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What I Learned: Santa Maria-Style Barbecue

santa-maria-bbq

Photo: Peter Pham

I have always been fascinated with barbecue culture. Waking up at the first light of dawn to tend to the fires, choosing from an assortment of wood to burn to enhance the flavor, and the plump and tender reward that comes from hours of manning the smoker.

There have been so many different styles of barbecue, each specific to a region, that always leaves me salivating for details. Every time I visit a new barbecue joint, I find my inquisitiveness for the details just as powerful as my hunger for the ‘cue.

Here I am, just a dude who loves barbecue ready to seek out pitmasters from all over to see what’s the story and techniques behind these different types of barbecue styles.

First up on my barbecue tour of knowledge is Santa Maria-style.

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This Central California-based type of barbecue is the lifeblood of pitmaster Jason Espiritu’s Stoked! concept. Found at Smorgasburg Los Angeles, Espiritu runs the Stoked booth with fellow pitmaster Mario Dolete where the team serve hungry barbecue fans Santa Maria staples like tri-tip, garlic bread, and pinquito beans.

I spoke to Espiritu, eager to learn more about his craft and where his barbecue comes from.


So what’s Santa Maria Barbecue?

santa-maria-bbq

Photo: Peter Pham

According to the pitmaster, the Santa Maria style barbecue tradition began in the 1800s when California was still a part of Mexico. A region ripe with cattle, Mexican ranchers known as “vaqueros” were the gatekeepers to the supply of beef.

The vaqueros would throw huge barbecues for the community a few times each year, bringing everyone together for a feast. I’d like to picture it as a meat-filled House Party prequel, complete with an 1800s Kid ‘n Play.

A few cows would be chosen to be butchered and all the cuts would be cooked over a large pit dug into the ground. The meats would then be seasoned with a simple rub and whole logs of red oak thrown into the fire, letting the wood burn beneath the meat for hours.

Espiritu recalls:

“During the summers every weekend there would be 10-20 barbecue pits set up all up and down our main street in Santa Maria called Broadway. The smoke would literally fill the air making it where we had to drive a little slower. This almost served as a surefire way to bring everyone together.”

Style of Cooking

In Santa Maria, meat is smoked directly over fire in an open pit grill. Traditional cuts of beef such as tri-tip, top sirloin, and ribeye are most commonly used.

A cooking grate is used to lower or raise the meat in order to control the temperature over the course of the smoking process via a crank and pulley system.

Red oak wood, a local wood to the Central Valley of California, is deemed the King of Oak Wood. The wood burns strong, but the smoke doesn’t overpower the taste and texture of the beef.

A typical Santa Maria dry rub consists of salt, pepper, and garlic salt. The idea is to focus more on bringing out the natural beefy flavor of the barbecue.

On The Menu

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Tri-tip

-Tri-tip is typically red oak-smoked and simply dry rubbed.

-It is cut both thin or thick against the grain and served medium rare.

Garlic French Bread

-Garlic butter on French bread toasted over a wood-fired pit.

Pinquito Beans

-A bean local to Santa Maria that’s smaller than the pinto.

-Originated in Mexico, the crop was brought to California where it flourished.

Salsa

-Santa Maria-style barbecue doesn’t use barbecue sauce. Instead, the meat is served with salsa.

Local Central Valley Wine

-Because the Central Valley of California is a well-known wine region, barbecue is sometimes served with wine.

-The robust profile of the wine pairs nicely with the barbecue.


Jason concludes his crash course into the richness of Santa Maria barbecue by reiterating that Santa Maria-style isn’t complete unless it’s shared with others. Seriously, no one wants to eat barbecue alone.

Anyone curious to try the authentic Santa Maria tri-tip smoked with red oak and served with garlic bread may want to check out Stoked! at Smorgasburg LA every Sunday. Currently, they are working to open a brick-and-mortar location in Los Angeles.

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FOODBEAST Recipes

How To Turn These Five Trending Steak Cuts Into Six Delicious Recipes

New cuts of beef are one of the predicted food trends of 2018. In terms of what those trendy steak cuts are, the National Restaurant Association has proposed five different ones that are on the rise this year. Having received one of each from Porter Road, members of the Foodbeast editorial squad decided to put their heads together and craft a bunch of recipes out of these steaks.

Myself, Foodbeast managing editor Reach Guinto, and Foodbeast writers Peter Pham and Isai Rocha met up with Foodbeast editor-in-chief Elie Ayrouth to produce dishes out of the following trendy steak cuts:

Coulotte: also known as the picanha, it comes with a fat cap on top and is best roasted or slowly cooked on a grill.

Shoulder Tender or Teres Major: a cut right next to the tenderloin, or Filet Mignon. It’s incredibly tender and best treated just like the filet. Sear it fast as it doesn’t take long to cook this steak.

Petite Sirloin: aka the ball tip. Comes from right next to the sirloin of a steak and is quite versatile, just like sirloin.

Sirloin Bavette or Flap: Similar to a flank or flap steak, this is best marinated and grilled before being sliced super thin.

Tri-tip: Popular in California for Santa Maria-style barbecue, this hunk of meat is now getting recognition elsewhere, too. It’s best enjoyed on the grill.

After doing some research and combining that with some of our own ideas, we came up with six total recipes that involved these different steaks. Each of them allowed us to either see how the steak does best in its natural cooking environment, or trying a familiar cut of steak in a brand new setting. Here’s the recipes we came up with, along with how we felt the steak performed in each.

1. Pan-Seared Petite Sirloin With Purple Cauliflower Puree and Glazed Carrots

Reach developed the entire recipe for this dish, going for his take on a upscale steak dish at a fine-dining restaurant. Cooked to a medium rare, the steak was easier to cut through than butter. There’s not much marbling on the sirloin ball tip, but it’s still a tender piece of meat, being just a touch tougher than a ribeye steak.

Our thoughts:

“I felt like I cooked that a lot quicker than a ribeye. It’s a good replacement if you’re not trying to pay up for a ribeye.” – Reach

I actually like the chew. The crispy garlic on top is incredible. This puree is sooo nice!” – Elie

“It slices like butter.” – Pete

Recipe:

1) Cut one head of purple cauliflower into pieces, and steam in a microwave with 1 tbsp of water until cooked. Blend together with 1/2 cup cream, 2 tbsp butter, salt and pepper to season, and 2 tsp each of ancho chili powder, Hungarian paprika, and thyme until smooth.

2) Season a 6-ounce sirloin ball tip steak on each side. Sear the steak in a pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. Add 4 cloves of crushed garlic and 2 sprigs of rosemary to the pan, then melt in 2 tbsp butter and spoon over the garlic, rosemary, and steak. Cook for 2-3 minutes to a medium rare before resting.

3) Cut 1/4 cup carrots into match sticks, then saute in olive oil for 2 minutes. Season and add a pinch of chili flakes. Add in the juice from half a lime and 2 tbsp of allulose syrup (or honey), then toss together to glaze the carrots. Serve.

2. Bacon-Wrapped Teres Major Medallions with Mushroom Cream Sauce and Roasted New Potatoes

This was my twist on Steak Diane, which consists of steak served in a creamy sauce that has been flambe’ed with Cognac. I swapped the spirit out for Maker’s Mark, and went for bacon-wrapped medallions of the shoulder tender. The dish packs a lot of flavor, but a word of caution: it’s best to use toothpicks to bind the bacon and steak together. As you can see above, my version would look 10 times better if I had followed that advice.

For a complete meal, I whipped up a batch of Fragrant Roasted Potatoes as a side accompaniment. There were more than plenty for the dish, and apparently, people liked them. The entire Foodbeast squad was snacking on the rest of them as we cooked.

Our thoughts:

“Out here with a BUTTER KNIFE cutting it, okay!!” – Reach

“Very soft, very tender cut.” – Costa

“This is a beautiful cut of meat.” – Elie

Recipe:

1) Cut 12 oz of Teres major into 6 medallions, then wrap each one with a strip of bacon. Insert a toothpick to hold together, then place in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up. 

2) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Add 2 tbsp olive oil to a baking tray lined with tinfoil. Add 2 pounds of baby potatoes, 1 tbsp garlic, 1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tbsp lemon zest, and 1/2 tbsp Aleppo pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, and mix when cooled.

3) Sear off the bacon-wrapped medallions on each side for 2 minutes, then take out to rest. In the same pan, saute 2 tbsp finely chopped shallots and 1 tbsp of chopped garlic for 1 minute before adding 10 quartered Baby Bella mushrooms. Add salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp of thyme and cook for another 3 minutes.

4) Deglaze the pan with a shot of Maker’s Mark. If you’re feeling risky (or chefy), a bit of flambé here is appropriate.

5) Add 1/2 cup beef stock to your pan and bring to a boil. Reduce for 3 minutes, then add 1 tbsp cream and reduce for another 2 minutes. Turn the gas off, and mix through 1 tbsp of fresh chopped chives.

6) Plate up, then garnish with more chives.

3. Tri-Tip Beef Stew

Having grilled tri-tip many times before, I opted to go for something a little different with this cut. I wanted to see how well it would perform as a stew, and gave it a shot with my own personal blend of spices. Overall, the texture was a bit tough, but for the most part, it did work out pretty well. I would definitely do this again, but with a stew cut over tri-tip.

Our thoughts:

“I don’t know if it was just the size of the chunks that I cut, but this is a little more on the tough side, maybe could have been cooked down more… If I had cut them smaller it would probably be more tender right now.” – Costa

“As a stew, it feels more like big chunks of meat that happen to be sitting in broth, it’s not cohesive… They’re not chewy in a bad way, it’s just too chewy for a broth.” – Elie

Spices:

– 1 tbsp toasted onion powder

– 1 tbsp toasted garlic powder

– 1 tbsp allspice

– 1 tbsp cumin seeds

– ½ tbsp Hungarian paprika

– ½ tbsp ground mace

Recipe:

1) Sear off 4 oz of chopped bacon in a Dutch oven with half your spices and 1 tbsp chopped garlic. Add 2 pounds of chunked up tri-tip, and season. Sear off all of your beef.

2) Add 1 cup diced white onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1/2 cup chopped carrots, and 11 quartered Baby Bella mushrooms, along with more salt and pepper and the remainder of your spices. Cook for 5 minutes until the onion goes translucent.

3) Deglaze with 1 cup red wine and add 2 cups beef stock. Bring up to a boil, then simmer with the lid off for 2 hours.

4. Picanha with Roasted Artichokes

trendy steak cuts

Having never worked with picanha before, I kept it simple on flavor to let the beef speak for itself. With just lime, cumin, and seasoning, this was one of the more delicious and tender cuts of the six we had. Elie had a bit of a food orgasm when we cut into this bad boy.

Keeping the theme of this dish simple, Elie crafted a roasted artichoke to go with it that was sparse on additions, but bursting with flavor.

Our thoughts:

“The fat cap is nice on there.” – Reach

“The fat helps keep the meat very moist, and helps to control the cook as well.” – Costa

“I don’t like fat traditionally, but I’m okay with this fat. It sort of popped.” – Elie

Recipe:

1) Score the fat on a 4-5 pound cut of picanha, taking care not to cut the meat itself. Squeeze the juice of 6 limes over the meat and rub in. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with 2 tbsp of cumin seeds, and rub over the score marks and meat thoroughly.

2) Grill on a high heat for about 2 hours or until fully cooked.

3) Cut the bases of 2 whole artichokes so that they can stand up. Rub with 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and 1 tbsp sriracha, if desired. Season to taste, cover in foil, then roast at 425 degrees F for 50-60 minutes.

5. Wine-Marinated Flap With Bacon-Lemon Brussel Sprouts

trendy steak cuts

Personally, this was my favorite dish of the entire day. Reach and Isai teamed up on some killer bacon-lemon brussel sprouts, and they harmonized with the rich, meaty flavors of the wine-marinated flap. The crispy parts at the end were full of deliciousness, and so was the tender center. We only marinated it for 45 minutes, so imagine just how much more mouthwatering this would be if you gave it the full 48-hour treatment, like I recommend in the recipe below.

Our thoughts:

“Cooked to a medium well, still very tender and very juicy. For a flap, it was a very tender cut.” – Costa

“I like that it turned out with that nice bark on it. I don’t like fajitas normally, but I like the way it was handled.” – Reach

Recipe:

1) Marinate a 4-pound cut of flap with 1 cup of red wine, 2 sprigs of rosemary, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, and salt and pepper to season. Let sit for 48 hours in the fridge. Grill for 30 minutes on each side at a medium to medium-high heat.

2) Fry up 6 ounces of chopped bacon, then toss in 4 cups of brussel sprouts, 1 tsp lemon peel, and salt and pepper to season. Transfer to a baking tray, and cover with the bacon drippings and 2 tbsp olive oil.

3) Roast in an oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F. When it comes out of the oven, squeeze over the juice of 1 whole lemon.

6. Broccoli Beef

We had some leftover pieces of shoulder tender and tri-tip hanging around. Being the creative culinary genius that he is, Pete took those extraneous beef chunks and whipped up a masterful broccoli beef.

Our thoughts:

“It was tender and almost sort of melted in your mouth. Definitely better than Panda Broccoli Beef.” – Isai

“Shoulder filet was definitely more tender, but neither was really that tough. Both of them lent to the sauce very well. You could tell that they were tougher cuts, but they were the right cuts for this stir-fry. Also, Pete makes a kick-ass marinade.” – Costa

Recipe:

1) Slice up a half pound of beef cuts (shoulder tender and tri-tip) into strips. Set aside.

2) Cut up 1 head of broccoli into small chunks.

3) Sear off the beef with 1 tsp ginger and a pinch of Chinese Five Spice. Stir in 1/4 cup oyster sauce, 2 tbsp soy sauce, and 1 tbsp sugar after 5 minutes, when the beef is browned.

4) Add in your broccoli and cook for 3 minutes, so that the broccoli has some crunch but is tender as well. Serve with Jasmine rice.


We managed to pull off all of these mouthwatering recipes, but it wasn’t without a ton of effort and improvisation on our hand. Pete came up with a list of kitchen gadgets that would’ve made these recipes (and our lives) a whole lot easier. Still, I’m happy with the results we came up with and the full belly of steak I had heading home.

All photos by Peter Pham // Foodbeast.