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Cooking with Fire: California Tri-Tip

Josh Cary

If you’re a Kansas native like I am, you probably feel like you know a lot about beef. You have your favorite cuts, your favorite way to season them, and you take a hard stance on how you like your steak prepared on the scale from rare to well-done.

What if I told you that there’s a cut of beef that, when cooked properly, has the tenderness of the best strip steak, with the big beefy flavor of a sirloin? As a Kansas beef eater, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Especially when I tell you that this cut has been around since the early 1950s. But maybe that’s why we’re not as familiar with it--this cut didn’t even exist as we know it until the early 1950s.

The piece of meat I’m talking about is the tri-tip, which, due to its state of origin, is referred to as the California tri-tip by many pitmasters I know.

So how did a roughly two-pound triangle-shaped muscle from the bottom sirloin that was often ground into beef for burgers or chopped into stew meat become a star cut rivaling a porterhouse or ribeye? We have a one-armed butcher name Bob Schutz to thank.

We can’t be sure what led Bob to try spit roasting this cut, but barbecue legend has it that the Safeway in Santa Maria, California, where he worked had enough hamburger and stew meat on hand… so Bob tossed this small roast on the spit with the rest of the top block sirloin. How did it turn out?

Join my co-host Chef Tom Jackson and myself as we dive into the world of Santa Maria barbecue and the amazing history of the tri-tip... this week on Cooking with Fire.

Rotisserie Tri-Tip with Chimichurri


  • 1 tri-tip roast

For the rub:

  • 40 grams kosher salt
  • 40 grams fresh ground black peppercorns
  • 20 grams garlic powder
  • 10 grams onion powder

 For the chimichurri:

  • 1 bunch cilantro, thick stems removed
  • 1/2 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley, thick stems removed
  • 6 green chiles (Poblano, Anaheim, Hatch, Pueblo), roasted, peeled & stems removed
  • 1/4 sweet onion, rough chop
  • 6 garlic cloves, rough chop
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat your grill to high heat (450ºF+), set up with a rotisserie. Trim any excess fat or silver skin from the surface of the roast. Combine all rub ingredients and mix well.
  2. Apply a thin layer of oil to all surfaces to help bind the rub to the meat. Apply a generous amount rub to all surfaces. Thread the roast onto the rotisserie spit rod and secure in place. Properly position the spit rod in the grill. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 130ºF. Remove the roast from the spit rod and allow to rest 10-15 minutes before slicing thin slices across the grain.
  3. To make the chimichurri, place all of the ingredients into the food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are chopped and well combined. Adjust consistency with more olive oil for a looser sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning, as needed. Serve the chimichurri alongside the sliced tri-tip.
Josh Cary may be the eCommerce Director at All Things Barbecue during the day, but at night he takes on the mantle of an award-winning Pitmaster, who has cooked on the competition barbecue circuit under various team names including ATBBQ, Yoder Smokers and the Que Tang Clan.
All Things Barbecue Staff Chef Tom Jackson is a Kansas native, born and raised in Wichita. In 2008 he and his wife moved to Portland, Oregon, where he attended Oregon Culinary Institute. Tom studied both general culinary skills as well as baking and pastry while working as a cook in a variety of restaurants. After graduating from Oregon Culinary Institute he began working as a bread baker and pastry chef at the renowned Ken’s Artisan Bakery in northwest Portland. He spent more than four years honing his skills under James Beard Award winning chef and owner Ken Forkish. In that time he and his wife had their first child, and the draw of home and family grew stronger. Longtime friends of the Cary family, owners of All Things Barbecue, they returned to Kansas to help All Things Barbecue continue to excel in their cooking classes. Tom has been further developing and building cooking classes and private events at All Things Barbecue since March 2014.