Sunday morning, April 2, "toodie jane" joined me in Santa Maria to see what might be left of the weekend tri tip barbecue culture here. In 2006, the Santa Barbara County health authorities cracked down on the outdoor stands run by community groups and most have disappeared.
We cruised down Broadway driving from north to south looking for plumes of smoke and the aroma of beef singed with red oak fire. Our mission: find the classic plate of barbecued tri tip, salsa, pinquito beans, green salad and garlic bread.
I was starting to get discouraged after driving at least two miles without a sighting. But then I saw smoke up ahead, and the Filipino Community of Santa Maria Valley & Vicinity food truck in the Smart & Final parking lot at 1721 S. Broadway.
A rather extensive menu here, offering tri tip, tri tip kabobs and chicken. I saw one man enjoying the Chicken adobo plate, $6, for his breakfast and it looked and smelled good.
Cooking is done on site, barbecuing over red oak.
We had arrived just as the first meats were coming off the grill, so everything was fresh.
The tri tip combo dinner plate, $11, includes one kabob, two hefty slice of tri tip roast, green salad, salsa, soy sauce, and rice. No beans, garlic bread or mac n cheese. The kabob was juicy and tender, likewise the medium-cooked tri tip, and tasty from the heavy rub and soy sauce-based seasonings. Salsa's canned Embasa brand. The meat compartment in the divided plate has a puddle of soy sauce marinade, and leaving the leftovers to soak in this overnight made them inedibly salty.
Then we took a backroad detour to the historic center of Orcutt. We stopped at Old Town Market and learned that it does tri tip on Saturdays. Some of the whole roasts of barbecued tri tip were wrapped and available for sale in the fridge. I almost bought one, but put it back down. Someone else will need to do that taste test.
Old Town Market
405 E Clark Ave
Orcutt, CA 93455
Swinging back to Santa Maria, a stop at Spencer's revealed this poster offering barbecue cooked over red oak on Saturdays. Again, a day late.
Spencer's Fresh Market
3580 Orcutt Rd
Santa Maria, CA 93455
From Spencer's we headed northward on Broadway in Santa Maria again to circle back to the smoke plume spotted earlier. This turned out to be emanating from the parking lot of Calvary Chapel, 2620 Santa Maria Way.
The Men's Ministry barbecues once or twice a month to have tri tip sandwiches ready to sell when the parishioners exit Sunday morning services. A sandwich, chips and a drink are $8. The meat's cooked on site, and the menfolk were cleaning up when we arrived, noshing on the trimmed off ends and some sausage.
The sandwiches were already assembled and wrapped, so no choice of doneness. I had been told that the meat would be cooked to well-done. I bought one anyway. I was surprised to discover on unwrapping that the tri tip was actually medium rare. The crust was pretty tough and it needed salt. Oddly, the meat did not taste that beefy. The French roll turned soggy from steaming in the wrapper.
Leaving Santa Maria, we headed north to Rancho Nipomo BBQ. The website promised that tri tip would be smoked the traditional way over red oak.
Rancho Nipomo BBQ
108 Cuyama Lane
I ordered my tri tip sandwich, $9.45, as a "dip" to avoid the smothering of barbecue sauce on the thinly pre-sliced meat. The fluffy telera bun was gently toasted to build more backbone to hold the half-pound of tri tip. While the meat had some nice smokey notes, the thin slices reheated by marking on the grill were dry as dust. Adding the salty, tinny tasting jus could not revive this.
Tres leches cake turned out to be bland and boring here.
"toodie jane" had one more idea before we gave up the quest . . . a swing by the Nipomo Men's Club, 217 W. Tefft St, located a stone's throw from the iconic Jocko's. Bingo! There we found the local Adobe Nipomo 4-H club holding a tri tip fundraiser that day.
Dads were in charge of the oak-fueled pit. Sandwiches were pre-made, but I spotted some whole tri tip roasts sitting on a corner of the grill to keep warm and asked if they'd find me some medium rare. No problem, and then I was asked if I wanted the meat dipped. He said he'd just do the meat and not the bun or it would not hold up for my ride home. The meat was dragged through the juices dripping off the carving board, not a canned product.
Tri tip sandwiches with a bag of chips and a canned drink were $10. This had double the amount of meat as the one from the church and was more uniformly pink without tough bark. Enough seasoning, smoke and extra essence from the juices highlighted the tender beef such that no sauce was needed though I did enjoy a bit of the salsa with it.
The Adobe Nipomo 4-H dads are the top finishers in my tri tip tour. Well-seasoned tri tip, expert smoking and adding back in the juices made this a stand-out. Since they're not around every weekend, the Filipino truck would be the back up choice as it cooks every Saturday and Sunday in Santa Maria.
Yet, I'll have to add that not finding pinquito beans or garlic bread anywhere was a disappointment. For the full treatment, I can recommend Old San Luis BBQ Co. in SLO. https://www.chowhound.com/post/san-lu... Also, the annual August festival at Cambria's Santa Rosa Catholic Church where I had an excellent plate in 2011.
Where are your favorites?
The Unofficial Santa Maria Barbecue Page