bison tri tip cowgirl magazine

Santa Maria-style tri tip dates back to the mid-1800s, when the Spanish ranchers of the Santa Maria Valley celebrated spring roundup with barbecued tri tip for family, friends, and the local vaqueros.  Cut from the triangular lower tip of the bottom sirloin, the popularity of this delicious-yet-cheaper sirloin cut has endured, spreading beyond California—and beyond beef to bison.

For a traditional Santa Maria meal, pair your bison tri tip with pinquito beans (which are native to the Santa Maria Valley), fresh salsa, toasted garlic bread dipped in melted butter, and a green salad.

COOK’S NOTE: Bison cooks much more quickly than beef, due to its density and low fat content, so carefully monitor the internal temperature of your bison tri tip with a meat thermometer as you grill.

Serves 4-6

  • 1 bison tri tip (about 2 lbs., you can source this from
  • Red oak chips (you can source these and the pinquito beans at

Santa Maria Rub:

  • 1 tablespoon finely ground coffee
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon

Santa Maria Pinquito Beans:

  • 1 pound pinquito beans
  • 2 slices bacon, diced
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon diced Hatch or poblano chiles
  • 3/4 cup tomato puree
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground pepper

Prepare the tri tip: Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl.  Place the tri tip in a baking pan with sides (to help contain the rub).  Sprinkle the rub on the meat and massage it into the meat on all sides.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for an hour.

Prepare the grill: Prepare your charcoal grill for hot direct heat on one side, and indirect heat on the other.  When the coals are white-hot and just before placing the meat on the grill, sprinkle a couple handfuls of red oak chips over the coals.

Grill the tri tip: Sear the tri tip on all sides, 3-4 minutes per side, moving the meat away from the flame if a flare-up occurs.  Just before turning the meat, sprinkle a couple more handfuls of red oak chips over the coals.  Once the tri tip is seared on both sides, move it off direct heat and place it fat-side up on the side of the grill with no coals, maintaining a grill temperature of 250°F to 300°F.

Close the grill and cook until the interior temperature of the thickest part of the meat reaches 115° to 120°F for rare and no more than 125° for medium rare: Like other lean proteins such as elk, venison, and wild duck, tri tip will become tough and less flavorful if cooked past medium rare.  Flip the tri tip every 5 minutes, checking the internal temperature each time.

Once the meat reaches temperature, remove it from the grill and let it rest, loosely tented with foil, for 10-15 minutes, during which time the temperature will rise about 5 degrees.  Slice across the grain to serve.

Prepare the pinquitos: Rinse the raw beans to remove any debris. Place the beans in a medium stockpot and cover with double as much cool water as beans. For example, if you have 2 inches of beans, you need 2 inches of water above the beans. Let beans stand 8 hours or overnight, then drain. Return the beans to the stockpot with enough cold water to cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to the lowest possible simmer. Cook until tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Prepare the sauce: While the beans are simmering, sauté bacon slowly in a saucepan until cooked but not crispy and add to beans. Cook the diced chilies and onion in the bacon fat until lightly browned. Stir the garlic in with the chiles and onions and cook 1 minute. Add tomato puree, 1/2 cup water, chili powder, salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook about 30 minutes.

Add the sauce to the pinquitos: Drain all but about one cup of cooking liquid from the beans, stir in the sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer under a tilted lid, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the mixture is thick.

Fresh Salsa:

  • 6 ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded, diced, rinsed, and drained
  • 1 or 2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and minced
  • 3/4 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/4 cup tomato puree
  • Juice of 2 Key limes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cilantro, for garnish

Combine the first six ingredients, cover, and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  To serve, garnish with cilantro.