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What is Santa Maria Style BBQ?

I am JD Sinor, owner and chief fabricator of JD Fabrications BBQ. My wife Lauren and I have lived in Santa Maria for most of our lives and our families have even deeper roots in the area. Any special event around here involves lighting up our grills and cooking decadent foods over wood fires with family and friends. We have tons of experience cooking over wood, we know what works and what doesn’t. Since 2010 we have made a living designing and fabricating Santa Maria grills, with some fun additions, for folks who want to take the Santa Maria barbecue experience home with them. 

Santa Maria style barbecue is a method of grilling that originated in the Santa Maria Valley on the Central Coast of California. The technique has evolved over the last 170 years, but the founding principles are the same. Santa Maria Grills feature a deep firebox and use red oak wood as the driving fuel burned directly under the meat to achieve Santa Maria styles traditional savory flavor. The seasoning is a simple salt, garlic, and pepper dry rub.

Santa Maria bbq originally came about in the mid 1800’s when the local Santa Maria Valley ranchers needed a way to cook for their vaqueros. They dug earthen pits and filled them with red oak (coast live oak) to cook large slabs of top block on skewers over the fire. The meat was served with local pinquinto beans, bread, and a side salad. Since the 1800’s locals have have modernized the Santa Maria bbq to include a practical height adjustable grate that allows for portability. 

In the 1930’s the Santa Maria Elks and Santa Maria Club’s Stag Night started hosting social gatherings which are active to this day.In the 1950s a local butcher named Bob Schutz introduced a cut of meat called “tri-tip” that quickly joined top block as a staple of Santa Maria style barbecue. Tri-tip is “a triangular cut of beef from the bottom sirloin subprimal cut.”

Around this same time three local restaurants, Far Western Tavern, Jockos Steakhouse, and The Hitching Post became landmarks of authentic Santa Maria bbq. Today, Shaw’s, AJ Spurs, Historic Santa Maria Inn, and F. Mclintocks have joined the list of great Santa Maria barbecue restaurants. All are still in operation on the Central Coast. If you’re ever in the area we highly recommend trying them. 

For people who love the idea and want to take that home with them, we build an authentic Santa Maria grill that anyone can use. Although red oak and the traditional seasonings are our local flavors of choice, Santa Maria grills are incredibly versatile. You can grill all kinds of meats and veggies and use any fuels you like. The possibilities are endless.

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