When Spanish settlers came to the Santa Maria Valley, on California’s central coast, the rancheros—owners of huge cattle spreads called ranchos—cultivated a new tradition in outdoor cooking. After the annual calf branding, they hosted Spanish-style cookouts to feed those who had helped with the work. Besides beef, the menu included salsa, grilled bread, and tiny local pinquito beans. These dishes are still the heart of Santa Maria–style barbecue—a quintessentially Western meal served at restaurants and at churches, schools, and even grocery store parking lots in the region. The meat is either a thick cut of top sirloin or tri-tip—the pointy bottom end of the sirloin—seasoned (usually) only with salt, garlic salt, and black pepper, and grilled over local red oak. Here’s where to get a taste:
- Far Western Tavern, a century-old building decorated with cowhide curtains. (It’s due to relocate next spring from the town of Guadalupe to nearby Orcutt.)
- The Hitching Post II, made famous in the movie Sideways or its sister restaurant, the original Hitching Post I.
- Jocko’s (805/929-3565), where the steaks are mighty good, especially the massive Spencer steak.
- At home, with our Santa Maria barbecue recipe.