1st Place Tri Tip in Santa Maria Championship in Wild West BBQ Bash


We’re astounded that we drove to Santa Maria, the tri tip capital of the world, and ran off with 1st place in a Tri Tip Throwdown against all the renowned championship tri tip teams from Santa Maria, local restaurants, and catering outfits that have been cooking tri-tip over red oak for several generations. All these local teams showed up in full force with hometown advantage to show the world how tri tip is done.

Considering the depth and multigeneration experience of the local competitors, local contest judges, and blind judging, many have told us it was a very special win as we, in the words of one of our competitors, “snatched 1st Place in Tri Tip from the belly of the beast.”

We attribute our success to three factors: 1) we made an important tactical decision to separate our entry from the pack, so we didn’t cook it traditional Santa Maria style (salty garlic-based flavor profile) like most teams.   Our non-traditional formula worked when the judges voted with their taste buds; 2) we were supplied with ultra-premium tri tips by a specialty butcher shop called The Corner Butcher Shop in La Verne, California.  The Corner Butcher is run by two brothers Will and John, and their product contributed greatly to our success.  I had heard about them from my physician who told me they were making a name for themselves in the local community for their high-quality meats.  Will and I hit it off instantly when I visited their store and he showed me his smoker (yes, they run a deli selling low and slow BBQ meats) and their rubs and sauces; and 3) I had cooked seven tri tip recipes leading up to the contest to refine my technique and flavors after Googling every promising Internet tri-tip recipe I could find.  My baseline product was the traditional salty garlicky Santa Maria rub cooked in a grill-smoke technique.  When I compared it to other favorite methods I use, I decided that I liked one of my non-traditional methods better and used that in the contest.

In addition to the Tri Tip win, we also came in 1st in Brisket making it two back-to-back first place wins.  Together with 5th for ribs, we received enough points to come in 4th overall among 24 teams who showed.  Since this was a Texas-based IBCA sanctioned contest, where tri tip is not a contest meat category, our tri tip score was not counted in the points totals.

On Friday evening, we had the traditional potluck and I made two dishes: Carpaccio of Salmon and Crab over Tortilla Shell topped with Salmon Caviar, and BBQ Beef with Italian Potato Gnocchi and Spicy Jalapeno Mango Sausages topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano Flakes.  We also had a couple of event volunteers stop by to help make the salmon appetizer.

Before the potluck, I spent time with Brian Stein, head chef from Susie Q Brand’s Far Western Tavern Restaurant, a Santa Maria landmark featured on TV and Sunset Magazine.  Brian gave me an history overview and quick lesson on Santa Maria style cooking and its unique Paquinto Beans and Salsa sides.  Brian served their tri tip and sides for the potluck, and they were delicious.

After the potluck, I conducted a mini clinic called Ribology 101 where I covered the basics and tips for selecting and trimming IBCA spareribs.  The class was well attended by new teams and several veteran teams.  We covered topics such as Hollywood Cut, St. Louis Ribs, Kansas City Ribs, silver skin, and Alien Flap.  A number joined the CBBQA membership afterwards as they wanted to further their skills and abilities and joining was a great way to get started in BBQ.

A big congrats go out to our BBQ friends Chris and Bekah Juencke for their first Grand Champion win.  It was a pleasure cooking with you. And I just know you’re returning a favor to us for us beating you last week and kicked our fannies. We couldn’t have our fannies kicked by a nicer team than Smokin Yankees. Great job on your first GC win and first place ribs! It’s been a long time coming for a hardworking and far travelling family team!

A big congrats also to Rub Co for Reserve Champion. You guys’ rock! What an awesome achievement for your rookie team! I wonder if your teammate’s Greg Clay’s recent attendance to my June Pitmaster 101 Class had something to do with this RGC! I’d like to think so!   I heard your winning chicken “sang” to you <inside joke>!

As expected, our computerized cooking system called The Stoker worked flawlessly and allowed us to maintain the constant temps needed to produce our award-winning entries.  Many stopped by to check out our system and we told everyone to call John Jackson of Rock’s Bar-B-Que to order their system that provided unattended cooking for our Weber smokers for up to 14 hours on a single load of briquettes.

A shout-out also goes to Roberto Lopez of T&H Prime Meats and Sausage, from San Marcos, who supplied us with premium quality specialty meats.

Many thanks to Lauren Burleson of the Family Care Network, sponsors, helpers, and volunteers who put on such a fantastic event in a park setting.  It was great the mayor came out to meet us and hand out the awards.  Thanks to Kelly and Kathleen for officiating this event.  We can’t wait to be invited back to the one in 2010!