Tri Tip and the Gospel according to Santa Maria

Greetings Carnivores,

Back in 1988, I graduated from University with my Bachelor’s Degree. As a graduation gift to myself, I jumped on my motorcycle and headed anywhere but here. My ultimate destination was California but how, and when I got there just didn’t matter. Turns out I was gone for over a year and a half.

After a number of months and many, many miles, I eventually found myself in the Central Coast region of California, and fell in love with a town called San Luis Obispo. The “Happiest City in America” sits roughly 200 miles north of Los Angeles and 200 miles south of San Francisco. This idyllic town of about 50 thousand souls sits smack dab in the middle of the Central Coast wine growing region and 10 minutes from the ocean.

Montana de Oro State park is minutes away. Millions upon millions of migrating Monarch Butterflies stop here to rest, on their way to Mexico for the winter. It’s a truly staggering, humbling sight.

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MILLIONS of Monarch Butterflies resting in the trees at Montana de Oro State Park

Sit on the bluffs overlooking the vast Pacific and count the Grey whales as they pass by on their own love quest to the warm waters off Mexico.

You can count dozens of these behemoths every day during the migration

On the map, you’ll find the famous Pacific Coast Highway # 1 and California Interstate Highway 101 intersect here.

You are here, … or at least, you SHOULD be !!

San Luis Obispo or SLO as it’s known, is home to California Polytechnic State University. Cal Poly is the Alma Mater for a couple of celebrities too. Weird Al Yankovic and, one of the best shortstops who ever played the game for the Cardinals in St Louis or anywhere in Major League Baseball for that matter, Ozzie Smith.

Oh ya … and the Iceman Chuck Liddell, Hall of famer from the UFC, also calls SLO home.

I loved this town for it’s laid back attitude, friendly people, great climate, relative proximity to the Pacific Ocean, awesome motorcycle friendly canyon roads AND … MARKET NIGHT !!!

Every Thursday night, the main drag in San Luis Obispo closes down to vehicle traffic and farmers and vendors set up on the street. The best thing about SLO and Higuera Street, every Thursday night: the HUGE BBQ’s that roll into town!!

You can smell it for blocks and blocks. All of your other senses go numb. They’ve been completely overridden by your Olfactory system. You have the true heart of a Carnivore and your nose drags you through the smoke toward it like a Siren song.  Powerless to fight the drool you stumble, Zombie-like down Higuera to the epicentre of the intoxicating smells. Cold beverage in hand, you pass fresh farm produce, baked goods and all manner of knickknacks.

Through the smoke you finally see it.

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You can almost smell it … oh my!

The Sirens are now Angels singing, you think you see St. Peter at the Pearly Gates and you give yourself willingly to the smoke.

Pork ribs, big Beef ribs, Sausage, Chicken, and Tri Tip sandwiches, sliced thin and piled high on a fresh bun. You sit on the ground or grab some curb and dive in.

Admit it … you’re drooling right now, aren’t you?

Ok so, I like many others have to admit something I was completely unaware of prior to arriving in SLO.  The regional “style” of BBQ around here is known quite simply as “Santa Maria BBQ”. The centrepiece of this BBQ “style” is the humble Beef bottom Sirloin, better known as Tri Tip.

The humble Bottom Sirloin Tri Tip

Historically, the Santa Maria ‘style’ dates back to the mid-19th century and is sooooo entrenched in this part of the country’s fabric that the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce actually copyrighted the preparation of the Tri Tip. The Tri Tip and the Santa Maria “style” BBQ is so famous, this California city can totally hold it’s own when mentioning other famous BBQ “styles” such as Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina, St. Louis, Chicago and even Texas.

What exactly IS a Santa Maria BBQ?

Quite simply, Bottom Sirloin Tri Tip seasoned with Salt, Pepper and Garlic then roasted whole, over California Red Oak hardwood, sliced thin across the grain, served with a side of regionally, equally famous Pink Pinquito beans, grilled Linguica Portuguese sausage, and a salad of some sort, and always fresh bread, usually buttered with garlic and grilled.

Ahhhhh … the Holy Grail, Santa Maria BBQ

Ask anyone in the area and they’ll tell you, it’s the California Red Oak that makes this so special. Sounds simple enough I know but … that’s it. Pure, unadulterated BBQ magic.

I have to admit, being a Butcher for all these years I, (we in the North) never used the Bottom Sirloin like this. Tri tip sold up here is usually cut into stew or Kabobs but, I can tell you something else: for the past few years, ever since returning home to my native Canada, I have been preaching the gospel according to Santa Maria … one convert at a time. It’s been a daunting task but … I’m up to the challenge … 🙂

For more great Tri Tip recipes check out my friend Chef Jeff Parker

I hope you will try this cut and please come back and let me know what you think.

Until next time, thanks for reading and following. Please come back and comment, ‘like’ and ‘follow’ my posts through WordPress. I will do my very best to continue to bring you informative, educational and hopefully well written, witty dialogue.

I REALLY appreciate your support.

Stay hungry Carnivores