While Memphis and Kansas City might dominate the nation’s psyche as the finest barbecue around, the best kept secret of a finger-lickin’ favorite is right in California’s fertile backyard in Santa Maria Valley. This wine country destination on the Central Coast is fast becoming the biggest rival to the big boys of regional American barbecue.
Foodies are lining up for this distinct barbecue style that delivers big, bold flavors despite its relatively simple preparation. The traditional cuts of Santa Maria-style barbecue are top-block sirloin and tri-tip–a triangular bottom sirloin cut that was first popularized in the Santa Maria Valley. The meat is rolled in a mixture of salt, pepper and garlic salt before being barbecued over coals of red oak, which is a native tree species that contributes a smoky, hearty flavor. The classic Santa Maria-style barbecue menu includes fresh salsa, grilled French bread dipped in sweet melted butter, tossed green salad and slow-cooked Pinquito beans, which originated in the Valley as well.
This style of barbecue dates back to the mid-1800s when local rancheros would host Spanish-style barbecues each spring for their vaqueros–or cowboys–as well as family and friends. Fast-forward to present day, and this fare is being recognized by food magazines and even famed chef Bobby Flay when he showcased it on his Food Network television show “BBQ with Bobby Flay.”
Numerous restaurants in the Santa Maria Valley specialize in these delicious dishes, including Shaw’s Steakhouse, the Far Western Tavern and The Hitching Post, made famous in the movie Sideways.
Perhaps the best part of this food revelation is being able to enjoy this barbecue and still be able to do a little wine tasting in the same place. This glorious setting with its excellent terroir, cool climates and maritime influence produces exquisite Chardonnays, Syrahs and Pinot Noirs.
As you travel past the hill-dotted vineyards and sprawling ranches where grass-fed cattle roam, keep an eye out for the fragrant smoke of California-raised beef being cooked over open fire. Once you taste the flavors of this savory beef you’ll understand why Santa Maria is called the “Barbecue Capital of the World.”
It’s the real deal.
Read more about this incredible beef on the Santa Maria Barbeque Blog.
All photos courtesy of the Santa Maria Valley Visitor & Convention Bureau