California Dining


Sunset Magazine calls tri-tip "the Best Barbeque in the World" but application of the supremely simple Santa Maria technique creates a sensational meal that satisfies most palates.

Santa Maria, CA BBQ

The Santa Maria tri-tip is a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin primal cut. It is a small triangular muscle, usually 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. per side of beef. Rubbed with salt, pepper, garlic salt, and other seasonings, then cooked over red oak wood and roasted whole on a rotisserie or smoked in a pit, the flavor and scent of the wood make this meal fun to eat (and fun to cook.)

While the traditions of cooking Santa Maria Barbeque date back to the mid-1800's during the rancho era, the fan-base has grown through time and popularity increased so that companies actually manufacture Santa Maria BBQ pits. When visiting the Santa Maria Valley, you'll be amazed to see huge cooking grills in public parks, where families and friends converge and can prepare enough Santa Maria BBQ to feed an army.

When we first visited Santa Maria, on a typical weekend civic groups had their portable grills set up and cooked tri-tip in parking lots that the public could eat at a picnic table or take home to the family. The smell of the air told visitors they had arrived in Santa Maria. The tradition has been carried on through the years by the many groups and organizations in the Santa Maria Valley.

The secret of the Santa Maria Style Barbecue is its simplicity. Salt, pepper and garlic salt are the only seasonings used. The steaks are strung on flat steel rods, which are gradually lowered over a bed of red hot coals. Cooking time is usually about 45 minutes.

Served with this meal are sides of salsa and pinquito beans. Many additionally offer flour tortillas to roll your meat into a shell and make a finger-sandwich. The small pink bean is said to be unique to the Santa Maria Valley. It retains its firm texture even after long slow cooking. The beans are sold canned or uncooked locally or you can purchase them from stores.

Santa Maria Tri-Tip Magic Moments:

1950s - Bob Schutz perfected the tri-tip, a triangular bottom sirloin cut that joined top-block sirloin to create perfect meat for Santa Maria Style Barbecue.

Stag Barbecues began around 1931, created by the Santa Maria Club. At one time just under 1,000 people attended the monthly events that were a huge success. Though that tradition has ended, Santa Maria Style Barbecue popularity was proven, and is still going strong.

Santa Maria Salsa

3 chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped (optional, not always used in recipe)
1/2 cup green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped mild green chiles
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp vinegar
Pinch garlic salt (1/8th tsp)
Pinch dried oregano, crushed (1/8th tsp)
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
4 drops hot pepper sauce

Combine ingredients, cover and let stand at least 1 hour, then refrigerate if not used right away. Makes approx. 3 cups

Santa Maria Style Beans

1 pound pinquito beans
1 strip bacon, diced
1/2 cup ham, diced
1 clove garlic
3/4 cup tomato puree
1/4 cup red chile sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Preparation: Place beans in pot, cover with water, and let soak overnight. Drain beans, cover with fresh water, and simmer for 2 hours, after adding bacon (sauteed) and ham lightly browned. Add garlic, saute 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add tomato puree, chile sauce, sugar, mustard, salt.

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