Local ranchers regularly fed their ranch hands by barbecuing meat over earthen pits filled with oak wood coals. According to one source, “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 introduced a “Stag Barbecue,” held on the second Wednesday of each month, with up to 700 patrons attending. Over the years, the legend of the Santa Maria-style barbecue grew, transforming a local treasure into a major attraction.
The signature cuts for Santa Maria-style barbecue are top block sirloin and the triangular-shaped bottom sirloin known as “tri-tip,” a cut that originated in the Santa Maria Valley. The meat is rolled in a mixture of salt, pepper and garlic salt just prior to cooking. The red oak, a species of oak native to the region, contributes a hearty, smoky flavor.
Once the meat is trimmed and sliced, the only condiment needed is fresh salsa. The traditional menu also includes French bread dipped in sweet melted butter, tossed green salad and slow-cooked pinquito beans. The pinquito is a small pink bean grown exclusively in the Santa Maria Valley.
Today, Santa Maria-style barbecue is enjoyed across the region at restaurants, events and celebrations, the barbecue pits often staffed by members of local service organizations conducting fundraisers.
A favorite restaurant among locals is Jocko’s in Nipomo, a town just north of Santa Maria. It’s my favorite restaurant in the region, too. There, the oak-cooked meats are served in large cuts, and the well-selected wine list offers three types of red wine to accompany the beef dishes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
When concentrating on just the meat, we opt for Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. When inhaling an entire Santa Maria-style barbecue meal — complete with pinquito beans — Zinfandel makes an excellent choice.
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Tomorrow: a recipe for Santa Maria Style Pinquito Beans.