Years ago I lived in Santa Maria, California for a time. My girls were born there. I remember several things about Santa Maria. First of all, it has some of the best weather in the world. 70 or 72 year round is absolutely wonderful. Second of all, it had an amazing barbecue that is world famous.
The Santa Maria Style Barbecue is both a tradition and a way of life for the residents of the Santa Maria valley. It is featured at all events, both private and public.
The roots of Santa Maria Style Barbecue date back to the mid-1800s, when large ranches or rancheros, occupied the hills of the Santa Maria Valley. Local ranchers would host Spanish-style feasts each spring for their vaqueros, or cowboys, as well as family and friends—barbecuing meat over earthen pits filled with hot coals of red oak, which is native to the valley. The meal would be served with a generous helping of pinquitos, small pink beans that are considered indigenous to the Santa Maria Valley.
In those early days, the favored cut was top-block 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, a local butcher named Bob Schutz perfected the tri-tip, a triangular bottom sirloin cut that quickly joined top-block sirloin as a staple of Santa Maria Style Barbecue. The tri-tip is what I remember, and I have often tried to find that cut in supermarkets and meat markets. I am met with a blank stare.
The only secret of the Santa Maria Style Barbecue is its simplicity. It consists of prime top sirloin, or tri-tip, about 3 inches thick cooked over a fire of coals from Santa Maria Valley red oak wood. Salt, pepper and garlic salt are the only seasonings used.. The steaks are strung on flat steel rods which are lowered over a bed of re hot coals. Cooking time is usually about 45 minutes. Once cooked, the meat is sliced at the pit and served in large stainless steel pans by the waiters who let the diners choose their own level of doneness. Among the delicacies is the natural juice of the beef. Toasted, buttered sweet French bread is also featured at these barbecues and it can be used to ‘sop up’ the wonderful juice from the serving pan.
. The Santa Maria technique, while extremely simple, seems to be unique to the Santa Maria Valley. But in Santa Maria, almost every home has a backyard barbecue pit, and every backyard chef prepares his barbecue in exactly the same way. Whether for 2 people or for 2,000 people, however, an authentic Santa Maria Barbecue requires that all the meat be prepared, cooked and served at the same time. It cannot be prepared ahead or allowed to ‘wilt’. Santa Maria’s secret, so they say, lies in expert timing.
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.
Visitors to the city return again and again to enjoy a unique experience in eating and continues to be a specialty in all major events.
Having lived in Texas for many years now, I have developed a fondness for our brisket. So…..I am not sure which one I like best. God bless you.