Santa Maria BBQ

Anchored by the heft of fire‑charred red meat, Santa Maria barbecue is more than a distinct way of grilling or an especially tasty cut of beef. It is a whole precise feast, cooked and served in a ritual way, with a local history going back well over a hundred years and a harmony of flavors that evoke the bygone spirit of California cattle country. The correct complement of side dishes is paramount. They include pinquito beans, which are pink pillows half the size of red beans (also known as poquitos) cooked long and slow, seasoned with pork, pepper, garlic, and onion. After four or five hours in the bean pot, they develop a tongue‑teasing snap, and each little pod is silk‑soft, served in a soupy heap that mingles happily with juices from adjacent beef. Lengths of buttered and garlicked toasted French bread also are de rigueur for mopping the plate. The one other fundamental element is salsa, which can be used on everything: dolloped on the beans, spread on bread, and as relish for the meat. It is usually a mild salsa, mostly tomatoes, flavored with onion and perhaps a dash of horseradish, and laced with droopy bits of balmy green chiles.

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