Merging Tradition with Modernity: The Santa Maria Style Grill Reimagined

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By Marilyn Royce

California has some of the richest cuisines in the country. Mexico used to own the land made up by the state, bringing many cultures to the towns and cities scattered throughout the region. Santa Maria barbecue is one of California’s most unique food styles, only in the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez valleys. The ranchers created the cuisine after a hard work day herding cattle in the late nineteenth century. Santa Maria barbecue began on an open pit, but you can now cook it on a grill. Learn what makes this cuisine so unique by reading the article below.

1. Oak is the Only Useful Wood for Santa Maria Barbecue

Only use oak, more preferably red oak, when cooking with a Santa Maria style grill. In the late nineteenth century, ranchers would pile the wood in a pit, laying the meat over it. Now, the modern grill can fit the wood and the protein. Stab metal skewers through your proteins to create a shish kebab. Make sure to heat the wood first to achieve the best consistency. Move the crank on the side of the grill to perfect the taste of your Santa Maria barbecue.

2. Santa Maria Barbecue Does Not Require Sauce

This fact may confuse you. How does a slice of barbecued meat not require a barbecue sauce for flavor? Santa Maria-style meat only needs the juice from the protein. You will achieve a rich flavor profile from the salt, pepper, and garlic powder mixture. It creates an umami taste that will leave your loved ones wanting more. Many Santa Maria-style experts use the blend in soups, vegetables, and side dishes to enhance the meal. It is sure to be a taste you will never forget!

3. Santa Maria Barbecue Originated with Steak

Most people associate tri-tips with Santa Maria barbecue. The cooks serve the protein on sandwiches for a delicious meal. This cooking technique originated with steaks, as tri-tips did not exist until the 1950s. This protein held the flavor and moisture better, leaving a juicy cut of meat behind. Do not worry. If you are not a red meat fan, you can still cook sausages and chicken using the Santa Maria method. Watch your proteins while on the grille because you do not want them to dry.

4. Santa Maria Barbecue Has Unique Side Options

Many Santa Maria barbecue cooks serve their proteins with unique sides. The traditional ranchers make a bowl of local pinquito beans, further enhancing the culture in the region. These legumes only grow in the valleys mentioned. Some individuals serve the barbecue with garlic bread or tortillas. You will find salsa on the side to add spice to your dinner. None of the other foods should contrast with the Santa Maria barbecue. Ultimately, you want your side options to highlight the taste of the meat you prepared over the grill.

5. Try Santa Maria Barbecue at Someone’s Home

Some restaurants in California serve Santa Maria barbecue. This meal is best if you can find a friend or neighbor who can cook in this style. Look for events throughout California where cooks use traditional grilling methods. 

Many town parks and festivals use the Santa Maria grill to make delicious meats for you to enjoy. Some grocery stores and vineyards host Santa Maria cooks at special summer events! Ultimately, this meal is one you should enjoy with the people you love the most to honor the rich traditions.

Try Santa Maria Style Barbecue

Santa Maria-style barbecue has a rich history, originating with ranchers in the valleys of California in the late nineteenth century. Most cooks no longer use pits dug in their yards. They prefer a specialized Santa Maria grill. The crank on the side allows them to lower their chicken, steak, or tri-tips to achieve the perfect results. 

Santa Maria barbecue is an entire experience. Cooks will make specialized sides to accentuate the meats they prepared on the grill. Be sure to spread the rich salsa or taste the unique beans to the region. Finally, Santa Maria barbecue is best if you can find a local event or festival. Some restaurants serve it, but you will not find the same tradition in the food.