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July 28, 2003 » 5:26 pm

Santa Maria Steaks at The Hitching Post

About a month ago, my friend Justin mentioned a town near Santa Barbara, California that claimed to have the world’s best barbecue. As I explained a few weeks ago, I claim to be somewhat of an authority on barbecue, having eaten it outside of California. To be so near (well, about 250 miles away) yet so ignorant of a place claiming to be the cradle of barbecue civilization was somewhat of a shock to me.    (4N)

I attempted to right that wrong yesterday at The Hitching Post, a steakhouse in Casmalia. Casmalia is a former mining town in the Santa Maria Valley, about 75 miles north of Santa Barbara.    (4O)

Santa Maria barbecue has its roots with the Spanish ranchers who populated the region in the 1850s. To reward los vaqueros after a successful cattle herd, the ranchers would throw a feast consisting of top sirloin crusted with garlic salt and pepper and cooked slowly over a red oak fire, salsa, and pinquitos, a pinkish bean. Both the beans and the wood are native to Santa Maria.    (4P)

As its boastful claim suggests, Santa Maria takes its meat seriously. My challenge was to find a restaurant that specialized in the local fare. The city’s Chamber of Commerce web site was somewhat unhelpful. I couldn’t find a place whose menu jumped out at me as the real deal. Justin suggested The Hitching Post, which seemed to have a good reputation and also produced its own label of wines.    (4Q)

The steaks at The Hitching Post were excellent, the salsa was fresh, the servings were large, the wine (The Hitching Post Pinot Noir Santa Maria 2000) was good, and the price was reasonable. But, I wasn’t satisfied. I had a beef with their beef; namely, I don’t think The Hitching Post served true Santa Maria barbecue.    (4R)

Most people think that barbecue is food cooked over a hot fire. That’s actually grilling. Barbecue is food cooked slowly over a cool fire. The process tenderizes the meat while imbuing it with a delicious, smoky flavor. It’s what makes barbecued ribs or pulled pork literally fall off the bone.    (4S)

The Hitching Post served steaks, not barbecue. True, they used the correct cut of meat — top block sirloin. True, they rubbed it with garlic salt and pepper. True, they cooked it over a red oak fire. True, the steaks were delicious. But, it still wasn’t barbecue. The kicker was that they did not serve pinquitos.    (4T)

I could only conclude that I did not experience the true Santa Maria dining experience. That wrong still needs to be righted. I suspect that next Sunday, I will once again find myself in Santa Maria, searching, hoping, eating. Stay tuned.    (4U)

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One Response to “Santa Maria Steaks at The Hitching Post”

  1. If you barbecued top sirloin, wouldn’t you end up with something like carne asada? As you say at the end of your post, The Hitching Post served steak, not barbecue…. At a steakhouse, would you expect anything other than grilled meat?

    But I defer to you, O Barbecue Buff. And I await your inevitable follow-up next Sunday with much eagerness.

    (And no pinquitos?? Tsk tsk!)

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