Santa Maria-Style barbecue, flavorful simplicity of Spanish style barbecue


Each region has its preferred style of barbecue. Santa Maria-Style barbecue focuses on simplicity and slow cooking to create flavorful meals.

Not all barbecue is the same. From Texas barbecue to St. Louis style, the flavors and cooking techniques vary. Santa Maria-Style barbecue is unique as well. The Spanish influenced barbecue has been a California favorite. With simple flavors and careful cooing, Santa Maria-Style barbecue can make its way to your dinner table.

Located in California, Santa Maria Valley has been influenced by the land and the culture. From the nuanced Pinot Noir wines to luscious strawberries, this region is a favorite with foodies and tourists. But, the Santa Maria-Style barbecue is a highly sought after meal.

This style of barbecue is unique to the area. To protect that original recipe, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce copyrighted the recipe in 1978. What makes this particular barbecue recipe so special? It is the cut of meat, seasonings and cooking technique.
Santa Maria-Style barbecue, photo provided by Visit Santa Maria
This type of barbecue uses Tri-Tip. Tri-Tip is located below the top sirloin. Often associated with California barbecue, this cut of meat has a triangular shape. Today, the Tri-Tip is considered the signature meat for Santa Maria style cooking.

The Tri-Tip meat is prepared with simple season. Instead of coating the meat in a heavy seasoning bark, the Tri-Tip is seasoned with a few ingredients. Salt, pepper and garlic bring out the inherent flavor of the meat. No over-powering seasoning inhibits the meat’s flavor and texture.

To cooking this Santa Maria barbecue, the method is different than other barbecue types. Specifically, only red oak is used for the barbecue. The smoky flavor envelops the meat and adds its own flavor notes. Cooked indirectly over the red oak, the heat keeps the meat tender and juicy. One juicy bite will have any carnivore fan hooked for life.

Since meat itself is not a complete meal, Santa Maria barbecue is often served with pinquito beans. Another local ingredient, these beans are quite firm. The pink beans offer a bite of texture in comparison to the tender, smoky Tri-Tip.

While a visit to Santa Maria is the best way to enjoy this particular barbecue, home cooks can try to recreate the special technique at home. Red oak used in a smoker, Big Green Egg or modified grill can elicit some of the flavor qualities.

Even if you can’t use red oak, a simply seasoned Tri-Tip can be a great barbecue meal. Pair the tender meat with a Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, like Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir. Serve with some pinquito beans and you could feel transported to Santa Maria Valley.

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Santa Maria style barbecue is part art and part history. Embrace the flavorful simplicity and discover this other style of barbecue.