Cowboy Coffee Tri Tip

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Cowboy Coffee Tri Tip

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When you’re in Texas, barbecue means brisket. When you want barbecue in North Carolina, it’s automatically pork. When you’re in Santa Maria along the California central coast, barbecue is always beef tri tip. Santa Maria style tri tip is a garlicky salty beef cut that is served with pinquito bean, a miniature cousin of the pink bean that is only grown in the California central coast region. The origin of Santa Maria barbecue began in the mid-19th century when ranch owners got together to help each other brand their calves every spring. A Spanish style barbecue was usually the climatic festivity as a thank you to the vaqueros (cowboys from Mexico), family, neighbors, and friends.

Beautiful Highway 1 in California

When you drive along the picturesque Highway 1 and 101 along the California coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco, it nice to slow down the pace and try this delectable cut of meat as almost all the central coast restaurants serve it. The tri tip is a stealth fighter shaped muscle at the bottom of the sirloin and there are two, a left and a right one.

Some of the most beautiful coastline in America

I cook this cut in my barbecue classes and often find that my students from the mid-West and the East have not heard about it. I tell them to ask for “butchers cut” if they want to locate it. It’s called butchers cut because the butcher saves it for his or her family. It’s usually ground into hamburger but is very tender and flavorful if you know how to cook it. The wood of choice to cook tri tip is Santa Maria red oak which is indigenous along California’s central coast. It’s a species of hardwood oak that burns slowly and evenly to produce a mellow sweet smoke.

Santa Maria style grill

The traditional way for cooking tri tip is on a special grill called a Santa Maria grill which is an open pit with a wheel and chain that lets you lower the grill grates close to the fire to get a nice char before raising the grate, so it is higher over the pit to roast the remainder of the time. Most times, it’s cooked medium to medium rare. The seasoning is usually just salt, black pepper, and powdered garlic. I have a half dozen tasty ways to cook tri tip and, in this recipe, I share one which is my favorite which uses instant coffee powder. Tri tip is a meat I love to cook and I won 1st place in the Tri Tip Championship Throwdown in 2009 in Santa Maria, the tri tip capital of the world. Once it’s cooked, you can’t really taste the coffee and there is a subtle and unique flavor which I think you’ll like.

  • Total Time: 1 hour 5 mins
  • Yield: 4 1x


  • Two pieces of Choice grade beef tri tip, trimmed of all fat and sinew (about 2 lbs each)
  • 2 tablespoons Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee (I used Folgers)
  • 4 tablespoons SYD Hot Rub + 3 tablespoons granulated garlic


  1. Apply a coat of Worcestershire sauce all over the tri tip
  2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of instant coffee evenly over each side of each tri tip
  3. Sprinkle an even coating of the SYD rub plus garlic
  4. Let rest for 30 mins. Start your pit and get it to 275 degrees
  5. Cook the tri tip until internal temp is about 110 degrees (about 30-45 mins depending on how hot your pit is)
  6. Transfer the tri tip to a hot grill and char the outside to get some grill marks. Remove when internal is about 125 degrees and keep warm. Internal temps will rise to about 130 which is medium rare.
  7. When you cut the tri tip, it’s important to recognize that the meat grain runs from nose-to-tail on the stealth fighter shaped cut. So, what I do is I cut my tri tip into three pieces. For each piece, I rotate it 90 degrees before I cut so I cut against the grain. If you don’t cut it against the grain, the slices will be tougher. Slice it between 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. I like to scoop the juices on my cutting board with my cutting knife and ladle it back on my sliced meat. Sprinkle some SYD Hot rub to taste on the meat. Serve immediately 

  • Author: Harry Soo
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 45 mins
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: American

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