rib. I call it the Poor Man's Prime Rib.

santa maria grill

santa maria barbecueThe Santa Maria style grill is perfect for this cut. It has a grate that can be raised or lowered with a wheel and pulley system so the grillmaster can control the heat on this thick hunk-o-flesh, crucial to get it done properly without burning it to a crisp. The model above is a large caterers rig and the small one at right is from the Santa Maria BBQ Outfitters. The fuel of choice is in Santa Maria is red oak logs.

The meat is prepped with minimal seasoning, and served without sauce so the big beefy flavor reigns. It is almost always taken off the grill when medium rare, the temp at which it is most tender, and accompanied by grill toasted bread to mop up the juices, a salsa like pico di gallo, pinquito beans, macaroni and cheese, salad, and the excellent local wines. Pinquito beans are small and pink and another local tradition.

Special thanks to Harry Stewart of Alameda, CA, and owner of the big rig above for teaching me how to cut tri-tip. Those are his hands in the pictures.

tri-tip sandwich

Santa Maria Tri-Tip Steak Recipe

Serves. 4.
Preparation time. 5 minutes to season
Cooking time.
45 to 90 minutes depending on how you set up your grill.

1 tri-tip steak
Vegetable oil
Ground fresh black pepper
Garlic powder

About the oil. Use a light, mild flavor oil like canola or corn oil.

1) Pat the meat dry with paper towels. An hour or two before cooking, sprinkle it with salt, no more than you would if you were served the cooked meat. This dry brining will dissolve and get pulled into the meat and season it throughout. You can dry brine the night before if you wish.

2) Just before cooking, coat it with a light layer of cooking oil, sprinkle it with the spices, roughly equal amounts. Massage it in. Don't worry about over-seasoning. When you're done you're going to cut it into thin slices so each slice will have only a small lip of flavorful crust.

3) Set up your grill for 2-zone cooking with one side of your grill scorching hot and the other about 225°F to 250°F.

4) Because this is a thick hunk of flesh, we can't put it close to high heat or the exterior will carbonize long before the center even warms. In Santa Maria, where the grills have a built-in elevator, they raise the meat up and flip it frequently during a cook that typically lasts as long as an hour. This long slow cooking lets the tenderizer enzymes really do their stuff. Unless you have a Santa Maria style grill (I have a Hasty Bake oven that is perfect for tri-tip because it cranks up and down like a Santa Maria grill), first put the meat on the indirect heat side of your grill with the thick end closer to the heat, close the lid, turn it every 20 minutes or so, and wait until the center hits about 110°F, or about 10°F below your target temp. This can take 30 to 45 minutes, but you must use a good digital instant read thermometer to get the temp right, especially if you are not experienced with this cut. Then move the meat over direct high heat for about 5 minutes per side or until it gets a nice dark even sear. I like to take it up to about 130°F for medium rare. I know this is different than they do it in Santa Maria where they sear the meat first, but the fact is, this method is better. You will get a more even color through the meat if you sear in the rear.

5) Now here's the trick to carving it. Begin with a carving board that has deep valleys cut into it or else the juice will run away from you. You will not believe how wet this is if cooked medium rare or less. Slice it first in half through the center as in the photos. Then rotate each half and cut it from the tip to the cut end, across the grain, in 3/8 to 1/2" slices. Cutting across the grain insures that it will be easier to chew. Fan the slices on a platter, pour the juices on top, and serve with grilled garlic bread to sop up the juices. If there are any leftovers, store it and the juices, and it makes great sandwiches.

This page was revised 1/2/2014

Please read this before posting a comment or question

grouchy?1) Please use the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help, then please post your question on the appropriate page.

2) Please tell us everything we need to know to answer your question such as the type of cooker and thermometer you are using. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can't help you. Please read this article about thermometers.

3) If you post a photo, wait a minute for a thumbnail to appear. It will happen even if you don't see it happen.

4) Click here to learn more about our comment system and our privacy promise. Remember, your login info for comments is probably different from your Pitmaster Club login info if you are a member.


LeaderDog.org Ad on BBQ site

About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

This site is brought to you by readers like you who support us with their membership in our Pitmaster Club. Click here to learn more about benefits to membership.

Advertising on this site. AmazingRibs.com is by far the most popular barbecue website in the world and one of the 50 most popular food websites in the US according to comScore, Quantcast, Compete, and Alexa. Visitors and pageviews increase rapidly every year. Click here for analytics and advertising info.

© Copyright 2014 by AmazingRibs, Inc. AmazingRibs.com is published by AmazingRibs, Inc., a Florida Corporation. Unless otherwise noted, all text, recipes, photos, and computer code are owned by AmazingRibs, Inc. and fully protected by US copyright law. This means that unless you have written permission to publish or distribute anything on this website you have committed a Federal crime. But we're easy. To get reprint rights, just click here. You do not need permission to link to this website. Note. Some photos of commercial products such as grills were provided by the manufacturers and are under their copyright.