Santa Maria Style Barbecue is one of the few regional culinary traditions in the state of California, originating in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. The cuisine and its unique characteristics date back to the mid 1800’s, when far-reaching ranches spanned the foothills of the Santa Maria Valley.
Credited with starting the tradition were the Spanish Vaqueros. These cattle ranchers would host Spanish style banquets after every roundup, barbecuing large quantities of skewered beef over holes dug into the ground.
NATIVE WOOD & SIMPLE SEASONING ADD UNIQUE FLAVOR
Originally, pits would be filled with hot coals of local coast live oak, or “Red Oak.” The meat would be seasoned with basic ingredients like salt and pepper and served alongside the traditional accompaniments. The style itself was further refined by local social clubs, as well as the many ranchers from Europe who also settled in the area, primarily Swiss-Italians.
ALONG COMES THE TRI TIP STEAK
Most recently, Santa Maria style barbecue has been centered around the tri-tip, a triangular cut of beef from the lower sirloin. Today, this meat is seasoned with a combination of black pepper, salt, garlic and parsley and is then grilled over native red oak, which grows on California’s Central Coast.
THE SANTA MARIA STYLE GRILL
The grill itself is a one of a kind design; made of iron, the large pit is covered with a grate that is lowered or lifted by a hand crank on the side, allowing the meat to be cooked over the perfectly desired distance from the coals. The Santa Maria Valley is known for quite strong winds throughout the year, so this type of cooking made much more sense, and allowed for more control during cooking.
ESSENTIAL SIDE DISHES & ACCOMPANIMENTS
Aside from the unique cut of beef, a Santa Maria Style barbecue would be incomplete without pinquito beans, fresh salsa, and grilled bread brushed with butter and garlic salt. A green salad rounds out the meal. Interestingly, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce copyrighted this traditional menu in 1978. Other local accompaniments can include linguica and fresh strawberries, which grow prolifically in the area.