Santa Maria BBQ today is thought of as tri-tip cooked on a Santa Maria grill. However, the tri-tip emerged in the 1950’s. True Santa Maria style BBQ, has a much longer history.
Back in the mid 1800’s, the Santa Maria Valley was dotted with large cattle ranches. Owners of these ranches would often throw Spanish-style feasts after every roundup, inviting family, friends, and local vaqueros. Johnny Soto, a ranchero of the valley, developed a distinct way of cooking the meat that soon became very popular. His method was to dig a deep pit in the ground, fill it with coastal live oak wood and charcoal, skewer a bunch of thick cuts of meat on a willow stick, and cook the meat over the fire. His choice of meat was not all that particular, as they were eating whole cows at these events. But ideally he would use the top block or top round loin. He cooked the meat for an hour or so with the fat cap facing up and would serve the beef sliced thin.
the santa maria grill, with its wheel-lowered grate also originated in this area, as a way to slow-cook and sear foods on the same grill
These feasts brought together people of various backgrounds. Their heritage merged to form a true California cuisine, one that incorporated the corn, tomatoes, beans, and peppers of the New World with the beef, lamb, and olive oil of the Old World. The parilla, or grill, became the province of the vaqueros and rancheros. The mild, Mediterranean climate fostered a tradition of outdoor cooking still beloved by Californians today. Barbecues became a way to get down and party with family and friends, to mark special occasions, and to partake of the culinary offerings that reminded these early settlers of their homelands
In the 1930’s, this technique was refined at the monthly Stag barbeque at the Santa Maria Elks Club. Here, on the second Wednesday of each month, members of the club would work as a team to create a massive red oak BBQ pit, prepare aged meat by seasoning it with garlic salt and pepper and then skewer the meat on steel rods. They would serve the beef with pico de gallo, pinquito beans (a local bean that only grows in this area), French bread, tossed salad, macaroni, and local red wine. These meals were often served to up to 700 locals.
the original, delicious in its own right
This tradition merged with the area’s other culinary invention, tri-tip, to form what we often regard today as the traditional pairing. We’ve been playing around with this idea for awhile now, trying to figure out how to refine the idea while keeping it’s original soul. I think we’re close. We’ve chosen to take all the ingredients of pico de gallo and–I hate this term but it’s the most accurate description–deconstruct it. The ultimate flavor, in our opinion, is a concentrated, focused expression of the food you’d be served at a Central Coast BBQ.
our take. 12-hour tri tip, braised pinquito beans,tomato coulis, cilantro oil, pickled jalepeños