VISIT SANTA MARIA
Classic Pairing: Santa Maria Style Barbecue & Wineries Continue 150 Year Legacy
Santa Maria Style Barbecue is king, a 150-year-old tradition that remains largely unchanged today.
Barbecue cooking has been trending for 1.8 million years. That’s when Homo erectus first decided to try cooking meat over an open fire. Unfortunately, he didn’t have access to Caribbean spices in Africa, so the barbecue as we know and love would have to wait until a few years later. The name barbecue originates from the West Indies, taken from Taino indigenous people’s word, barbacoa: grilling on a raised wooden grate.
The term was first recorded by a Spanish explorer in 1526, which is like yesterday compared with when the original grill master was prepping his wooly mammoth dry rub. Since then barbecue has evolved with some brilliant results. In California, Santa Maria Style Barbecue is king, a 150-year-old tradition that remains largely unchanged today.
Wednesday 22nd January
by The StoryStudio
Barbecue cooked over a native red-oak fire at the Santa Maria BBQ Festival.
Sunsets are one-of-a-kind at Cambria.
The Wine Trolley creates moments that you'll never forget.
BBQ Festival is a tradition as old
Flash back 150 years to the barbecue pit and you wouldn’t notice much difference from the Santa Maria BBQ Festival today, a bunch of friends hanging out around the fire as the meat slowly cooks and the beverages flow freely. It was cooperative branding that gave rise to the first gatherings here, as rancheros served up a beef feast to thank the vaqueros (original cowboys) for helping with the new calves. Like today, beef seasoned simply in the Spanish tradition was cooked over a native red-oak fire and served with Pinquito beans, bread, salsa and, eventually, fresh desserts.
Like the best legends, Santa Maria Style Barbecue has spawned several great secondary stars. Pinquito beans have played exceptional sidekick on the Santa Maria plate. Endemic to the Valley, this hearty smaller relative to the pink bean is hearty enough to stand up for itself on the stage like a culinary Clarence Clemons beside The Boss. Though the best Santa Maria Style Barbecue will always be found in the Valley, Susie Q’s Santa Maria Seasoning allows home chefs to make rubdown magic wherever they live.
Sadly, there was no wine to go with the saber-tooth skewers at the Pleistocene parties, the grape-based elixir would not appear until 7000 BC. A decanter or two was likely filled and drained in the mid-19th century however as grape growing predated barbecue here by two decades. The Santa Maria Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) is the oldest appellation in Central California, famous for cool temperatures over a long growing season ideal for nurturing boldly flavored varietals. Wine and barbecue experienced a similar renaissance in the mid-20th century and today the combination of bold reds and slow-roasted top sirloin remains as good as it gets.
“Syrah from the cooler climate parts of Santa Barbara Country is a wonderful pairing with barbecue,” suggests Cameron Porter, an advanced sommelier and estates manager for Presqu’ile Winery. "Savory, peppery, and sanguine, it is an ideal accompaniment to Santa Maria Style Barbecue. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I find that lighter, chillable reds are a great foil to barbecue as they contrast perfectly with the rich flavors off the grill."
A 4th generation Santa Marian, Porter is partial to a top block sirloin or tri-tip, preferably a 16 oz. top sirloin or 20 oz. Spencer cut, accompanied by a Presqu’ile syrah. “It leans more medium-bodied, and with some time in bottle its texture finds that perfect sweet spot between weight and liveliness, with flavors that echo the spices utilized in Santa Maria Style Barbecue.”
The Santa Maria Valley is also known for wonderful Pinot Noir, a natural pairing with Santa Maria Style Barbecue, says Laura Booras, Riverbench Vineyard and Winery’s general manager.
“The flavor imparted by the unique red oak from the area blends really well with the bright red fruit flavors in Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir,” she says. “I especially like our Clone 115 Pinot Noir with a good barbecued tri-tip because it’s got an earthy undertone as well, so it creates a really happy match in your mouth!”
Speaking of happy matches, Booras suggests starting the meal with a glass of Riverbench Brut Rosé, a Pinot Noir-based sparkling wine. “It makes for great conversation while standing around the grill.”
Not your everyday tangy marinade, Santa Maria Style Barbecue is distinguished by a simple dry rub of salt, pepper and garlic powder. The meat is most often skewered above rather than placed on the grill, the best technique to capture the rising smoke of the red-oak embers to distinguish what Sunset magazine declares is “the best barbecue in the world.” A trip to Santa Maria Valley without visiting an iconic barbecue spot is like not taking in a wine tasting or, these days, sipping on a couple of local craft beers or ales.
“IPAs tend to work well with barbecue,” says Emily Kitts, co-owner and quality control manager of Naughty Oak Brewery. “The bright IPA aroma and the stronger body can compete with a hearty meat, the barbecue and beer act like palate cleansers for each other after each bite or drink.”
Kitts, who opened the Naughty Oak Brewing Company with her husband in 2016, says the Naughty Able IPA is her go-to with barbecue, a combination of tropical and citrus without too much bitterness to be overpowering. She also thinks Chela, a Mexican-style lager, would be a nice, crisp choice, “especially if you’re doing the cooking.”
The barbecue curious also travel to the postcard-worthy Western town of Casmalia to visit The Hitching Post, one of the "10 Great BBQ Joints in the USA” according to Forbes Magazine (the Buellton location is where parts of the movie, Sideways, was filmed). Slow-cooked tri-tip beef rules the day at The Hitching Post, prepared over indirect heat above an intensely hot open fire of red oak logs. Situated in a century-old building that recalls the cow-town glory days, The Hitching Post has only been around for just under 70 years! The Ostini family continues to prepare exquisite food paired with exemplary wines.
Visit the Santa Maria Valley website to start plotting your wine, brew and ‘cue tour.
SHARE THIS STORY
The Hitching Post is just one example of several barbecue haunts throughout the valley, an opportunity to go on the road and create your own social media reality show highlighting your choices for the best Santa Maria Style Barbecue in the region. In doing so you’ll be entering a 150-year-old tradition of coming together to sample flavors, pair beverages and celebrate the signature dish of the Santa Maria Valley. Visit the Santa Maria Valley website to start plotting your wine, brew and ‘cue tour.
Here you’ll find a treasure trove of the best barbecue in the world.
Find out more
"Savory, peppery, and sanguine, it is an ideal accompaniment to Santa Maria Style Barbecue."
Santa Maria Brewing Company promises to have something that will make you happy!
Find out more
Enjoy live music at Presquile.
Sant Maria Valley has the best tours and tastings.