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santa maria style bbq help

what makes this type different than other bbq? is the sauce or rub more important (is there even a sauce)? I'm wondering so that when I see it around in SoCal, I will know if its authentic or not... also, would like to try and create at home so any recipes will be helpful!

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  1. The distinguishing feature of Santa Maria style bbq is that it's tri-tip of beef, rather than any other cut, seasoned simply (usually with garlic salt and pepper). You'll find that tri tip is served in various ways - with salsa or bbq sauce as an entree or in a sandwich.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kcchan

      According to my book "Santa Maria Style Barbeque" by R.H. Tesene, it isn't tri tip, nor pinto beans that are true sm bbq....to quote- "to be authentic, the beef you select must be top block sirloin, skewered on metal rods and cooked over red oak."

      To me, it is tri tip, pink beans and salsa, with toasted and dunked in butter bread chunks to sop up the meat juice.

      The seasoning on the meat? Salt pepper and GRANULATED garlic.

    2. It's been so long since I've thought of Santa Maria style bbq. When I lived in that area just about every weekend there would be several fundraisers up and down Broadway selling tri-tip. Most weekends you could find us at one of them.

      For me SM bbq means tri-tip and/or sometimes 1/2 a chicken cooked over oak wood. It was usually served with piquinto beans and salsa, some type of salad (potato or green) and garlic bread. I do think that more people think of tri-tip and not the chicken. The tri-tip was seasoned simply and the chicken was usually had garlic seasoning added to whatever it was seasoned with. The real flavor comes from the oak. When purchasing a tri-tip you always looked to make sure that on one side it had a layer of fat.

      Here in Texas I purchase it untrimmed and trim it myself. I also get/use oak lump charcoal. I never use my gas grill.

      It's still my favorite cut of beef when cooked Santa Maria style.

      1. The Santa Maria BBQ became famous when no one else was cooking Tri tip. It is a very tough piece of meat that has been cooked over an outdoor grill and ends up perfection when sliced very thin.
        The beans that accompany this dish are like the ordinary pink beans but are very very tiny. They are sold in my market as Santa Marias, but I don't think that is the real name.

        3 Replies
        1. re: The Old Gal

          The beans are more often called pinquinto beans and are said to be native to the Santa Maria Valley.

          1. re: The Old Gal

            Sant Maria Style BBQ is really a K.I.S. style.

            You are correct in guessing there is no sauce. Just a simple S&P treatment with dried garlic before grilling over a thick bed of oak coals. The original meat used back in the 20's for large community BBQ's was whole top blocks . Tri tip came on the scene in the late 50's; the size is more family-friendly, and the flavor is rich from the marbleling.

            The Californios from the Rancho period--early to mid 1800's--probably used the top block or even whole sides of beef over Live Oak coals (the native hardwood) when they held their round-up barbeques. Beans were the likely "side"--a good stick to your ribs carb that held up well to the heavy work of roping and branding cattle.

            Nowdays sides like pinquito beans (small, pink, and slightly flattened round shape--very creamy) and a fresh tomato salsa are served along with a simple green iceberg salad to round out the emal of SMSBBQ. At home, use any sides you like.

            Tri-tip is best eaten straight off the grill at a medium rare. It doesn't hold or reheat very well, hence places that serve tri-tip sandwiches or burritos usually don't satisfy the tri-tip craving for me.

            Coast Live Oak gives the unique smokey flavor. Live Oak (Quecus agrifolia) is often marketed as Red Oak because the heartwood can be reddish. It is the native oak along the Coastal ranges--North and South Coasts--and in the foothills of the the interior Coast ranges (i.e.; east of San Jose and Salinas ) There is no actual species "Red Oak' in California.

            Happy SMSBBQ eatin'. If you find some we should all know about, please let us know!

            (the coffee house next to the Harley dealership on 101 in north Santa Maria holds an informal SMSBB take-out every Fri and Sat night.)

            1. re: toodie jane

              My favorite cookbook (to read and to cook from ) is "California Rancho Cooking", by Jaqueline Higuera McMahan. This lady knows her stuff, has stories galore and between her Mother and Grandmother- she has recipes that'll make your next bbq rock. The descriptions of "the old days" of California are fantastic.

              I had the pleasure of meeting Jaqueline at the Santa Barbara Womens Literary Festival, and she was so fun to listen to - again her stories are fun and make your imagination go wild on what having a doorstop that in reality, was a large nugget of gold!

              I urge anyone who is interested in Rancho cooking, seek this book out- I first found mine at the library!

          2. To me, it's all about the red oak. More than the cut of meat (which is also very important), and the salt-pepper-and-dry-garlic-rub, it's really the red oak coals that impart the distinct flavor that makes it distinctly Santa Maria Style.

            1. I concur with other posters that it's all about the local red oak. It imparts a very unique, subtle sweet taste that can't be duplicated with other woods.

              1. I got on a quest a few years back and collected a bunch of recipes and articles from various websites that claimed to have THE definitive version of Santa Maria barbecue. They were all different, of course, so I combined and experimented and came up with my favorites--a spice rub and a simple oil-and-vinegar basting sauce for the tri-tip, plus a Santa Maria-style pinquito bean dish and a salsa. I've posted them elsewhere and gotten comments from people who've lived in Santa Maria and who swear it's the way they remember it there. I just know it's good!

                Santa Maria Tri-Tip (and All the Fixin's)

                There does seem to be a consensus that oak wood is one key to the authentic flavor, but I've used mesquite and that's pretty tasty, too. I read that real pinquito beans were going to be hard to find outside central and southern California, but I had no trouble finding them in Seattle at the local Latino markets. You could also order them from RanchoGordo.com. They're worth hunting down, IMHO--I also tried the recipe with pinto beans but I didn't like the results anywhere as much.

                Rancho Gordo
                1924 Yajome St, Napa, CA 94559

                5 Replies
                1. re: MsMaryMc

                  you can buy pinquitos a bit cheaper at Susie Q's--about $2.80 a pound in a 6 pound package, plus all her seasoning mixes.


                  1. re: toodie jane

                    A niece of ours was attending UC Santa Barbara, and often when she'd come home for a holiday she'd bring everyone a small bag of those pinquitos with a packet of the seasoning inside. There is actually at least twice as much of that very potent seasoning as I want for just a pound of beans, so I'd get a tri-tip and use that stuff as the rub, with excellent results. Now that she's gone and graduated, I figured we'd just have to go up there ourselves, but these alternatives will save us some gas. Thanks!

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      aw, c'mon up--the weather alone is worth the price of gas. Fall is in the air and it's gawjuss. See canyon apple farms are in full roar.

                      1. re: toodie jane

                        Fall IS in the air, isn't it? I felt a gust of wind yesterday that took me by suprise, and the leaves that came down with it!

                        1. re: toodie jane

                          I agree about the weather, not to mention just how nice it is up there anyway. The hard part is getting past Santa Barbara! So many good places to eat, not to mention good friends we can stay with. But I have been wanting to try that tri-tip on its home turf, so maybe if we pull a long SB weekend (which we are planning to do, I have been informed) we can launch a jaunt farther north.