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The secret is out, thanks to USA Today!
Indeed, in a story published last week, this national newspaper uncovers “the secret fifth major style of American barbecue,” which is, of course, our very own Santa Maria Style Barbecue.
But as Olmstead confirms, there’s more to the American barbecue story!
He explains that it’s not the necessarily the meat, but rather the cooking method (open flame over coals of local red oak) and traditional side dishes (such as homegrown pinquito beans) that make Santa Maria barbecue distinctive.
He writes, “Santa Maria barbecue is always cooked over a fire of red oak logs, using meats heavily seasoned with salt, pepper and dry spices, then marinated or basted with a mixture of vinegar and oil while cooking. Side dishes almost always include fire-grilled then buttered bread, tossed green salad, fresh tomato salsa and beans. Because the area is known for growing sweet strawberries, berry pie or strawberry shortcake is often paired with the main course as dessert.”
He goes on to tout some of the Santa Maria Valley’s barbecue stars, including the Hitching Post Casmalia; Shaw’s Steakhouse; Far Western Tavern, Dino’s Deli; Old Town Market; Hitching Post II; A.J. Spur’s; Jocko’s Steakhouse; and F. McLintock’s Saloon.
In the words of Olmstead, “Very few barbecue fans know about the ‘secret’ fifth major style of American barbecue, the one that has spread the least from its home turf and remains the hardest to find – outside of California that is.”
Word is definitely spreading thanks to stories like these, but if you really want to enjoy Santa Maria Style Barbecue at its finest, we invite you to come enjoy it right here in the Santa Maria Valley.
We like to keep tabs on Santa Maria Style Barbecue ambassadors outside of our region, and the latest is located in Southern California’s Orange County (a.k.a. The OC).
Indeed, a new restaurant opening in Huntington Beach in the fall is focusing its entire concept on Santa Maria Style Barbecue. According to The Orange County Register, the SeaSalt Woodfire Grill will invite guests to observe the chef’s grilling over an open fire.
The restaurant scene is now calling this “live fire” cooking, which, the article says, “Focuses on authentic Santa Maria-style barbecue, with seasoned meat cooked over red oak coals on an iron grill.”
The restaurant will serve a variety of traditional barbecue dishes including tri-tip, lamb chops and bone-in ribeye steak—all seasoned with a house-made rub composed of garlic, lemon, salt and bacon. Weekend brunch will offer open-fire grilled organic eggs, sausage and pork belly.
Even wines from the Santa Maria region will be featured, all amid a rustic, “farmhouse” ambience. Says the owner, “The resulting taste is unbelievable and nothing Orange County restaurants offer now.”
It’s just another confirmation that our local flavors are gaining fans far and wide!
Any Santa Maria Style Barbecue aficionado knows that the traditional dessert to pair with the local barbecue is strawberry pie, shortcake or some sort of strawberry delicacy. This is largely because Santa Maria Valley is famed for its acres upon acres of sweet, juicy strawberries that are shipped the world over. The area’s strawberries bring more money per acre than any other area crop, including wine grapes.
In the last few years, however, the supremacy of strawberries and grapes as the royalty of local agriculture is being challenged by a growing crop of newcomers — raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.
Word has it that berry production that used to be heavy around Oxnard and Ventura is being pushed out by urban growth and the high cost of water, and so berries are now moving north throughout Santa Barbara County, with pockets of heavier production in the Santa Maria Valley. Prices remain high for blueberries, blackberries and raspberries giving some growers an incentive to make room for “the other berries.”
Enter U-Pick Blueberries, a farm located at 3607 Dominion Road in Santa Maria that’s open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The farm says that its bushes are loaded with berries this season.
But when it comes to a dessert to pair with Santa Maria Style Barbecue, can strawberries and blueberries happily co-exist? A recipe from loriesmississippikitchen.com says “yes”:
Fresh Strawberry and Blueberry Pie
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
The zest of one medium orange
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon water
1 unbaked pie crust plus enough pie crust scraps to make decorative cutouts for top
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stir together the blueberries, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, and orange zest in a large bowl. Pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie crust. Cut butter into small pieces and dot the top of the fruit.
Roll out the remaining pie crust scraps and cut shapes using cookie cutters dipped in flour. (I used different sized star shaped cutters.) Place the shapes on top of the pie in a decorative pattern.
Beat together the egg and water. Lightly brush the mixture onto the pie crust shapes and around the perimeter of the crust. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 50-55 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Let cool on wire rack completely before cutting.
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!
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.