03 June 2007

For the Love of Tri-Tip

You may think you know barbecue, but unless you've had Santa Maria style, you don't. The perfect barbecue would involve having oakwood burning in your pit, a nice big tri-tip (only seasoned with black pepper, salt and garlic salt), and lots of friends. The common side dishes are usually some type of bean, preferably pinto, salad and garlic bread.

Growing up, I never knew that barbecue meant other things. Some think of meat smothered in sauce, ribs, pulled pork, or in Caayn's case a sloppy-joe like thing. I don't think I ever even had barbecue sauce until I was like 12. It just wasn't how we did things.

Out here, I don't get to have a wood fire. Most of the barbecue pits my family had were home-made (my dad was a welder, my mom's boyfriend at the time was too and he made various kinds). I have to use a gas grill. Which, I must say, was difficult to get used to at first. I've never even used the word 'grill' to mean something being cooked outside! Funny how we adapt to our surroundings.

So when I cook my tri-tip, generally I break away from tradition a little. I like to marinate mine in worchestershire sauce, lots of pepper, salt, garlic powder, a little bit of extra virgin oil olive and a lot of melted butter (why? I don't know, but it tastes good)... then right before it goes on, I throw more of the salt, pepper and garlic on.

Everyone has a different theory on how the meat should be barbecued. Some stick to the method of flipping often, to allow for cooking on all sides as well as for the fat to roll around the meat rather than dripping off into the fire. Others hold to the 'leave it alone!' method. That's where you don't really mess with it. You let it cook and only flip a very few times. My mom was a flipper, so I tend to do that too, however since my whole dynamics of barbecuing is different, I do it much less than her. (Back home, barbecue was like a party, friends and family over, conversation, beer, linguisa and kielbasa mingling with the crowd before the meat was done, so the person watching the meat stayed outside the whole time... here I tend to just go back in the house, since we don't really hang out much in our backyard.) Also, it's best if you don't cook it to well-done, because then the meat is kind of tough. Ideally, the ends would be on the more done side and the middle would be slightly pink.

If you drive around Santa Maria, especially in the summer, there are barbecues up and down Main Street and Broadway all day long. They are usually doing fundraisers of some sort, and you can pull into a parking lot and there will be guys with big pits and lots of meat. They slap the sliced meat onto rolls, sometimes add some salsa and there you have a yummy sandwich. The smells of that town are divine in the summer. But don't think it's strictly a summer thing, because with our mild weather, most people barbecue all year round.

Give it a try some time, it's worth the effort. Oh, and if your butcher doesn't have tri-tip, look for a meat that is pretty big (usually 2lbs or more) and triangular. I just googled it to see what I could find and I came across this article, which would be helpful. And for the record, fat is good on tri-tip. Marbling means more flavor while cooking, so don't look for something that is utterly devoid of white (I don't think you'd find it anyway).