Homemade Santa Maria–style barbecue and all the fixings. Photo by Steven Brown.

Santa Maria-Style Barbecue Tri-Tip

Santa Maria-style barbecue is all about the smoke—grilling over the coals of red oak logs gives it an authentic flavor. Ideally you need a wood-fired barbecue pit with a movable grate, so that you can adjust the meat’s proximity to the heat. Tri-tip is the preferred cut of meat, but you can use top block for larger quantities or try individual New York steaks. Most recipes call for using garlic salt or garlic powder in a spice rub, but we like Rancho San Julian cattle rancher Elizabeth Poett’s alternative technique of using fresh garlic.

Serve some grilled sausages for appetizers, and then serve the beef with a fresh tomato salsa, slow-cooked pinquito beans, a green salad, French bread and for dessert something made from strawberries. Pair with a Santa Maria wine or local brew, and you have the perfect Santa Maria-style barbecue meal. For more on the subject, read Red Oak Smoke Rising: Santa Maria-Style Barbecue.

Barbecue Tri-Tip

Makes 6–8 servings

  • 1 grass-fed beef tri-tip roast, approximately 2 pounds
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2–3 cloves of garlic, cut in half, or spice rub of your choice

Rub the meat with the salt and pepper. Poke the tip of a small, sharp knife into the meat and insert the pieces of garlic. Alternatively you can rub the meat with a spice rub of your choice.

Put it on the grill over red oak coals, fat side up, and sear for about 5 minutes. Turn it over and adjust the grate so that the meat is about 8 inches from the coals. Cook the meat for approximately 20 minutes per inch of thickness or until it reaches an internal temperature of 130°. Remember Encarnación’s advice to “watch it continuously, turning the meats so they stay moist yet get well browned.” Remove and let rest for about 15 minutes. You can trim the fat then slice against the grain and serve with fresh tomato salsa. 

Fresh Tomato Salsa

The best local tomatoes are conveniently in season at the same time that we generally want to serve barbecue, although you will also find Santa Maria-style salsa made with canned tomatoes and canned diced green chilies. Some also add diced celery to the mix, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Makes 6–8 servings

  • 112 pounds tomatoes, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
  • 1 jalapeño chile, finely diced
  • 12 small red onion or several scallions, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • Small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime or 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine the tomatoes with the rest of the ingredients and season to taste. Salsa should be made to taste, so add a little more of one ingredient or less of another to get it just the way you like it. Let sit for up to an hour before serving to allow the flavors to meld.

Barbecue Beans

Adapted from the recipe on the package of Lompoc Pinquito Beans.

Makes 6–8 servings

  • 1 pound (2 cups) pinquito beans
  • 3 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2–3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 (8-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2–4 teaspoons chili powder, to taste
  • 14 teaspoon powdered cumin seed, optional
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash the beans and soak overnight or up to 24 hours in cold water, then drain and rinse. Put the beans in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil; continue to boil for 20 minutes. Drain, rinse and set aside.

Cook the bacon in a large, heavy braising pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, reserved beans, chili powder and cumin. Cover and simmer gently 2–3 hours, until beans are tender and the sauce is thick. Add salt and pepper to taste. During the cooking, check it occasionally—if it appears dry, add a little boiling water. The consistency should not be too soupy or too dry.

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