The Origins of Santa Maria Tri-Tip

December 17, 2009

Anyone who follows the smoke in the Santa Maria Valley is bound to discover sizzling cuts of tri-tip, which has become a staple of the local barbecue tradition.

So what is tri-tip, and how did it become a cornerstone of Santa Maria Style BBQ?

According to R.H. Tesene’s definitive book titled Santa Maria Style Barbecue, “In the 1950s, a local butcher named Bob Schutz perfected the tri-tip, which is a two to three pound triangular shaped cut off the top sirloin.”

In the same book, Clarence Minetti, founder of the Far Western Tavern, recalls: “It was brought to my attention by Bob Schutz, who then owned the Santa Maria Market on North Broadway. It proved to be a very good cut of meat…The tri-tip has become the most popular cut of meat for family barbecues, as the cuts are smaller.”

And thus a new tradition was born, with tri-tip joining top block sirloin as a signature cut of Santa Maria BBQ. Prior to tri-tip being popularized in the Santa Maria Valley, the cut was mainly disregarded by butchers as something to be used for ground beef or stew meat. In fact, even today, many butchers outside of the Central Coast still don’t know what “tri-tip” is.

Their loss! It just makes Bob Schutz’s gift to Santa Maria Style Barbecue all the more special.

P.S. The above photo is reproduced from Chef John’s Food Wishes blog.

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