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!
The fact that our famed barbecue country is also home to world-class wineries adds another flavorful layer to Santa Maria Valley’s culinary heritage. Each winery brings with it a distinctive culture, visitor experiences and special events.
A festive example is Riverbench Vineyard & Winery’s upcoming “Bubbles Galore: A Day of Sparkling Wine” happening Saturday, December 6 at the winery from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. This is a chance to taste through six sparkling wines with Winemaker Clarissa Nagy while enjoying a three-course lunch prepared by Chef James Gentry.
The day is sure to impress as Riverbench is one of the longest established wineries in the valley and is renowned for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made in limited quantities. Of course, all dishes at the Bubbles Galore event will be carefully matched with a different Riverbench bubbly . . . not to mention sparkling conversation!
On that note, get ready for more perfect pairings here in California’s BBQ Capital as Figueroa Mountain Brewery has opened a new taproom in the city of Santa Maria. Best of all, the brewery plans to honor the tradition of Santa Maria Style Barbecue along the way.
“We are excited to open a taproom in an area so rich in history and tradition,” says brewery president Jaime Dietenhofer about expanding into Santa Maria. “Every year we attend the Santa Maria rodeo and we’re big fans of Santa Maria BBQ. Craft beer is the perfect pairing with tri-tip and we will even be marinating tri-tip in Davy Brown Ale for sandwiches on our ‘Bar Bites’ menu.”
Figueroa Mountain Brewery is based just down the road in the Santa Ynez Valley and makes a variety of beer styles, including signature brews such as Hoppy Poppy IPA and Davy Brown Ale.
At its Santa Maria taproom, Figueroa Mountain has live music on Fridays and Saturdays, along with other themed evenings, such as Game Night (board games galore) and Benefit Taphandle Night (supporting local charities) every Wednesday. Food includes tri-tip sandwiches, pizza, salads and more.
The new Figueroa Mountain taproom in Santa Maria is just the latest example of how the craft beer movement is making waves here in the Santa Maria Valley!
This may be one of the best lines ever uttered about Santa Maria tri-tip: “East of the Rockies, the tri-tip roast is like the Sasquatch of meat.”
Best of all, this line comes from the venerable New York Times!
Indeed, in a recent story about tri-tip and the elusiveness of certain cuts of meat from region to region, the Times’ Kim Severson details her futile quest to track down tri-tip east of the Rockies. She writes, “Back in Northern California, where my tri-tip courtship began, you couldn’t swing a piece of red oak without hitting one…I have asked for tri-tip in grocery stores from Chicago to Tampa, only to be met with the pleasant stare that comes when the inherently helpful are completely baffled.”
She concludes, “Perhaps the tri-tip is simply suffering from a branding problem in the East. Or maybe the people in California are eating more than their share.“
Here’s how Severson describes tri-tip: “The tri-tip roast, beefy and juicy beyond its price, which rarely tops $8 a pound, is California patio food made for grilling. Seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, cooked over red oak in a style that has come to be called Santa Maria barbecue and sliced against the grain, tri-tip is essential to Central California biker bar sandwiches and community fund-raisers.”
That is true. Of course, we’d like to remind everyone that you can enjoy tri-tip at numerous establishments besides biker bars and fundraisers, but we’re not going to get pretentious about it!
And for those of you who are wondering what tri-tip is, and how it became synonymous with Santa Maria Style Barbecue, check out our short history on this distinctive homegrown cut.
Thanks to Kim Severson and the New York Times for turning the spotlight on tri-tip and Santa Maria BBQ.
In Santa Maria, tri-tip is so revered that it is even presented as a hallowed offering at the Santa Maria Valley’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration where people build elaborate altars in memory of a deceased loved one.
Indeed, “Day of the Dead,” or “All Saints Day,” which is officially on November 1, will be celebrated in Santa Maria on Sunday, November 2 from noon to 5 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Community Center and at the adjacent Veterans Memorial Park. Here large, colorful altars are erected and decorated with photos, mementos and even the favorite foods of those who have passed.
Festive music, dancing, performances and food (including tri-tip sandwiches) are also an important part of the afternoon. Make no mistake, the Day of the Dead is alive and well in Santa Maria, and so is barbecue!
P.S. The nearby Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center is presenting a Day of the Dead exhibit featuring the work of David Lozeau (pictured here) showing through November 16.