Travel Well

Santa Maria Valley Brings the Sizzle to National Barbecue Month

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2019 | 12:34 PM

Don your aprons and bibs, because May is #NationalBarbecueMonth. Santa Maria Style Barbecue has a style, history and taste all its own.

With roots that date back to the 1800s, local ranchers would prepare a Spanish-style feast after cattle round-ups for vaqueros (cowboys). The meal consisted of meat slow-roasted over the flames of a red oak fire, served with a side of pinquito beans and fresh green salad. While the tradition has since grown to include tri-tip, one defining feature has remained the same: to be considered Santa Maria Style Barbecue, it has to have been cooked over red oak, native to the Santa Maria Valley, and preferably rubbed with Santa Maria seasoning—a simple-yet-flavorful blend of salt, pepper, and garlic salt.

Today’s classic Santa Maria Style barbecue plate typically includes: red-oak roasted meat, pinquito beans, fresh green salad and grilled French bread dipped in sweet melted butter.

To prepare a Santa Maria Style tri-tip, here is what you will need:

• A charcoal grill.
• Red oak chips (Don’t skip this! It’s what gives the meat that authentic Santa Maria Style flavor).
• A smoker box or aluminum foil to make your own “pouch” for the red oak chips.
• Premium top-block sirloin or tri-tip (do not trim the fat).
• Santa Maria Barbecue Rub – Purchase from Susie Q’s or make your own by mixing 2 tbs. salt with 1 tsp. black pepper and 1 tsp. garlic salt.

To Prepare Your Grill:

• Soak approximately 1-2 cups of red oak chips in water for 45 minutes.
• While the chips are soaking, get your charcoals going on your grill.
• Once your charcoals are ready (the top coals should look grey and ashy), add your red oak chips to a smoker box and place the oak-filled smoker box on your grill rack.
• Or, if you don’t have a smoker box, place your wood chips at the center of a square piece of foil. Fold the foil around the oak chips to create a pouch. Poke 4-6 holes in the top of the pouch to allow red oak smoke to escape. Place pouch directly on your grill rack.

To Prepare Your Meat:

• Use premium top-block sirloin or tri-tip.
• Keep the fat on your cut of meat (You can trim after cooking but leaving the fat on for cooking makes for more flavorful meat).
• Pat down your meat with a paper towel before applying rub. Absorbing the excess moisture before cooking will allow the meat to sear evenly.
• Spread your Santa Maria Style rub evenly across the entire surface of the meat, and massage it gently into the meat until the entire surface is covered in the rub.
• Set aside or refrigerate until your grill is ready.

To Grill Your Meat:

• Starting with the fat side down, sear your meat quickly directly on a hot grill rack to seal in the juices.
• While searing, close the lid of your grill to help lock in the flavorful smoke from the red-oak pouch.
• When juice appears at the top of the meat, it is time to turn it over.
• Turn it over and cook until desired doneness, keeping the lid closed.
• Medium rare is recommended – which typically takes 20 minutes per inch of cut thickness. When the internal temperature of your meat reaches 140 degrees, it’s time to remove it from the grill to let it rest (Or, 155 degrees for medium; 165 degrees for medium well).
• Remove from the grill and let rest for 3-5 minutes before cutting (If you cut the meat immediately after removing from the grill, the juices will escape).
• If you wish, trim the fat after cooking.
• For tri-tip, slice against the grain the long way, not across the triangle. It won’t be a uniform cut, but it will be far more tender.
• Serve with pinquito beans, a fresh green salad and Santa Maria Style salsa.

Get the Pinquito Bean recipe.

If it’s time for a road trip to Santa Maria Valley to experience the barbecue in its native habitat, these local restaurants won’t let you down.

Far Western Tavern – The menu celebrates the tried and true dishes from the restaurant’s original location, which opened in the Palace Hotel building in Guadalupe in 1958. California ranch-inspired cuisine includes multiple cuts of beef, pork, ribs and chicken.
The Swiss – One of the region’s oldest barbecue restaurants located in the heart of the city of Santa Maria.
The Hitching Post – The Casmalia location is one of the Valley’s most famous and a true local’s favorite.
Jocko’s Steakhouse – Since 1926, Jocko’s has served up good food in an unpretentious environment and is known for its generous portions.
Rancho Nipomo BBQ – Barbecue, Cal-Mex fare and beers fill up this rustic, mission-style hangout.
The Century Room – Located inside the historic Santa Maria Inn, dine where many celebrities, political delegates and locals like have dined in an intimate setting.

Santa Maria Style barbecue and locally-produced wine pair hand-in-hand. Typically, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir and Rhone-style varietals like Syrah hold up to the bold flavors of barbecue. The Santa Maria Valley soil, climate and other native local conditions shape the wine’s character. With the marine climate and dry sandy-loam soils, it’s not hard to find wines that exhibit a strong sense of place. Wines from Riverbench, Cambria, cnagy and Presqu’ile are perfect pairings for such a meal. If dessert is on the menu, Santa Maria Valley strawberries are the ideal finale. As one of North America’s most prolific strawberry producers, varietals are abundant this time of year.

Santa Maria Valley is the perfect home base where you can eat, drink and do more for less on California’s Central Coast. Along with our legendary barbecue, we have 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms and 15 beaches all within a beautiful 30-minute drive. Hit the road and explore it all #SantaMariaStyle.

About Santa Maria Valley:

Serving the greater Santa Maria Valley in the heart of California’s Central Coast, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau is a nonprofit association that facilitates local tourism and provides information on the region’s many attractions and visitor services. Famed for its fine wines, natural wonders, agricultural heritage and flavorful barbecue, the Santa Maria Valley offers a broad range of cultural, sporting and historical experiences. For details on Santa Maria Valley lodging, wine tasting, travel deals and e-newsletter alerts, visit or call (800) 331-3779.








Comments are closed.