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 the years this tradition has grown and evolved into what it is today. Despite the fact that Sunset magazine has declared this dinner “the best barbecue in the world”, it isn’t barbecue in the traditional sense (see True Barbecue). Of course, this meal has all the signs of good barbecue without low and slow-roasted meats.
The Meat: In the old days the meat of choice for Santa Maria Barbecue was top sirloin roasts. This meat was seared first then slow roasted to medium rare. The meat would then be sliced and placed on platters for guests to pick how done they liked their meat. More and more over time, the meat of choice switched to tri-tip roasts. This flavorful cut of meat is perfect for this style of barbecue.
The Grill: Of course this beef is roasted over hot coals, Red Oak to be exact. This local wood gives Santa Maria Barbecue a unique flavor. The trick is getting the meat close enough to sear for a few minutes before pulling the meat away from the intense heat to slowly roast to perfection. In Santa Maria, this is accomplished with an adjustable charcoal grill similar to the Grillery Wood Grill. The crank adjusted cooking grate allows you to adjust the heat without adjusting the fire.
The Seasonings: Santa Maria Barbecue beef is simply seasoned but with a perfect combination to enhance the flavor without overpowering the flavor of the beef. Salt, pepper, and garlic are typically all you need to make this meal. The seasonings are applied generously and worked into the meat like any barbecue rub.
Traditional Sides: Traditionally this grilled meat is topped with salsa and served with beans, bread, and green salads. This makes a meal very similar to many 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 many 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 the special Pinquito Beans.