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Entries in tri-tip (13)


Pig versus Cow

Quick follow-up from yesterday regarding the Dusty Buns post. Last night's special at the Bistro??? Chili Cheese Fries. And I guessed PBJ. Maybe corn dogs, soft tacos, and other comfort food won't be far behind. Told you I wasn't far off...On to the final post of the week.

There was a Taco Throwdown 2, but not a Tri Tip Cookoff 3; and as usual, there was plenty of tri-tip at Bulldog Stadium Tailgates and an endless supply of uncooked tri-tip available at Save Mart for the backyard crowd. Yes, The Cured Ham ate tri-tip this year several times, usually cooked by my own hand. Personally, I'm pleased I wrote all about tri-tip this year. I even cooked a buffalo tri-tip.

I will highlight bacon, the Earth's Perfect Food for these Pig vs. Cow. This picture is a bacon wrapped buffalo tri-tip.

I’m still of the opinion that Fresno should be known for its tacos and NOT its several dry, flavorless tri-tip sandwich creations from local restaurants. I can walk into 9 out of 10 local (yes, I’m going to keep writing local, cause it’s cool and what bloggers are supposed to do, right?) taquerias or trucks at random and get a variety of high quality tacos within 50 miles of Fresno. I can’t say the same about tri-tip. I can’t even name 9 places to buy a high, quality tri-tip sandwich. If we all agree that salty fried pork skin that used to have pig hair on it is better than tri-tip, why do we keep deceiving ourselves about pedestrian cow flesh?

The Cured Ham working on the flat top at Eat Retreat 2012. That's all bacon I cured at home.


Speaking of pigs, Keith at the Boxcar has cooked a couple whole pigs and a whole cow’s head, which effectively gives him the upper hand in culinary street cred. Well done Keith on the pigs. I know a few Boxcar regulars that asked me if I was welcome at Keith’s since my Open Letter in 2012. The answer is yes and since I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is, I actually had Keith help cater an event I threw this year. Dueling hotel pans of smoked brisket and pulled pork lasagna were a big hit. Thanks Keith. 

The only other place that probably cooks a whole pig is a Ramate. The Ramate is still the place for some of the best Mexican food in Fresno County. I enjoyed several trips to the Swap Meet this year and hope to continue the visits in 2013. 

Hey Shackelford Brothers, you need to cook a whole pig or do some over-the-top illegal foie dinner…I mean a Sauternes tasting. I know you want to.  Healdsburg does Pigs and Pinot once a year; how about Cabernet and Cow in Clovis? That kinda fits in with the local Clovis/Cowboy theme. I know you can pull it off. 

Here’s to eating another whole pig in 2013. Who’s up for roasting a whole lamb?


Thanks for Reading Fresno's Love Affair with Tri-Tip

It was a real pleasure to interact with everyone online this entire week regarding Fresno's love affair with Tri-Tip.

For those that missed it this week:

Part 1 took us on a nostalgic journey to the Central Coast and the early 1980's

Part 2 brought us home to Bulldog Tailgates and the early Jedi Master's of tri-tip

Part 3 lead us to today and the current malaise of tri-tip in Fresno, but also brings a "New Hope" stemming from grilling and BBQ traditionalists

The entire tri-tip series was fun to write. I have no idea what type of feature story I'm going to write about next. The "Open Letter" series generated vigorous discussion on and off line. The tri-tip series was a direct result of having all of these conversations on-line with other foodies.

We'll see where the wind blows, but I've been having a great time traveling up and down Highway 99 and Highway 101 and the various spurs throughout California. However, since Tioga Pass opened for the season, I really need to get to the East Side, backpack, and eat up and down Highway 395.

We're back on the regular program next week, restaurant reviews. As I mentioned, I've been eating up and down Highway 99 and Highway 101 recently.


Tri-Tip, Perverted Flesh

Sacred Cows: The Tri-Tip and Fresno’s Love Affair

Part 3: Tri-Tip…Perverted Flesh

When and where did it start? When did Fresnans collectively get lazy, always looking for convenience? When did health conscious Fresnans begin asking their butchers for a trimmed, 10-day-old, pre-seasoned tri-tip? When did the "pick-up window" become better than firing up the grill at home?

Tri-tip became the default meat of choice for every event, every gathering. I think the downfall of the tri-tip started when tri-tip became a "convenience". And I think the Bulldog Tailgate partially contributed to the downfall just as much as the rise in popularity.

We all admit, Fresnans have fallen in love with tri-tip. Fresnans also fell in love with hand-car wash joints about the same time SUVs, fancy F150’s, and gated communities were becoming de rigueur in Fresno. It became acceptable to pay for a hand-car wash even though municipal water is free. Why live in an “old neighborhood” like Sunnyside or Fig Garden when the latest “exclusive” gated communities (with smaller backyards) started popping up all over Fresno and Clovis. When did hiring a gardener become the default choice over mowing your own lawn? When did the $6.99 whole roasted chicken become better than roasting a chicken in your oven at home?  When did waiting in line at Starbuck’s becoming better than never waiting for Mr. Coffee at home, in your jammies? (Ok, I admit that Keurig thing is pretty slick. Convenient, but slick.)

The Answer? Because Fresnans could! Afterall, it started becoming more convenient to simply buy instead of cook.

And to a certain degree, it’s expected to have certain "conveniences".

Fresnans who wait in line for Starbuck’s, live in "the best" communities and drive a bedazzled $80k SUV can hire a catering company and make the perfect statement at a tailgate.  And even if the tailgate host is a good cook, Tailgate rules force him to cook on a gas grill, not charcoal, which means our host needs to tow a trailer on his freshly washed F150. Of course, the trailer will contain the latest high-end gas grill from Costco. None of these things, the Eddie Bauer Lariat Platinum Edition F150, the caterer, the $1000 gas grill, existed in the tailgate host’s life back when he was drinking Keystone, working off a $69 Weber, rolling up in the 1982 Toyota hatchback in 1989, looking forward to relaxing with his friends at a Fresno State Football game.

Let’s face it, Fresnans got out of sync with their humble roots. The Everyman’s meal of tri-tip became something perverse, something confused. Tri-tip, unfortunately, became attached to all the trappings of Fresno life; a lower cost of living, more motorized toys, bigger homes with smaller backyards, Red Seats, hand-car washes, Starbuck's, franchise food, and $1000 Costco grills. Conveniences. Defaults. Frills.

And tri-tip isn’t glamorous. Rib-eye and filet are glamorous. Foie gras is glamorous. Tri-tip was being made into something like a superstar it was never meant to be. And because I love the word, tri-tip became "bedazzled", like a rhinestone t-shirt. Put as many rhinestones as you want on it, tri-tip is still nothing more than a $6 t-shirt from Wal-Mart.

Tri-Tip in Fresno has gone from the regular guy’s, fatty, inexpensive meat of backyard barbeques to some backward statement, marginalized, soulless.  It seems almost fitting that the town Ray Kroc put his first McDonald’s corporate franchise, would be the same place Fresno takes their adopted son, the tri-tip and makes it so unrecognizable and transforms it into mass-market, lifeless mediocrity.

Fresno has treated Italian and Mexican food similarly to tri-tip, marginalized it, manufactured it and made it convenient. It only makes sense. Me N’Ed’s isn’t real Italian pizza, Sal’s isn’t what it used to be, and Wassabi is a lot of fun on Friday night and it happens to serve American style sushi too. All popular yes. All woven into our culture, but certainly not authentic.

I've fallen for Me N'Ed's and the nostalgia, I admit it. I'm as guilty as anyone. But I freely admit my sins and my guilt. Me N'Ed's isn't "the best" pizza or even authentically Italian. El Toro Tambien (God rest its soul) wasn't anywhere close to as good as Frontera Grill in Chicago or most taco trucks in the Central Valley. Again, I'm guilty, I liked El Toro but could separate myself from it being regional Mexican food or declaring its superiority from the mountain top. I've been eating Me N'Ed's as long as I was eating El Toro. It falls into the nostalgic, childhood memory, only restaurants on Bullard and West category (along with Baskin and Robbins and long-gone fig orchards). They were timeless, manufactured products.

Tri-tip is different!

Tri-tip should NEVER be a manufactured convenience or glamorized. Tri-tip is a simple a cut of meat which should be properly cooked, like a rib-eye, filet or piece of lamb. It was home-cooked by every culture, every economic group in Fresno. What collective trick did Fresno fall for in the last 20 years to make Fresnans believe that tri-tip should be cooked at 8am, pre-sliced at 9am, put in a steamer tray until 12:15, dunked in broth at 12:16 then placed on your sandwich a second later as dry, dull, sad looking, featureless grey cow meat and make you believe this sandwich is the best in town and pay money for it? Oh, right, because I get my 10th crappy sandwich for free with my frequent diner card. Fresnans EXPECT to get a deal, just like they do with their 10th car wash...the 11th is free.

No one ever said a pre-cooked rib-eye steak tastes better than freshly grilled and rested rib-eye? No one would order a pre-cooked rib-eye by choice. So why do Fresnans accept pre-cooked tri-tip?

This collective marginalization and manufacturing line of coffee, pasta, beans and rice, hamburgers, grocery store hummus and whole roasted chicken is a combination of convenience, laziness, greater access to products and a generally better economic situation for most people over the last 20 years.

However, Fresno can’t blame the downfall of tri-tip on a big name franchise or corporate entity. Fresnans have only themselves to blame for the debasement of this noble cut of meat called the tri-tip every time they asked for a trimmed, 10-day-old, pre-seasoned tri-tip from their butcher or grocery store or continuing eating pre-cut and pre-cooked tri-tip at delis.

So confess your sins and admit your guilt, tri-tip isn't what it used to be in Fresno. Drive to Paso Robles, Pismo, or SLO. They are still cooking the beloved tri-tip exactly the same way they did when Fresnans first “discovered” it 30 years ago. Wash up the bedazzled SUV, beat the heat, take a vacation, remember the “good old days” of tri-tip barbeques in your old apartment and visit the beach this summer and eat some authentically cooked tri-tip on California’s Central Coast. It will serve as a welcome reminder, cleanse your guilty soul, and give you something to talk about at the Bulldogs Football Tailgate Opener with your "caterer".

But like the Rebellion against The Empire, there is "A New Hope"; a cadre of traditionalists throughout Fresno that stick to the original techniques of cooking tri-tip; I am proudly one of them. Call us the Jedi Masters of the Tailgate, Accomplished Home Cooks, Barbeque Jockey’s, Green Egg Enthusiasts (yes you Fresno Bites) and specific High-Quality Caterers in Fresno. We're not flashy. We've upgraded from Keystone (thank god). We've gotten out of the college apartment (but might still have the furniture if we hadn't gotten married). We're figuring out ways to cook better at tailgates (probably because we cook pork). Yes, we drive trucks and SUVs (it's a Fresno thing). And we all know the codes to each other's gated communities (key, key, 6257...please enter). We are still Fresnans, we are your next door neighbors, your friends, the tailgate next to you, the guy who mows his lawn at 9:00pm in summer, we just look at the world through a different lense and cook with a deeper passion.

Two things ALL Fresnans can all look forward to in 2012, the first tailgate and a new football coach this season. Go Dogs. Maybe there is hope for tri-tip yet.


The Bulldog Tailgate and the Rise of Tri-Tip

Sacred Cows: The Tri-Tip and Fresno’s Love Affair

Part 2: The Bulldog Tailgate and the Rise of Tri-Tip

A warm Saturday afternoon in September. Thousands of people are gathered around the entirety of Bulldog Stadium. Cars, trucks, and trailers from every demographic in Fresno, park collectively and individually to participate in Fresno’s original food truck scene, The Football Tailgate.

Think about it for a moment.  From the President of the Bulldog Foundation to a first year freshman living across the street in an apartment, tailgating and tri-tip at Bulldog Stadium brought Fresno together. Sure, once inside, economic and social groups were defined, Red Seats, Bleachers, barely any student tickets; but outside, we were all participating equally, sitting in lawn furniture and eating on paper plates with plastic forks and knives. And yes, drinking out of the dreaded, tacky, red plastic cup.

The tri-tip was every fan’s meal; it was “everyman’s” meal. Sure there were burgers and hot dogs, but a grilled tri-tip was the Weber Grill standard. It was here, at the tailgate, where we also witnessed various economic groups participating in harmony around our beloved tri-tip. Filet mignon and foie gras are not served at tailgates.

At the tailgates I participated in with my Italian relatives, tri-tip sandwiches with peppers, onions and red sauce were served equally with sausage.The tri-tip crossed cultural lines as well. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve had pilaf and tri-tip and no one in my family is Armenian.   Tri-tip was everywhere, for every budget, for every culture.

During the 80’s and most of the 90’s, it’s hard to argue that Fresno State Football Tailgating was one of the best in the nation. It certainly was the thing to do in Fresno. I remember elaborate spreads of food, beer, and music as both a high school and college student. Walking the tailgates saying hello to people, noshing on great food, and sometimes, never leaving the tailgate and forgetting about football, defined much of my Bulldog Experience. It didn’t matter whether or not you had a ticket, simply going to the tailgate was the main event for many.

From a foodie perspective, the Fresno State Tailgate brings every economic and cultural group together in one place for common cause… Go Bulldogs and common food…Go Tri-Tip.

However, much has changed since the early days of Bulldog Tailgating. Now that everyone has to go inside the Stadium during game time, the ability for less interested fans to stay behind, cook dessert, make coffee, and socialize has diminished. Unless the tailgate is catered, private tailgaters, like my family, can’t use wood or charcoal fire anymore. Don’t tell me that a gas grill imparts the same flavor as wood or charcoal on my tri-tip, it doesn’t. That additional sense of community derived from a tailgate has been slowly lost to updated rules, catering companies, regulation, gas grills and crowd control.

Again, I recall my own family members never going inside the Stadium for 10 years; rather to stay and socialize at the tailgate. Now, many family members just stay at home. The tailgate offered an opportunity during the fall season for family members to catch up over food, wine, and coffee and of course, tri-tip.

Fresno State doesn’t rank in the Top 10 or even Top 20 tailgates in the nation anymore and the football program has been in a state of general malaise. As the tailgate has become increasingly less exciting, so has tri-tip around town. Which leads us to the conclusion of The Cured Ham’s series; Sacred Cows: The Tri-Tip and Fresno’s Love Affair…Part 3: Tri-Tip, Perverted Flesh.

Disclosure: This is where we stop our nostalgic trip down memory lane and start facing facts about what we've done to Fresno's Favorite Son, Tri-Tip.


Tri-Tip, Exotic Meat from Santa Maria

Sacred Cows: The Tri-Tip and Fresno’s Love Affair

Part 1: Tri-Tip, Exotic Meat from Santa Maria

Our story starts in 1985 in the town of San Luis Obispo (SLO). I’m 14 years old and my father is working for several months in and around Paso Robles. SLO is a college town. It’s a great town. It has wild and exotic foods like the T&A Chili Verde Super Burrito (no Chipotle back then), street food at the Thursday Farmer’s Market, and a triangular piece of cow flesh grilled over an open red oak fire. Locals called it Santa Maria tri-tip.

I don’t remember eating tri-tip in Fresno when I was growing up in the 70’s. I had to ask my mother what type of beef she bought back when I was a child. She mentioned a few types, chuck roasts, ground beef, and sirloin. Tri-tip just wasn’t around she said. She would make classic pot roasts, meatballs, and braciola with the meats she purchased.  If Dad grilled something, it would have been New York steak, a special occasion meat. Prime rib would have been served for Christmas. Chances were, if we ate steak and it was a rarity back then, it would have been at a restaurant and probably for a birthday.

So when did we start adding tri-tip to our regular meat schedule? Sometime after Dad’s many a trip to SLO. What I remember most about the early days of the tri-tip roast was the fat cap. It’s funny, “the early days” circa 1985. Go to a grocery store in 2012 and it’s not as easy to find a tri-tip with a solid layer of fat on the bottom. I think we’ve become too preoccupied with lean meat these days; fat equals flavor. I also think Fresno customers were getting tired of paying for fat they didn’t eat. Funny, we don’t trim the fat off of a rib-eye?

On the grill at home, my Dad would absolutely flame up and completely char the fat-side of the tri-tip. These were literally house burning flames coming from the BBQ. I was beginning to get my feet wet around an open flame at 14. My contribution? The industrial squirt bottle during flare ups. My efforts probably just made the area around the grill a greater mess, but I was part of the cooking process and the primal ritual of putting meat on fire. My brother, 10 at the time, would also contribute to my fire fighting efforts.

These early, primal memories are helpful. The fat cap. Wood fires. The process of burning this fatty layer off, but protecting the meat is meaningful. I remember when we’d take the meat off the grill, my Dad would slice almost all the fat off or at least all the charred fat off first. Dad would then let the meat rest and carve the remainder of the tri-tip with the remaining fat. The fat at this point was edible, not chewy or sinuous.  These days, the utterly lean tri-tip is often placed directly on the fire with no fatty layer of protection. Translation: You’re cooking a really big, uneven sirloin steak and might overcook it if you’re not careful. Sure, some roast tri-tip in the oven or use some form of indirect heat on the grill, but that wasn't happening back in 1985 on the streets of SLO.

The smell of the grill, burning fat, hanging out at Avila Beach in the afternoon and walking the Market in SLO at night or a backyard barbeque in Fresno with my brother and parents; all fond memories of days past. Restaurants in Fresno sure weren’t serving tri-tip on a regular basis in the early 80’s. Fresnans were driving back from SLO, Paso, and Santa Maria telling tales of “the best BBQ ever” or “greatest grilled meat”.

Did Fresno ever take the real “spirit” of the Santa Maria BBQ with open flames and wood fires, and the fat-cap tri-tip?

Yes, I think Fresno did; it manifested itself during Bulldog Football season and The Tailgate, Fresno's "Original" food truck scene. Which leads us to Part 2 in our series, Sacred Cows: The Tri-Tip and Fresno’s Love Affair; The Bulldog Tailgate and the Rise of Tri-Tip.