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Need recipe for "Santa Maria BBQ"

When I was a kid, this was a staple at my dad's corporate picnic. I remember it having a ton of flavor and I would love to make it for my husband. What is the best cut of meat to use and what is the seasoning blend?


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  1. Whole top block is the cut that was used by the original men's club that started the SMSBBQ. Later, tri-tip of beef was used and is what most backyard BBQ'rs use today. A simple S&P rub works just fine, perhaps with a touch of garlic. No fancy rubs needed for SMSBBQ, though tri-tip takes well to all types of rubs and marinades. It's a very flavorful cut with lots of marbeling. Cook it fast over med-hot heat, or slow-roast indirectly in a covered bbq a about 225.

    Let us have a report of your adventures, please!

    1. My father's corporate picnics where also heavily laden with Santa Maria BBQ (Vandenburg AFB - my birthplace!) - I don't know about the cuts of meat but I was finally able to get the 'secret' recipe for the rub:

      equal parts: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and sugar

      Sugar is ESSENTIAL and makes a huge difference in the juiciness of the meat. I make steaks and burgers alike with this shaken over the top and it never fails to deliver super juicy meat.

      1 Reply
      1. re: krissywats

        Sugar is my secret ingredient for tri-tip rub, too. I figured that out about 12 years or so ago. Makes the rub work for some reason.

      2. Agree... tri tip is really the best cut for santa maria bbq. LA times a year ago did a great, extremely simple recipe. I think it was 6 cloves garlic, 4 tsp salt, TB fresh ground pepper. Whiz it in a processor and slowly add 1/4 cup olive oil. rub that on the tri tip 30 minutes before grilling.

        Wen I cook it, I cook it at a pretty high temperature. I sear it well over very high heat, then move it to the indirect side of the grill until it reaches between 125 and 130 (if cooked at a high temp, it will continue to raise another 5 degrees or so).

        I think the traditional is to use oak wood for flavoring (red oak at that). But, honestly, any good smoke wood would work. My favorite are fruit woods like apple or cherry, or nut trees like hickory, oak or pecan.

        1. Here are a couple pics from last year using the slow and low, uncovered method for tri tip-about 1.25 hrs on the grill. It produces very tender and flavorful meat when the cap and veins of fat are allowed to soften and melt into the beef. We do a basic salt, pepper, and garlic rub like toodie jane mentioned, and of course a smoky essence from wood is a delicious component.


          1. is there another name for tri-tip? I can't seem to find that cut locally (MA)

            1 Reply
            1. re: Biggie

              the only place you'll find it in MA labeled as tri tip is at a Trader Joes. Hopefully you have one nearby. Otherwise, you'll be met with blank looks if you ask your butcher.

              It's cut from the bottom sirloin cut. Here's a brief description from wikipedia...


            2. bottom sirloin butt iirc....

              1. Sometime last summer the LA Times published the recipe for Santa Maria style barbecue:
                You might get it on line
                The rub is salt, pepper, olive oil and lots of garlic
                The meat is tri-tip
                You make a paste with the s/p, olive oil and garlic, rub it all over and seal in a plastic bag for several hours.
                Build a fire in your grill (preferably with hard wood charcoal and use chips - hickory I think)
                Sear the meat on both sides, then move to cool side of grill and, depending on size of the tri-tip, cook covered grill, for about 25-30 minutes, to 135 degrees, I think, for medium.

                The Times also gave recipies for the traditional sides, Pinto beans and Salsa.

                2 Replies
                1. re: JPomer

                  Jpomer. The wood used for a Santa Maria Bar B Q is OAK, and not just any old oak, red oak. You build a fire with red oak, and let it burn down to a beautiful bed of red coals...NO chips needed. Never seen anyone ever make a paste, although they could. The beans are NOT pinto! They are Santa Maria pinks. For years these beans were only grown in the Santa Maria Valley. Even now you will probably not find them on most store shelves out of the state of CA.

                  1. re: Janet Fritz

                    They're also called pinquito beans, and they're not that hard to find in Seattle. Markets with a good selection of Latino brands and products are a safe bet to have them.

                2. This purports to be the real deal from Susie Q. They now market the "Original" Santa Rosa BBQ.


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: yayadave

                    An authentic Santa Maria Bar B Q is not done with a RIB ROAST! You either use tri-tip or whole sirloin. I'm surprised that Susi Q's would say rib roast.

                    1. re: yayadave

                      I have a container of the Susie Q Santa Maria Seasoning in the cubbord and there is no sugar in the mix. Just Garlic, Salt, Parsley and Pepper.

                      1. re: coconutz

                        Check again on the actual ingredients list on the official nutrition label. I have a bottle,as well, and it lists sugar as one of the ingredients.

                    2. Thanks so much everyone! Krissywats, I'll bet that is the exact recipe since a lot of people from Vandenburg ended up at NASA/Kennedy Space Center which is where my dad's picnics were. Thanks again everyone! I'm going to try this during the week.

                      1. And you need the pinquito beans to go with, as well as salsa made with canned Ortega chiles and some really buttery garlic bread.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Snackish

                          And a salad! Lived in Santa Maria for over 30 years...they also Bar B Q all up and down the streets in Santa Maria.
                          I recently moved to FL. will start a new thing down here maybe..Most Bar B Q's down here are what we would call SMOKED!

                          1. re: Janet Fritz

                            Lol, most BBQ in California are what folks in the South would call grilled.

                        2. I'm of that camp that believes it takes red oak to give it that true Santa Maria taste. And, a simple rub of salt, ground (dried) garlic or garlic powder, and ground black pepper does it just right for me.

                          1. I used to live in Santa Barbara, where I got hooked on the whole Santa Maria Tri-Tip extravaganza. After I moved away I got to jonesin' for it, so I hunted around online and combined a few recipes and experimented and came up with these: recipes for the spice rub and basting sauce for the tri-tip, plus pinquito beans and salsa to serve on the side.


                            (I've found pinquito beans at a couple of Latino markets in Seattle. You can also order them from http://www.ranchogordo.com .)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: MsMaryMc

                              This is more or less what I do. Although I seldom have any ham to put in the beans and just call it good with the bacon. And I sometimes just use salt and pepper for the meat, or a Penzeys mix like Galena Street.

                              I am lucky enough to live close to Rancho Gordo and often get their pinquitos in the local markets. They are a really special bean, firm but creamy.

                              And I make enough of the fairly mild salsa to have it qualify as a vegetable, great for the beans and the meat as well.

                            2. Try this link.


                              I live in Merritt Island, FL, and you should see the pathetic tri-tips you get around here. All the good folks out west are fortunate to get decent cuts of tri-tip. Oh well, we've got, uh, hmm, hmm, well, something on them I'm sure.