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Aug 7, 2009 10:57 AM

SANTA MARIA BBQ-- We all know about Jocko's and The Far Western Tavern... but what about the trailers?

Greetings from Los Angeles, Santa Maria 'hounds!

Taking a cue from this recent post about why SM BBQ isn't found at more restaurants....'s led me to ask these questions, which have been bothering me now since I had my first SM BBQ trailer experience a few years ago.

It seems that every time I read about the quintessential Santa Maria BBQ experience, people mention the weekend parking lot BBQ trailers all up and down the main boulevards of Santa Maria. My understanding is that these are generally these are run as fundraisers for Lions Club, etc. and not run by professional chefs or grillmasters.

Of course, I have had many, many glorious spencer steaks at Jocko's, and have has a couple of delicious Bullseye steaks at The Far Western Tavern. Take note, I have been consistently disappointed by The Hitching Post, whose steaks are more pricey and less flavorful than these two faithful standbys.

When I get the urge for Santa Maria BBQ, Jocko's is my go-to place.

Of course, there's still an empty spot in my heart, and a question in my head. There's that part of me that sees those trailers on the side of the road, the smoke rising from those mobile BBQ trailers, the aroma of the smoke seducing me through my car's air conditioning ducts. I want to love them. I need to love them.

They got me once... I pulled over in the parking lot of a strip mall made from Alex Madonna's trademark giant boulders. I don't remember which organization was running this particular trailer. I stared at the grill for a good 10 minutes. I asked the guy running the grill if I could have "that steak... in the back... the beautifully charred one that was just perfectly done." His reply? "We don't sell from the grill... go to the trailer." So I went to the trailer, and asked them if I could have ""that steak... in the back... the beautifully charred one that was just perfectly done." Her reply? "We don't sell meat directly from the grill." She gave me a plate of whatever they had in the trailer.

So this meat she gave me... when was it finished cooking? How long had it been sitting under the heat lamps in the trailer? Who knows. it was truly mediocre, and a waste of $8 that I could have put towards my $21 spencer steak at Jocko's.

So my question for you local Santa Maria hounds.... is there a trick to getting great SM BBQ, Jocko's quality, from the parking lot trailers? Or is your fondness for the trailers really more about tradition and the experience than about the food?

If there's one particular trailer that's particularly good, that sells consistently fresh meat, that doesn't mind selling you fresh meat from the grill,etc. can you talk about it here?

What are your tips or tricks for getting the best quality, freshest grilled meat from the trailers?

Thanks for all your advice.

Mr Taster

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  1. ok, this is a bit off track, but since you bring it up, I just had to mention, since I haven't had time to post a full report, that my recent dinner at the Hitching Post (Buellton)was probably the best of my week long coast trip, and definitely exceeded expectations by a lot. Nor did I think it was pricey, in fact I thought it was quite reasonable for what we got. Steaks were very flavorful, the most flavorful I've had in a long, long time (both hubby and I took a bite and said, 'wow'), and we really had fun....if indeed Jocko's and FWT are better they must be very good indeed. (though neither would have worked for us, we were in the area after driving up from LA and couldn't leave LA until almost it took some fortitude just to hold out as long as Buellton to eat! Hopefully I will get time to do a full report one of these days...

    (hmmm...links still not working for me, how frustrating...)

    to get back on track: my guess is that you really do have to find the one that will sell it to you from the grill. I know a place elsewhere that has that same rule, and I don't get it.

    1. Try going to the SLO farmer's market on Thursday evening. The Santa Maria BBQ vendors there do enough volume where the meat you are getting is about as fresh as possible (if not directly off the grill).

      10 Replies
      1. re: mliew

        You know, I've known about the SLO farmers market for about a decade now, and I've never been able to work out an itinerary to get there from Los Angeles (damn you, Thursday night! Why couldn't it be on Saturday night?)

        SLO farmers market is certainly on my radar... I'll get there, one day.

        Mr Taster

        1. re: Mr Taster

          I always check out the Costco in Santa Maria because they have sales sometimes on the untrimmed tri-tip in cryovac packs for $1.99/lb. You get 5 or 6 tri-tips in the pack. Load it in the cooler and pick up some cheap oak wood and bring it home for Santa Maria BBQ.
          Sometimes you find oak wood on the side of the road for free...they just want to get rid of it.

          1. re: monku

            What is DYI? Do you mean "Do it yourself" (DIY), or "For Your Information" (FYI)? Or is this some other internet acronym that I'm not hip enough to know about?


            I'm a curmudgeon when it comes to the overuse of ambiguous acronyms. Apologies in advance if you intended the well-known DIY or FYI acronym and made a typo. No apologies if you intended some obscure internet reference that has caused me to spend 10 minutes of my day researching it online.


            Anyway, the problem with doing this type of BBQ yourself is that it's not possible to do it the right way unless you've A) got the right grill, that big thing with the chain crank B) have the right kind of wood (it's red oak, not just any kind of oak, and not charcoal) and C) the right cut of meat. Of course, as you say tritip is not too hard to come by in Santa Maria, though in LA it sometimes needs to be specially ordered.

            Mr Taster

            1. re: Mr Taster

              I think the biggest factor in making your own is that it's just not very practical to fire up a huge oak pit BBQ if you're only cooking for a few people.

              They do make small versions of the huge BBQ pit for backyard use which work pretty well.

              1. re: Mr Taster

                DYI= Do It Yourself
                I've done it at home and camping with excellent results without a Santa Maria style BBQ rig. You just control the heat by moving your wood or meat around. I figure oak wood I'm buying up there is the right stuff.
                Costco's got tri-tip everyday, but it's already been trimmed.
                You want one of those Santa Maria style BBQ rigs check with Claro's Italian Market, they used to sell smaller sized ones the size of a Weber. Call Bob the owner at the San Gabriel store and maybe he can hook you up.

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  "Red Oak" is just a common term for the local Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolius.

                  One shudders to think how many oaks are cut down or mis-"pruned" to fuel the bbq pits along the central coast.

                  That aside, there is a great small SMSBBQ place with the ubiquitous crank bbq and live oak coals at the Tamale Shop on Blosser and Betteravia in the tin building complex. It backs up to McKeon-Phillips winery sales room. Don't know if he'll sell you something from the grill, but it's a good med-rare sandwich he serves.

                  1. re: toodie jane

                    Sorry for the off topic post....
                    Is that tamale shop open again? About a year ago i went there and the place felt deserted and locked up. Do they have unusual hours?

                    Also, todiejane, have you ever been to a McKeon-Phillips wine down? One of my favorite food wine paring experiences without spending $100 on a winemakers dinner. Ardison, the owner is a great chef.

                    Back to the original post. The fundraiser trailers are just that, don't expect anything special. There are a few catering groups in santa maria who do wedding and such, who put together an excellent "traditional" Santa Maria bbq. (just had it a wedding 2 weekends ago and at my dad's company picnic last weekend) But for out-of-towners i think farmers market is the best bet.

                    One other random fact. You can go to Jokos and buy their pre-made beans and salsa by the gallon, and you can often find them served with someone else's bbq tritip.

                    1. re: chickendud

                      no have not been to a McK-P event.

                      yes, the Tamale Shop is open. They are open Tues-Sat from 11-ish till 5 or sold out. They are pretty much a one-man operation so sometimes will be closed without explanation during normal hours.

                      They sell out of the specialty tamales often, being bought out by people too lazy to special order quantity. So many times the beef or chicken are ht only ones left. They're not my favorite--I prefer the fresh corn, cheese and chili. You can call ahead to and they will hold an order for you.

                      Info here:


                    2. re: toodie jane

                      Is the great small SMSBBQ place at the Tamale Shop still there and still good?

                2. re: Mr Taster

                  Yeah I know what you mean. I don't live on the Central Coast anymore and most of the time when I visit I'm only up there for the weekend so I miss the farmer's market. But it really is worth going just for the food and produce.

                  Should also note that the pits at the farmers market are run by professionals from local restaurants, not just people cooking for fundraisers. My favorite BBQ was from the now closed Old Country Deli, although I understand they might still run a pit at the farmers market.

              2. Isn't it a "Baseball" cut of steak at the Far Western Tavern.

                Wrong call... That's Taylors with the Baseball cut

                1. Speaking from experience at BBQ'ing for fund raisers they're basically all volunteers and not professionals. It's FIFO (accounting term: First In First Out) one reason why you couldn't get a steak right off the grill and they're always "portioning" by weighing or whatever....why you get the stuff inside the trailer.

                  Check out this trailer and grill full of top sirloins. You don't get those steaks at Costco or your local Vons. Family friends from Santa Maria came down to LA with their trailer rig and made a fantastic Santa Maria BBQ for 100 friends. They know what their doing, they've been doing it for 50 years. They're farmers and not professionals bbq'rs, but they throw these spreads for their friends up there a few times a year. They also built the BBQ rig.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: monku

                    I am researching this thread because we are considering have a SM style BBQ catered for the Buldog Club of America National Specialty in Nov 2010. It's in Costa Mesa, CA at thanksgiving. Do you have any recommendations for chefs with rigs that will travel that far? We usually get 200 or so people at these events. Thanks! CLAIRE


                    1. re: batears

                      Gary Laird's Butcher Shop in Santa Paula (Ventura County) does terrific Santa Maria trip tip catering. Don't know if he goes that far but worth a call. He is an amazing independent meat specialist. Knows his stuff and might know someone in your area if he can't do it.

                      Here is a very good article about him:

                      1. re: glbtrtr

                        This guy with the preposterously large mustache used to have a great "intro to Santa Maria BBQ" video up on the Santa Maria Tourism website. Unfortunately the link has been broken for several years... you can try it if you like


                        Here's the guy's catering website directly:

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          that's a good 4 hour drive; if he isn't interested, he'll know if someone good is in your area.

                  2. Agree about Hitching Post being sub-par. Had a pretty bad steak and a very ho-hum rest of the meal at the Casmalia original location of HP.