Santa Maria Valley strawberries are so renowned for their juicy, flavorful character that they are distributed both nationally and internationally, and occupy the region’s top spot for moneymaking crops. The region’s uniquely moderate coastal climate is a perfect match for this fragile berry, with warm winters and cool summers that support an extended growing season of up to 10 months per year.
That said, it’s only natural that strawberry pie or shortcake is the traditional dessert served with Santa Maria Style Barbecue. The tangy, sweet berries seem to pair beautifully with the salty, smoky tones in the barbecued meat.
These flavors will now once again be celebrated on April 24 – 26 at Santa Maria Valley’s 28th Annual Santa Maria Strawberry Festival–a weekend of music, strawberry varietal tasting, strawberry desserts, cooking demonstrations, educational exhibits and old-fashioned carnival entertainment. This ultimate berry bash is held at the Santa Maria Fairpark.
For festival information please visit www.santamariafairpark.com.
Originally from Lompoc, John Cheney grew up grilling with his dad using California coastal red oak and a big oil drum with a crank in order to raise and lower the grill over the fire.
Now John has taken the Valley’s favorite flavors to the ski slopes and opened Gus’ Open Pit BBQ this winter in Incline Village, Nevada.
He says it’s not Santa Maria Style Barbecue if you don’t have the red oak, and that Pinquito beans (which he ships direct from Santa Maria Valley as that is the only place where they are grown) are another key part of the fare, adding that they never get mushy and hold flavor really well.
Cheney, who is also managing partner at a second restaurant called Big Water Grille near the Diamond Peak Ski Resort, also in Incline Village, says that his established strong customer base is supporting Gus’s Open Pit BBQ with gusto.
Just more evidence that while Santa Maria BBQ is homegrown, its flavors can be enjoyed anywhere!
The Hitching Post is a name that has become synonymous with local Santa Maria Style Barbecue over the past 60+ years, starting with the founding of the original Hitching Post restaurant by the Ostini family in the Santa Maria Valley in 1952.
Now the Ostini family’s barbecue expertise is once again set to be showcased at the next BBQ Boot Camp at the Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort on February 20-22 in the neighboring Santa Ynez Valley.
Indeed, Frank Ostini (pictured here), owner of the Hitching Post II in Buellton, and Alisal Executive Chef Pascal Godé are teaming up to treat guests to a remarkable barbecue immersion experience, to include grilling and spice blending workshops; special dinners with local celebrity chefs, winemakers and brewers; a morning horseback breakfast ride; and Western-style welcome amenities.The package includes a two-night stay at the Alisal.
Along the way, Frank and Pascal will wow the crowd with their BBQ prowess and tips on preparing genuine Santa Maria Style Barbecue.
For foodies hankering to hone their barbecue chops, it’s hard to beat the BBQ Bootcamp!
We’re always delighted when our hometown barbecue style pops up in the most unlikely places.
The latest is Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Kevin Tibbs, proprietor of Tibbs Brewing Company, recently hosted a Santa Maria Style BBQ dinner as part of the local Kalamazoo Beer Week festivities.
Said Tibbs, “Having a seated event is something new for us so that’s exciting in of itself. Then you add on the fact that we will be pairing our beer with, truthfully, some of the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten and that really gets me pumped for this event.”
We won’t argue with him about it being the best barbecue!
Other recent out-of-area Santa Maria Barbecue sightings include a new barbecue restaurant in Palm Springs that is including Santa Maria BBQ as part of a larger focus on regional American barbecue styles, as well as a new restaurant in Los Angeles called Odys + Penelope that is serving Santa Maria tri-tip.
Says Odys + Penelope proprietor Karen Hatfield: “It’s one of California’s very few regional foods,” she says. “It’s fun to put a spin on that.”
Sunset Magazine recently called Santa Maria “the West’s Best BBQ Town,” and it appears that Santa Maria BBQ is becoming one of the fastest growing regional barbecue styles along the way!
Al Pabst (pictured here) was one such Santa Marian who, in 1948 developed Santa Maria Bar-B-Que Salt for his personal use. Before he knew it, he was producing it for friends and fellow barbecue enthusiasts throughout the area, including members of the legendary Santa Maria Club. In 1958 he began mixing and bottling it for sale locally, and it became a foundational part of what we now call “Santa Maria Style” barbecue.
When Pabst retired to Sarasota, Florida in 1974, he continued to produce and sell his seasoning salt in both the Santa Maria and Sarasota markets for many years. Today the original recipe is maintained and sold by his children and grandchildren to the barbecue set worldwide.
According to the company web site, there are few foods that cannot be improved by Santa Maria Bar-B-Que Salt, and some people even use it in their beer!
From place names to architecture to cuisine, Santa Maria Valley’s Mexican rancho heritage is still evident today throughout our culture. . . and Santa Maria Style Barbecue is no exception.
The classic Santa Maria Style Barbecue menu, which was copyrighted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1978, also includes, of all things, fresh salsa! Whether used as a dipping sauce for each tender bite of beef, or as a condiment on a tri-tip sandwich, a well-made salsa is a must-have for many a Santa Marian. Salsa styles vary as to individual taste, but here are a few famed types and resources:
-Santa Maria Style Mild Salsa by Susie Q’s Brand. Based on recipes from longtime locals, this mild-mannered yet robust salsa is a blend of chunky California tomatoes, green chiles, fresh red and green onions, garlic and a zest of balsamic vinegar.
-SeriousEats.com features a classic tomato and celery-based salsa as an accompaniment to Santa Maria-style barbecued tri-tip. A California green chili, scallions and cilantro leaves figure in the mix.
-Meanwhile, Bobby Flay offers recipes for a “Tomato Relish” using cherry tomatoes, garlic, red onion and serrano chilies and also a “Santa Maria Pinquito Bean Relish” composed of bacon, poblano chiles, Spanish onion and pinquito beans.
Need still more hot salsa in your step? Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, located along the Santa Maria Valley wine trail, is hosting a series of salsa dance lessons for beginners taught by salsa pro Liliana Graham in spring 2015.
One of the biggest testaments to Santa Maria Style Barbecue is that several legendary local barbecue restaurants–such as the Hitching Post, Far Western Tavern and Shaw’s Steakhouse–have all been going strong since the 1950s. And to that list, you can also add Rancho Bowl in Santa Maria, a local institution since 1959.
Long known for its Santa Maria Style oak-pit tri-tip sandwiches, Ranch Bowl is now a more delicious experience than ever under the direction of new Executive Chef Brenda Vasquez, a Santa Maria native who attended the Culinary Institute of Arizona.
As noted in this story by Hayley Thomas of the Santa Maria Sun, Vasquez’s menu is “a blend of mid-century diner comfort and modern culinary creation.” It appears to be a hit, as food sales have tripled!
Another attraction is the inimitable ambiance of Rancho Bowl. As Thomas puts it, “The old-school, Santa Maria-style barbecue and banquet room where local folks routinely wed up and party down, the retro-chic bar adorned in black-and-white photos, and the family-owned-and-operated feel keep the spirit of the late owners alive and well.”
Yet while the vibe is authentically old school, the bowling experience is remarkably modern, with 32 remodeled lanes, couches and coffee tables, LCD touch screen consoles with integrated cameras, and flat-screen televisions, not to mention interactive bowling games with Facebook connect.
Rancho Bowl is operated by Victoria Murray, daughter of founder Mili Acquistapace. One hallmark of Santa Maria Style Barbecue is that it is always moving forward, but never abandons its roots–and Rancho Bowl is yet the latest example!