Santa Maria-style BBQ
Taste Central California’s rancho heritage in a succulent cut of meat.
by Laurel Miller
In the mid-1800s, Spanish and Mexican colonists known as Californios established cattle ranchos in Central California’s rich grasslands. In time, these cultures merged to form a true regional style of barbecue (derived from the West Indian word barbacoa, or barabicu, which originally referred to cooking meat on a bed of sticks laid over open flame). The parilla (grill) was the province of the vaqueros (cowboys) and rancheros (landowners). California’s mild climate favored outdoor cooking, and barbecues were the way to celebrate special occasions; uniting family, friends, neighbors, and workers.
The immigrants made use of local ingredients and cooking techniques to craft recipes that reminded them of their homelands. An authentic Santa Maria-style barbecue consists of seasoned tri-tip beef strung up on steel rods, grilled over native red oak, and served with traditional side dishes.
Season 2 lbs. tri-tip with salt, pepper, and garlic salt. (Meat might be labeled triangle roast or bottom sirloin butt; top sirloin will also work.) Leave fat cap on and place fat side down on hot grill fueled by oak hardwood charcoal (can substitute hickory or alder wood chips); avoid blazing flames. Flip, sear 5-10 minutes to seal in juices, then flip again and grill 30-45 minutes. Cook to medium-rare, about 130F. Let rest for 15 min., trim fat, and slice thinly against the grain. Traditionally served with pinquito beans, tossed green salad, salsa cruda, and bread.
BBQ Styles 101
1) Texas Beef (brisket and ribs) is king in the Lone Star state, which boasts four official styles of ’cue. West Texas is true cowboy style, done over an open, mesquite-fueled fire with a thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce.
2) Kansas City, Mo. KC is all about a dark, molasses-and-tomato based sauce that amps up dry-rubbed, hickory-smoked beef and pork ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, and burnt ends (the crispy, irresistible butt ends from smoked brisket).
3) Memphis, Tenn. Slab pork ribs or pulled shoulder, most famously served “dry,” is this Southern city’s claim to fame. The thin, slightly sweet “wet” sauce has a tomato-and-vinegar base.
4) Owensboro, Ky. Mutton gets a makeover courtesy of regular vinegar-based “mopping” during a 12-hour smoking process. Served on white sandwich bread anointed with vinegar and hot pepper “dip.”
5) The Carolinas Tangy, vinegary orange sauce and pulled, chopped or shredded pork define Carolina-style ’cue, with regional variations like rub or no rub and type of sauce (sweeter; thick and peppery with brown sugar; or mustard).