Santa Maria–style barbecue is a regional culinary tradition rooted in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County on the Central Coast of California. This method of barbecuing dates back to the mid-19th century and is today regarded as a “mainstay of California’s culinary heritage”. The traditional Santa Maria-style barbecue menu was copyrighted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1978.
Santa Maria-style barbecue centers on beef tri-tip, seasoned with black pepper, salt, and garlic before grilling over coals of native coast live oak, often referred to as “red oak” wood. The grill is made of iron and usually has a hand crank to adjust the height of the grill over the coals. The traditional accompaniments are pinquito beans, fresh salsa, tossed green salad, and grilled French bread dipped in sweet melted butter.Some regional variations within the Central Coast include sausage (such as linguiça or chorizo) or venison, grilled
History of Santa Maria–style barbecue
Santa Maria–style barbecue originated in the mid-19th century when local Californio ranchers hosted Spanish-style feasts each spring for their vaqueros. They barbecued meat over earthen pits filled with hot coals of local coast live oak. The meal was served with pinquitos, small pink beans that are considered indigenous to the Santa Maria Valley.
According to local barbecue historian R. H. Tesene, “The Santa Maria Barbecue grew out of this tradition and achieved its ‘style’ when local residents began to string cuts of beef on skewers or rods and cook the meat over the hot coals of a red oak fire.
In 1931, the Santa Maria Club started a “Stag Barbecue”, which was held on the second Wednesday of every month, with up to 700 patrons attending each event.
By the late 1950s, four local restaurants—The Far Western Tavern, The Valley Steakhouse, Hitching Post, and Jocko’s—were on their way to becoming landmarks of this style of barbecue. The original cut was top sirloin. Then, as today, the meat was rolled in a mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic salt before being barbecued over the red oak coals, which contribute a smoky, hearty flavor. In the 1950s, local butcher Bob Schutz (Santa Maria Market) perfected the tri-tip, a triangular bottom sirloin cut that quickly joined top sirloin as a staple of Santa Maria–style barbecue.
President Ronald Reagan was an avid fan of Santa Maria–style barbecue. Local barbecue chef Bob Herdman and his Los Compadres Barbecue Crew staged several barbecues for President Reagan, including five feasts on the South Lawn of the White House.
Santa Maria–style barbecue Ingredients
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 (2 1/2 pound) beef tri-tip roast
- ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 4 cloves crushed garlic
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Directions on how to make Santa Maria–style barbecue
- Stir salt, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, rosemary, and cayenne pepper together in a bowl.
- Place tri-tip in a glass baking dish and coat on all sides with spice mixture. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.
- Combine vinegar, vegetable oil, crushed garlic, and Dijon mustard in a sealable container. Cover the container and shake until ingredients are blended.
- Remove tri-tip from the refrigerator. Let sit uncovered at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat; lightly oil the grates.
- Place tri-tip on the preheated grill and brush with vinegar mixture. Cook for 4 minutes, flip, and baste. Flip and baste every 4 minutes until tri-tip starts to firm up and is reddish-pink and juicy in the center, 25 to 30 minutes total. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 130 degrees F (54 degrees C). Let rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing