Santa Maria BBQ

I’m from Santa Maria, California (et al.), and remember the big Santa Maria BBQs from my high school days. The local ranchers clubs would put on big spreads with six or ten 55-gallon-drums split in half and set up as grills. There were long tables with red and white checked plastic covers, chunks of garlic bread, and large bottles of wine. For some reason, the Portuguese semi-sparkling wines from Lancers were exceptionally popular. I, of course, was too young to drink, and anyway, the fruity overtones and fizzy finish wouldn’t have appealed to me. Nowadays it’s all about the high quality Central Coast Wines.

Santa Maria BBQ plate, source:

Tri-tip, pinquitos, salsa, and garlic bread.
That green stuff on the side is just decoration.

The meat supplied by the local ranchers — tri-tip or other slabs of beef — rubbed with garlic salt and broiled over an oak chip fire and served in slices, tasted exceedingly good. What makes a Santa Maria BBQ, in addition to the garlic-beef-over-oak is also the salsa and the beans (go buy the Sunset Magazine Cookbook for details). The beans are local to the Santa Maria Valley, and are called Pinquitos. If you are in the area, you can scoop them up from the bulk food section of any supermarket. Or you can order them online, for around $5.00 a pound, plus shipping. Or, surprisingly, you can buy them canned from the Safeway stores S&W house brand. Of course, those have already been cooked and flavored the way the haute cuisine food engineers at Safeway like them, which may not be what you want, and aren’t how we had them, back then.

If you want order the dry beans online Suzsie Q’s Brand is the only company I know that sells them. The smaller bags come with a “Santa Maria Seasoning”, that is much hotter than I remember. That’s a little surprising, since Susie Q’s is a local Santa Maria company with a long tradition. Her parents ran the Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe, which is the place to go for Santa Maria BBQ. In any event, I prefer to make my own, using the Sunset recipe or the one from the Santa Maria BBQ website above.

By the way, according to that website, one of the advantages of pinquitos beans is that “they retain their firmness, even when fully cooked”. You could also read that as “are still crunchy, even after four hours of boiling”. What we found works best is to soak them overnight, then cook them for about twenty minutes in the pressure cooker and then use the slow cooker setting for four or six hours. I don’t remember how they did it back in the day, but I suspect that all day simmering was a factor.

UPDATE 2016: Here is a good recipe for Santa Maria style tri-tip, including a sous vide option.


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