Santa Maria Barbecue

Santa Maria Barbecue (a.k.a. Santa Maria BBQ) is a local foods treasure from the Santa Maria Valley in California that traces its origins to cattle runs and 19th-century settlers. Santa Maria Barbecue isn't a technique or a dish: It's a meal. Grilled beef top block (or smaller cuts such as tri-tip or sirloin) is paired with beans, salad, garlic bread, and salsa fresca to make a crave-inducing meal.

  • 01 of 07

    Santa Maria Barbecue

    Barbecuing meat


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    "Real" Santa Maria Barbecue (that is, Santa Maria Barbecue served near Santa Maria, California) is usually cooked for very large groups—fundraisers, church suppers, family reunions. It is both possible and rewarding to cook up Santa Maria Barbecue for smaller gatherings. These recipes are scaled for groups of 6 to 8. They are easily scaled up!

    The real deal is also traditionally cooked over red oak coals. If you have access to them, by all means, use them. But other coals or even a gas grill produces perfectly delicious results.

  • 02 of 07

    Grilled Tri-Tip

    Santa Maria grilled tri-tip beef roast

    The Spruce / Molly Watson

    The centerpiece of Santa Maria Barbecue is grilled beef. For large groups, a whole top block is cooked slowly over red oak coals. For smaller groups, tri-tip, a roast that usually comes in at 2 pounds or under, works beautifully. At larger gatherings 3-inch-thick beef sirloin (roasts of 3 to 4 pounds) is also grilled, so feel free to substitute that if you like. The key to the beef in Santa Maria Barbecue is to keep it simple: salt, pepper, and garlic salt. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • 03 of 07

    Pinquito Beans

    Barbecue beans


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    Pinquito Beans are small pink beans that keep their shape during long cooking. Pinquitos are great, but not easy to find. Luckily, other small-ish beans, such as navys or pintos, also work. For the most delicious results, however, you will need to buy dried beans, soak them, and then cook them and spice them. There are ways to get same-day pinto beans from the process, however.

  • 04 of 07

    Salsa Fresca

    Salsa fresca


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    Salsa fresca is easy to make and just as easy to adjust to your tastes. Try it once, and you may find yourself wondering why you ever bought pre-made salsa.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Tossed Green Salad

    Salad greens


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    The specifics of the green salad are up for grabs. Most people swear by Italian dressing or vinaigrette, but some prefer French dressing, while still others serve their Santa Maria Barbecue with Blue Cheese Dressing. The fresh, crunchy salad is an important part of the magical balance that is the Santa Maria Barbecue meal, so serve the salad you like best.

  • 06 of 07

    Garlic Bread

    Garlic bread

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    Garlic bread adds savory unctuousness to Santa Maria Barbecue but also helps sop up with delicious juices of the other dishes. Use sweet (as opposed to sourdough) baguette or a similar plain French or Italian loaf of white bread.

    1. Cut it in half lengthwise. Butter both halves generously. Sprinkle with garlic salt or a bit of minced fresh garlic and a few tablespoons of minced parsley, if you like.
    2. Put the two halves back together, wrap in foil, and either bake at 350 F or place on a grill until butter is melted and the bread is heated through (about 15 minutes).
    3. Unwrap and cut into generous slices.
  • 07 of 07

    Coffee & Dessert

    Buttermilk ice cream


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    True Santa Maria Barbecue ends with coffee and ice cream for dessert, but feel free to serve your favorite cake, pie, or brownie to end the meal—anything simple, homey, and deeply satisfying, since that's what Santa Maria Barbecue is all about. Skirt tradition with buttermilk ice cream and a cup of black coffee.