15 May. 2010|
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When I pulled up to the steakhouses of Santa Maria, California, I found pickup trucks next to pickup trucks.
Santa Maria's claim to culinary fame is a type of open-flame grilling that dates back to the 19th century. Grilled linguica, with a wood-kissed natural casing and juicy filling, was just as memorable.
The Hitching Post is one of several steakhouse "taverns" that have been Santa Maria institutions since the 1950s (in fact, the Hitching Post is an official Santa Barbara landmark).
A stop at Shaw's Restaurant, one of the only steakhouses actually located in the town of Santa Maria, rewarded us with a fantastic heap of tri-tip.
A classic serving of Santa Maria tri-tip involves toasted garlic bread, a bowl of pinquito beans, and a side fresh red salsa. Santa Maria barbecue, like Maryland Pit Beef, doesn't adhere to contemporary rules but after spending a day at the region's taverns and steakhouses, I could taste about a century of tradition distilled into the craft of seriously delicious wood-smoke grilling. The snappiest link to Santa Maria's Portuguese heritage, this spiced pork sausage is available for purchase (cooked or uncooked) all over town. Running the gradient between family-friendly restaurant and western saloon, each house boasts the same constants: red oak pits, awesome signage, and a thing for red meat. Like other signature specialties in regional 'cue, tri-tip didn't take center stage in Santa Maria until the 20th century.
Shaw's tri-tip sandwich did well by all three (plus fries), but the meat alone would have been worth the $17 price tag. He's also edited and written for his own international food and travel blog, The Eaten Path, since 2007.
Red oak logs smolder below the grate, cooking the meat and vegetables lying above and bursting into an expressive flame whenever the cook adds a hefty splash of red wine.