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Santa Maria Barbecue


In the mid-19th century, ranchers throughout the Santa Maria Valley gathered together to help each other brand their calves. The host of this event would put together a Spanish-style feast. This meal typically included grilled beef roasts, beans, bread, salsa, and salads. Over time, this tradition has evolved. Even though Sunset magazine declared this dinner “the best barbecue in the world,” it isn’t barbecue in the traditional sense. However, this meal has all the signs of good barbecue without the low and slow-roasted meats.

The Meat: In the past, the meat used for Santa Maria Barbecue was top sirloin roasts. These roasts were seared first, then slow-roasted to medium-rare. The meat was then sliced and placed on platters so attendees could choose their pieces. Over time, organizers switched to using tri-tip roasts. This flavorful cut is undoubtedly an improvement as it lends itself well to this type of cooking.

The Grill: These roasts are roasted over hot coals, red oak to be exact. This local wood gives Santa Maria Barbecue its unique flavor. The trick is getting the meat close enough to sear for a few minutes before pulling it away from the intense heat to roast to perfection slowly. In Santa Maria, this is done with an adjustable charcoal grill similar to the Grillery Wood Grill. The crank-adjusted cooking grate allows you to adjust the heat without changing the fire.

The Seasonings: Santa Maria Barbecue beef is seasoned with the perfect combination of spices to enhance the meat’s natural flavor. Salt, pepper, and garlic are all you need. The seasonings are applied generously and worked into the meat like any other barbecue rub.

Traditional Sides: Traditionally, this grilled beef is topped with salsa and served with beans, bread, and green salad. The layout of this meal is very similar to various styles of Southern Barbecue. Of course, these sides are traditional to the region. The beans, for instance, are local Pinquito Beans grown almost exclusively in the Santa Maria Valley. While you can easily substitute some items, there are people out there who specialize in bringing Santa Maria Barbecue to the rest of the world. Suzie Q’s Specialty Foods is the storefront of the family’s Far Western Tavern and ships Santa Maria Barbecue ingredients anywhere, including these unique Pinquito Beans.

Derrick Riches

I began writing about Barbecue & Grilling in 1997 with one mission, to help the backyard chef have the best experience possible.



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