A brief history of Barbecue in the Style of Santa Maria
In an age of changeable tastes and culinary fads, Santa Maria-Style barbecue continues to demonstrate that excellent taste and tradition never die.
The origins of Santa Maria-Style barbecue may be traced back to the mid-1800s, when huge ranches dotted the hillsides of the Santa Maria Valley and created a demand for the dish.
A Spanish-style feast for their vaqueros, or cowboys, as well as for family and friends was held each spring by local ranchers who barbecued meat over earthen pits filled with hot red oak charcoal, which was endemic to the valley.
Pinquitos, which are little pink beans that are regarded to be indigenous to the Santa Maria Valley, would accompany the dinner on a large platter.
As explained by R.H. Tesene, a local barbecue historian,
“The Santa Maria barbecue arose out of this custom and reached its’style’ when local folks started slicing up slices of beef and cooking them over hot embers of a red oak fire.”
The Santa Maria Club began hosting a “Stag Barbecue” in 1931, which was hosted on the second Wednesday of every month and drew up to 700 people each time it was held.
Over time, the mystique of Santa Maria-Style barbecue grew, transforming what was once a hidden gem into a major tourist attraction.
In those early days, top-block sirloin was the most popular cut of beef. The meat was wrapped in a mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic before being grilled over red oak embers, which impart a smokey, meaty flavor to the finished product.
In the 1950s, a local butcher by the name of Bob Schutz invented the tri-tip, a triangular bottom sirloin cut that quickly became a mainstay of Santa Maria-style barbecue, alongside top-block sirloin.
By the late 1950s, three local restaurants—Far Western Tavern, Hitching Post, and Jocko’s—were well on their way to becoming icons of Santa Maria-style barbecue, with the Far Western Tavern being the most famous.
These restaurants are still in business today, and they are joined by The Swiss, the Historic Santa Maria Inn Century Room, and other establishments that provide locally sourced barbeque.
During his presidency, President Ronald Reagan was a huge lover of Santa Maria-style barbeque.
A number of barbecues for President Reagan were hosted by local barbecue cook Bob Herdman and his “Los Compadres Barbecue Crew.” These events included five feasts held on the South Lawn of the White House.
While the Santa Maria Valley wine country is still in its infancy, the city of Santa Maria has been designated a Top 10 City of Wine Snobs by Travel Channel, despite the fact that there is no snobbery here.
This has further elevated the profile of the local culinary industry.
“A mainstay of California’s culinary legacy,” as the phrase goes, is what Santa Maria-style barbecue is all about.
The popularity of Santa Maria-Style Barbecue is continuing to grow as more and more people seek regional authenticity in their cuisine.
Restaurants in the area serve up Santa Maria-style barbeque, and visitors can even make their own at home.
There is so much to see and do in the Santa Maria Valley from here.
Take to the road and discover everything there is to see and do with 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms, seven distinct AVAs, 13 beaches, and a growing range of local brewers, all of which are within a beautiful 30-minute drive.
The Santa Maria area has all you could want and more when it comes to sand dunes, cycling, and traditional Santa Maria style restaurants. You’ll discover that it’s the ideal home base from which to eat, drink, and do more for less money.
Despite the fact that the Elks chose a different cut of beef than they usually do, the trademark Santa Maria seasoning remained the same: garlic powder, salt, and black pepper.
According to Simas, the accompaniments were similarly traditional in nature.
“The staples of the menu are salsa, French bread, green salad, macaroni salad, and, of course, the beef.
Of course, there are also pinquito beans prepared in the Santa Maria way. That is extremely significant.
“Pinquito beans are a little variant of pinto beans that are only grown in this region of California; the French bread is garlic bread that has been bathed in butter; and the chunky tomato salsa is not spicy at all.
The many restaurants in town that specialize in Santa Maria-style barbecue will provide a menu that is similar to this, but Simas cautions that this is not the greatest way to experience the true spirit of the cuisine.
“To be completely honest and truthful, restaurants cannot provide Santa Maria-style BBQ, at least not with the rods.”
The barbeque is done in the traditional Santa Maria style.
That is not to say that there aren’t a slew of eateries out there that are attempting to replicate what the Elks have perfected.
In 1952, according to the author R. H. Tesene, he began hosting barbecues on Sunday nights at his restaurant, The Beacon Outpost in New York City.
Prime rib was served with a variety of side dishes, including beans and salad, salsa, and garlic bread.
It was most likely the first restaurant in the area to serve barbecue in the style of Santa Maria.
Soon after, the Hitching Post in adjacent Casmalia and Jocko’s, just north of town in Nipomo, both began offering barbecue; the Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe opened in 1958.
The Santa Maria style of barbecue may now be found in every neighborhood in town (for more on area restaurants, check here).
Without ever setting foot in a single restaurant, a journey to Santa Maria was worthwhile simply to witness the team at the Elks Lodge prepare meals for several hundred hungry Californians.
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