California’s BBQ Belt
Yeah, there’s Texas for that mesquite-kissed goodness. And you’ve got the Carolinas, where whole hog and hickory reign supreme. Kansas City joins the discussion with it’s claim as the hub of all things BBQ, a melting pot of the very best from each region. But for those “in the know”, there’s also a gold mine right here in the “Golden State”!
Sure, us Californians boast of the abundance of fresh seafood so graciously provided by that big ol’ pond we call the Pacific Ocean. The very best authentic Mexican food is at our beckoning call (made in non-descript stands by smiling grannies who were living south of the border just weeks before). We have our star-studded, 5-star eateries with their “asian-fusion” creations, and asparagus and black truffle pizzas.
And we’ve got In-N-Out. Boo-Yah!
Years ago, during a simpler, more rustic time in California’s glorious history, the central coast was home to a number of cattle ranches. The original cowboys–known as “vaqueros”–would gather after a cattle round up to enjoy an outdoor feast. They would dig a pit in the ground, fill it with the native red oak that graced the local landscape, and start a raging inferno of fragrant deliciousness. Slabs of beef would hang over the fire to pick up the glorious flavors of the coals and smoke. Tri tip quickly became the most popular cut, and a distinct version of BBQ was born: Santa Maria-Style BBQ (named after the city that was central to the cattle ranches)! Many food writers actually consider the central coast the “BBQ Capital of the World”.
A few things have changed with the times. No need for digging, a standard Santa Maria grill is a marvel of simplicity. What you see pictured above is a large grill that can be raised and lowered above the oak wood fire (depending on the intensity). No propane. No electricity. Accompanying the BBQ’d meats are now beans and fresh salsa. But what hasn’t changed is California’s love for Tri Tip. Not real popular outside of the most populous state in the union, this sirloin cut is usually seasoned with salt, garlic, black pepper, ground chiles and, maybe, oregano. But the key ingredient is the red oak.
So what’s the point of this little BBQ history lesson? The BBQ Family will be vacationing this coming week in this storied region. More than likely, we’ll make daily treks to different beaches, exploring tide pools, caves and hidden coves. I’ll sample the locally caught seafood at one of the historic fishing ports. I’ll watch my share of Food Network, stay up late, sleep in, and allow my brain to enjoy a temporary state of vegetative bliss. But I am also commited to my BarBeQuethMinistry! calling. I will continue my BBQ research with the utmost of detail and honor. I must explore California’s BBQ belt in all it’s smokey glory. I’ll hit the most legendary joints, whether it be a roadside stand or a sit-down restaurant. I’ll consume some form of Santa Maria BBQ every blessed day. For research purposes, of course. I owe it to you, my faithful readers.
I’ll not let you down.