Posts filed under ‘Three Questions’
Here at the Official Santa Maria BBQ Blog, we’ve noted numerous times how our regional culinary tradition is spreading far and wide, and the latest example is Burnin’ Wood BBQ of Greensboro, North Carolina. Mark and Mary Rosa started Burnin’ Wood BBQ Company towards the end of last year. They call it a “have pit, will travel” business. Mark hires himself out as a personal barbecue chef, and brings the pit to ‘cue up tri-tip, chicken, veggies….whatever his clients request. Mark and Mary specialize in winery and microbrewery events, festivals, reunions and other family gatherings. “My goal is to provide simple, delicious, open-pit barbecue,” Mark says. We recently caught up with Mark to discover how his Santa Maria Style Barbecue business took root 3,000 miles away from the Santa Maria Valley:
How did you come to specialize in Santa Maria BBQ out in North Carolina?
I was born and raised in Santa Maria, California, and this style of BBQ is part of our family tradition. My father taught me how to barbecue tri-tip, and we had a built-in pit in our backyard. We would basically find any reason to BBQ and get the family together: holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, etc. I have been doing this style of barbecue for 30-plus years. In 1995, I moved to Florida. When I met my wife in Florida, we would do barbecue on a little Weber grill with red oak chips that my sister sent me from California. Whenever I had the opportunity, I would grill up for friends — who absolutely loved it! Upon moving to North Carolina in 2006, I continued to share this style of barbecue with my neighbors and friends here. For my birthday last year, I special ordered a Santa Maria BBQ pit from Costco in Bakersfield (since they didn’t have one here in Greensboro). The first “official” barbecue was actually for our wine club member picnic at McRitchie Winery in Elkin, NC. I had contacted the owners and offered to bring my pit and BBQ for the picnic. People raved about it so much — I thought to myself, I could actually turn this love, and hobby for fellowship and food into a business.
How do you obtain your Santa Maria BBQ ingredients—are they hard to find?
At first it was very difficult to find the ingredients for this style of BBQ. It took a lot of research online and getting in touch with local vendors here in Greensboro to find most of the ingredients. The Greensboro area here in North Carolina, is very similar to Santa Maria in terms of offering local, fresh ingredients, so I source from our local Farmers Markets whenever possible for the chicken and veggies. We have found vendors for the artichokes, linguica and untrimmed tri-tip in Greensboro. North Carolina also has red oak trees, and I’ve been able to locate wood, but still have my sister send out some bark from California when she can. The Pinquito beans have still eluded my search here, so my mom and best friend ship them out to me from Santa Maria.
North Carolina is famous for its own regional barbecue style. What’s the typical reaction from folks out there when they try Santa Maria BBQ for the first time?
People are blown away! Much like a book or movie, this style of BBQ is its own genre, so people don’t tend to compare it to North Carolina BBQ. They are impressed with how succulent and flavorful the food is — even being cooked over open flame — and they love the flavor the oak wood imparts. Burnin’ Wood BBQ is as much about the fellowship and friendship as it is about the food. I’m very glad to share my family tradition with others. As I say on my business cards, “It’s BBQ’d Love!” Here’s a testimony from someone whose lived in NC for 30 years (and who I had the opportunity to BBQ for their celebration).
This was no small order, as they were tasked with serving more than 2,000 employees and guests of ESPN and Prime Sports as well as float owners, sponsors and television executives.
Sue and Billy Ruiz, who have owned and operated Cowboy Flavor for more than 30 years, tackled this mission with their knowhow for hospitality, flavor and fun in all that they do. We caught up with them to get the lowdown on this epic experience:
Q: Describe your experience serving at this year’s Rose Bowl?
A: Wow! It was an honor to be a part of this event and to represent Santa Maria Style Barbecue to all the good folks in Pasadena. We have to add that Prime Sports choreographed the tailgate event to perfection.
Q: How did people react to Santa Maria Style Barbecue?
A: The oak wood and meat aromas were in the air. And when people saw our pit and the quantities of meat, the cameras came out. After they tasted, the thumbs went up!
Q: What was one of your most memorable moments from the experience?
A: Putting smiles on hungry people’s faces, being in the shadow of the Rose Bowl and being asked to come back again next year for the 100th anniversary of the Rose Bowl.
Thank you to Sue and Billy Ruiz for sharing their experience and for spreading the love for Santa Maria Style Barbecue!
Not many of us stay in one place for 60 years, but the Ostini family knows how to stick with a good thing. Since 1952 the family has served up their signature barbecue and more at the Hitching Post Restaurant in Casmalia. In 1986, they opened their second Hitching Post Restaurant in Buellton, which was featured in the hit movie, “Sideways.” Both restaurants have enjoyed widespread praise in wine and food media outlets, including Gourmet Magazine, Wine Enthusiast and beyond. We checked in with General Manager Terri Stricklin to learn the latest as the restaurant celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.
What has changed at the Hitching Post during the past 60 years, and what has not?
The menu has changed to include other offerings besides steaks, such as fresh seafood, pork, chicken and grilled vegetables. The way we include multiple side dishes along with an entrée for one menu price has not changed since 1952. Diners are offered shrimp cocktail, a dinner salad, a choice of potatoes or vegetables, ice cream and coffee along with their entrée. Also, the Old West ambiance is still the same since the 100-year-old building has seen few changes in the past 60 years.
What are you doing to celebrate this milestone?
We have a special bottling of the Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Pinot Noir named “Sixtieth.” When purchased, guests receive a complimentary Hitching Post 60th anniversary logo wine glass, while supplies last. We are also running some Facebook promotions for those who tune into radio stations MEGA 97.1 FM and KSNI 102.5 FM. And, we will feature “in-house” specials throughout the year that can be found on Facebook or on our web site at www.hitchingpost1.com.
With more and more people beginning to embrace regional cuisine, do you think Santa Maria Style Barbecue is more popular than ever?
Absolutely! Santa Maria Style Barbecue is increasingly recognized nationwide as one of the “regional” barbecues. Famous chefs and food writers are taking note of restaurants in our valley which, along with the original Hitching Post and the Hitching Post II in Buellton, have played a large part in putting this cuisine on the national food radar.
Thank you, Terri!
Indeed, the Santa Maria Valley’s famed Hitching Post restaurant continues to turn heads with its BBQ2YOU line of ready-to-heat authentic Santa Maria BBQ (and other offerings such as seasonings) shipped right to your doorstep.
Among the favorites is the Four Pack “Fully Prepared” Grilled Tri-Tip (approx. eight pounds, shipped frozen, California only, $69.95) which will feed an army, and which is perfectly seasoned and grilled over red oak. Also popular is the Six Pack “Fully Prepared” Grilled Artichoke (shipped frozen, California only, $65.95).
Restaurant General Manager Terri Stricklin says that there’s no grilling or thaw time necessary. She says that from freezer to plate in less than 20 minutes, these are fully prepared meals, and all you have to do is boil water, drop the boil-in-bag meal in, and dinner is served.
What inspired you to develop fully prepared Santa Maria BBQ tri-tip?
The business venture began with my niece, Stacey Mosti. When she moved away from the area, she missed her dad’s famous barbecue at the Casmalia Hitching Post restaurant. She wanted a way to enjoy it more than the once or twice a year when she visits the Central Coast. After about 18 months of testing, we mastered the steps for barbecuing and flash freezing our tri-tip, and we developed reliable reheating instructions for the end customer.
How far and wide have you shipped your prepared tri-tip?
We have shipped to as far away as Alaska and have had many requests to ship overseas. However, we are currently only shipping in California.
What is some of the feedback you’ve received?
We have received tremendous feedback from our customers. Many of them are local folks sending packages to kids while they’re away at college, or to family who’ve moved out of the area. People love our product!
Thank you, Terri! For more information on The Hitching Post and BBQ2YOU, visit www.hitchingpost1.com and click on the BBQ2YOU link.
Where there’s smoke, there’s barbecue! Such is the case with the Santa Maria Valley’s Old Town Market. Located in the hamlet of Orcutt, Old Town Market makes Santa Maria tri-tip an integral part of its weekly offerings. Here, proprietor Mark Steller and his crew captivate both visitors and locals alike with the aromas and flavors of the market’s all-day Saturday barbecues. Located along a popular route for road cyclists, the market also caters to many long-distance travelers, some of whom are trying Santa Maria tri-tip for the first time.
Do you get a lot of people asking about Santa Maria Style Barbecue and what it is?
“We get people cycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles and even from Anchorage to Mexico City,” Mark says. “They smell the smoke and that’s how they learn about it.”
In addition to its extensive deli and fresh meats and produce, Old Town Market features a world-class wine department with hundreds of varietal selections from more than 70 local wineries, including tough-to-find boutique winery offerings.
Which wines in your store do you recommend pairing with Santa Maria Style Barbecue?
“Two wines that pair nicely with Santa Maria Style Barbecue are Rancho Sisquoc’s River Red, and also a Syrah by Golden Bear, a small winery,” Mark says.
More about wine and barbecue pairing can be explored at the market’s Saturday evening wine tastings, which feature a different local winery each week. Old Town Market is also renowned for its on-site antique shop, Gift Show happening on May 12 and Antique Sale with more than 30 antique vendors slated for July 21.
Do well-informed locals also frequent your market and events?
“Oh, that’s the majority of our traffic,” Mark says. “People who don’t have the time to cook enjoy grabbing their meal here, especially as our $6 tri-tip sandwich is a good value. Our team member, Josh, handles the barbecue here. He learned the art from his dad and takes great pride in it.”
Thank you, Mark! For more information on Old Town Market, visit www.oldtownmarket.net
We first learned about Michael Hockenhull and his catering business when he posted some magnificent Santa Maria BBQ photos on our Facebook page. For the past 21 years, Michael’s Santa Maria Barbecue & Grill has been serving traditional Santa Maria Style Barbecue at special events and gatherings across Southern California’s Inland Empire.
“Since 1990, we’ve served southern California communities with authentic Central California cuisine featuring tender, choice cuts of tri-tip sirloin, grilled to perfection over red oak wood using a 100-year-old authentic dry rub recipe,” he says.
Michael lives in Chino Hills with his wife and two children. We recently caught up with him as part of our Three Questions interview series:
What inspired you to start a Santa Maria BBQ business in Chino Hills?
There was nothing like it out here. We have a great following in the Inland Empire.
I was introduced to the Santa Maria world from a man who was born and raised in Santa Maria. He had just moved to the Los Angeles area and was starting his own BBQ catering business. It started as a part time job for me, fortunately for him I liked cooking, eating and talking. He taught me everything I needed to know about running a business. I can’t thank him enough.
You must sometimes serve folks who’ve never had Santa Maria BBQ before. What is the typical reaction when they try it for the first time?
I love to serve first-timers, the look on their face is priceless. Then they give me a big hug for making their belly happy!
What’s your top tip for folks who want to prepare their own Santa Maria BBQ?
Keep to tradition, do not try to re-invent the wheel. Simple seasonings, red oak wood and please take your time, your grill is not a microwave.
Gary Burk is the owner and winemaker of Costa de Oro Winery. He is also a second-generation winegrower whose father, Ron Burk, co-founded Gold Coast Farms in the Santa Maria Valley. Costa De Oro Winery specializes in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other varietals that excel in the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Barbara County. The Costa De Oro tasting room opened in 2006 at the location of the original Gold Coast Farms strawberry stand near Highway 101 in Santa Maria. We recently caught up with Gary to discuss his background in local agriculture, as well as his thoughts on pairing wine with Santa Maria Style Barbecue:
What are your earliest personal memories of farming with your family in the Santa Maria Valley?
My earliest memories are from when I was a little boy. My father was an agronomist for Frank J. Olocco, a pest control company. I can remember going out to the fields on Saturdays with my dad when he had work to do. Later, my father and his friend Bob Espinola started growing hothouse tomatoes at Bob’s property in Nipomo, and I would work in the greenhouse and even sell some of the tomatoes around the neighborhood. When I was 15, my father and Bob started Gold Coast Farms on a leased property near the intersection of Stowell Road and Highway 101. I worked there, too, moving sprinkler pipe and driving tractors. When I was younger, I just viewed it as work. I didn’t necessarily see the big picture. It wasn’t until we planted grapes that I saw agriculture as a career path. The light bulb went off for me at that point, and I was really drawn to winemaking and grape growing.
How has the Santa Maria wine country evolved since you first started making wine?
Consumer awareness has really grown over the past 15 years. During some of my first sales trips, I would travel around the country and very few people knew where the Santa Maria Valley was located. Today, everyone seems to know about the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Barbara County. They recognize the valley as a place where great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grown. Also, our own local community has become more aware of this gem right in our backyard—the vineyards and the world-class wines that they produce. It’s definitely a point of local pride and excitement.
What wine do you recommend pairing with Santa Maria BBQ?
I would say a rich Pinot Noir aged in French oak, because the toasty character of the barrel gives the wine a subtle smoky quality that pairs nicely with the tri-tip off the grill. Among our Costa de Oro wines, I would recommend the 2008 Dijon Selection Pinot Noir, which was aged in 50 percent new oak. This wine is rich and smoky, with a nice strawberry-raspberry quality, which all pairs beautifully with the savory, caramelized outer crust of the tri-tip.
Thanks, Gary! For more information, visit the Costa de Oro web site.
Martin and Debi Testa are the proprietors of Testa Catering and Testa’s Bistro in Santa Maria. Wielding more than 30 years of experience in the food industry, they serve everything from traditional Santa Maria Style Barbecue to prime rib dinners to lobster tail, and everything in between. We recently caught up with Debi to learn more about their culinarly roots and experience with Santa Maria Style Barbecue.
Can you please describe everything Testa Catering has to offer on the Santa Maria Style Barbecue front?
The authentic Santa Maria Style BBQ dates back over one hundred years.It is a tradition and a way of life for most of us here in the Santa Maria Valley. Santa Maria BBQ sets itself apart from all other areas, by the red oak used for the coals, indigenous to the Central Coast.
Martin has been barbecuing Santa Maria Style for over 30 years. His grandfather, Lawrence Testa, and father, Sonny Testa, were part of the BBQ team from the infamous Stag nights at the Santa Maria Club. In those days, the traditional fare was top block sirloin, pinquito beans, macaroni salad and French bread and salsa.
Testa Catering has expanded on that old time favorite menu. We offer choice Top Sirloin, Rib Eye, or New York, grilled to an internal temperature of about 135 degrees. Additional entrees include barbecued chicken, turkey or fish (salmon or halibut). Our signature salad includes local fresh baby greens, tossed with a raspberry vinaigrette, topped with walnuts, feta cheese and local seasonal fresh berries. We still have plenty of requests for the traditional macaroni salad too. The traditional pinquito beans are also a favorite. Also indigenious to the Santa Maria Valley, this small pink bean is slow cooked for several hours. We add sauteed bacon and onions and seasoning. Baked Rosemary potatoes are a new addition to the BBQ and are always a crowd pleaser. Salsa tops all items. Last but not least is the grilled over red oak garlic bread. We prefer to use sourdough bread, grilled, brushed with a garlic clove and then dunked in butter with more added chopped garlic. Simply divine!
At the events you cater, you must encounter people who are enjoying Santa Maria Style Barbecue for the first time. What is a typical reaction? Are they surprised by the flavor?
We have catered all over California, bringing variations of traditional Santa Maria Style Barbecue. From ranches to castles, it is the most requested menu option. People just cannot believe how tender, juicy and perfect the meat is. They often say they have never tasted any meat as good. They are very interested in what sets a Santa Maria Style Barbecue apart from all others and vow to try it themselves.
Can you suggest one crucial tip for people who want to try preparing their own Santa Maria Style Barbecue?
If we can give out one bit of advice on perfecting your own Santa Maria Style Barbecue it would be to not overcook your meat. Start with a good, choice top sirloin, barbecue until it reaches an internal temperature of about 135 degrees, pull off the meat, and let it set for 15 minutes before slicing. Enjoy.
There’s more to Santa Maria Style Barbecue than the main course. Indeed, in addition to seasoned tri-tip or top block sirloin, no Santa Maria barbecue meal is complete without a side of locally grown pinquito beans. Pinquitos are small pink beans that are native to the Santa Maria Valley, and that remain a commercial crop exclusive to the Central Coast. To get the ground-level scoop on these little beans, we spoke with John Porter of Alamo Farming in Santa Maria, whose family has been growing pinquitos for three generations.
You come from a longtime local farming family—when and how did pinquitos become one of your family’s specialties?
My grandfather started growing pinquito beans in the mid 1950s when a friend of his brought him a small amount of beans from Mexico, he thought they would be perfect for his barbecue restaurant (note: the friend was George Knott, of Jocko’s Steak House fame). From then on, it has been a family tradition for the Porter family in the Santa Maria Valley, going on three generations. Pinquitos have become a perfect addition to Santa Maria Style Barbecue menu.
Can you describe the growing season of pinquito beans, and how they are harvested?
Planting takes place in mid to late May, Growing takes around 120 days, and harvest takes place in late September. Harvest is done with a specialized bean harvester, and also needs to be done when the weather is warm and dry. Santa Maria has the perfect climate for Pinquito beans .
How many acres of pinquitos do you grow, and to whom do you sell your beans?
We grow 25 to 50 acres per year in the Santa Maria Valley. They are grown, harvested, cleaned, and supplied to customers like Susie Q’s Brand, Jocko’s Restaurant, J.R.’s Drive-In, Rancho Bowl, and other individuals in the Santa Maria Valley, along with customers in Texas and Arizona.
Thanks, John! To watch John harvesting pinquito beans, click here to watch a Santa Maria BBQ segment produced by California Country Television (see video at bottom of page). Also, click here for more information on pinquito beans.
Billy Ruiz is a local Santa Maria Style Barbecue legend and co-proprietor of Cowboy Flavor with his wife, Sue. Cowboy Flavor specializes in barbecue foods, gifts, attire and cookbooks, and is also a leading local caterer. Billy is also the “cover model” for the complimentary Santa Maria Style Barbecue booklet and the host of the popular Cowboy Flavor television show on RFD-TV. We recently caught up with Billy to get the inside scoop on his adventures.
Can you briefly tell us about your roots in the valley, and how you became a barbecue master?
I was born and raised in Santa Maria as an 8th generation Californian. I don’t know about “master,” but I was raised around Santa Maria Style Barbecue and was lucky enough to watch and help some of the old timers around the pit. I learned alot from those masters, including my dad, uncle Clarence Minetti, Beagle Knotts and Dede Moore, just to name a few.
What is the vision or mission behind Cowboy Flavor?
Our mission is to give our clients and viewers the chance to watch, smell and enjoy eating great outdoor cooking. We want to keep Santa Maria Style Barbecue alive and share it everywhere we go. Also: to have friends and loved ones gathered around the fire before, during and after the meal.
Why do you think that Santa Maria Style Barbecue is still growing in popularity after all these years?
Just taste it! It is truly the original style of cooking meat over the open fire. You need only fove things…the pit, oak wood, meat, seasoning and family and friends.
Thank you, Billy. For more information, visit www.cowboyflavor.com.