As I repair here at my desk, I’m reminiscent, of well, just yesterday. A day spent at the pit doing what I do. It was a day similar to a long stretch of other days lately, in that it was point blank beautiful outside, and a pleasure to behold. How could I not be out there, putting meat to flame. But it was a day also different, in that I got to cook over an open fire, the venerable Tri Tip Roast. A rarefied cut of meat out here in the Midwest, of which the popularity I do believe may be trending eastwards from the coastal hollows from whence it was immortalized. That of Santa Maria, California.
I’ve long heard stories of this enchanted hamlet, nestled somewhere in the Golden State. And I’ve heard tale of the Tri Tip festivals they hold there, and how the local meat eaters prize this particular cut of beef, and the sheer joy they take in BBQing it for others. In point fact, here is a facebook page devoted to just that.
I know that some day I must pilgrimage there, for it is the call of the pit jockey and it echoes strongly over the western hills. It would surely be to my delight, if not for the lovely aromas and tastes of perfectly executed Tri Tip in their native environs, then for the classy pits from which they were so masterfully grilled there.
Part of the romance of the Tri Tip Festival, and a great share of the poetry there, I think, would be found in their pits. From afar, my oh my but they are pleasing to the eye. As my elder brother would say, “Like Raquel Welch in hot pants“. And up close their charm and steely appeal still holds up under good light and scrutiny. Indeed, if there was ever a beauty contest held just for BBQ grills, well the lavish pits of Santa Maria would probably win every time. I’d betroth one in a heartbeat if I could afford it.
I’ve had cars cheaper than some of these grills. Some things in life will just have to wait, I told myself. Or would they? Maybe there was a poor man’s option out there, that would let a bloke like me experience the joys of a Santa Maria style grill. So, emboldened with a new and novel brain-thrust, I did what any grill lusting chum of age would do in the year 2017. I googled it. And this is what I discovered.
It’s called the Santa Maria Attachment, from Gabby’s Grills. They cost about 200 bucks, 50 of which I found out was for shipping. I read reviews and thought about it for while, you know, the usual routine people do before they crack open their wallets. And then in a moment of passion, and perhaps because it was my birthday, I snatched one up. Maybe it was an impulse buy, I’m not sure, but I haven’t regretted the purchase yet, I’ll tell you that much. The first thing I tested it on was my old chimenea out on the patio, and as you can see, it fit right in there. Thus converting the fire pit into something a wee bit more useful. But it was designed by Junior Castro, founder of Gabby’s Grills, to fit into all kinds of things, not the least of which is your Weber Kettle grill, and that’s where our story leads us next.
So it was, after a trip to the local butcher shop, that the Pond Side Pit paid a quiet homage to the pit masters of Santa Maria, as a hardwood fire crackled underneath a succulent and dripping Tri Tip roast. Oh buddy! I cannot tell you how fun this was, nor the joy that which built up in my heart and toppled out into my soul. Almost like a mini BBQ dream come true. If you like to play with fire, and are one to flip your meat with great frequency, this may be the style of cooking meant for you. Man it was fun.
A Few Specs and Such
The Gabby’s Grill Attachment is built to last too. As soon as I took it out of the box, I knew it would likely survive the 3rd and 4th World Wars with aplomb. The ring is 3/16 inch thick, 1 1/2 inch spun angle iron. And the grate can be cranked up and down like the big boy grills to a height of about 16 inches. Perfect for slower cooking high above the fire, and even better for dropping it down to coal level for a world class sear. Basically this little rig gives you most of the joys of Santa Maria style grilling at a modest man’s price. Plus, no assembly required. Just plunk it over your fire and get to cooking. Can’t beat that.
To do it authentically as they do in Santa Maria, you would also need to get you hands on some red oak. But we didn’t have any red oak, and just used hickory instead. We do ask for the forgiveness of the Santa Maria purists out there. We did what we could, and leveraged what we had.
Zooming up a little, you’ll see we tossed a few potatoes in the there too. Easy cooking people. We rotated the spuds once during the hour they spent down there, and that was enough. Did I mention this was fun stuff!
Seasoning and Stuff
Traditional Santa Maria seasoning goes along with the” less-is-more” mantra you hear a lot of these days. Most purists put only salt, pepper and garlic on their Tri Tips. “SPG” as we call it in the business. And you really can’t go wrong with that. Also, you want a good flame when cooking Santa Maria style. Embrace the flame as if it were another tool in your shop, and let it work for you. You want it licking for the heavens unto your spoils freshly placed there. As far as we know, you want the flames to just touch your meat, not to engulf it.
TIP: Pour a little bit of your manly beverage over the meat as it cooks, letting it drip down into the coals to create a billowing pillar of smoke for to rise unto your plunder. It’s good entertainment, and adds a wee smokier taste to this already wood fired way of cooking.
The End Game
I suppose you should take your Tri Tip to 145 internal, maybe removing it a little before that and wrapping it in foil to rest. The internal temp, like most big cuts of meat will continue to rise a little after it’s removed from the pit. I say, I suppose, because it’s all personal you see. Tri Tips are like big steaks, so cook it like you like your steaks and you’ll be just fine. And remember to always slice it across the grain for a proper and tender chew. Just like you would a brisket. Just like they do out way of Santa Maria, where the red oak smoke also rises. Amen.
Santa Maria Style Tri Tip Roast, grilled over the open fire. Succulent, smokey goodness! If there is a more fun way of watching meat cook, we haven’t heard of it yet!