The 67th annual Santa Maria Elks Rodeo officially begins this evening, kicking off an action-packed weekend at the Santa Maria Elks / Unocal Event Center, including the 2010 Elks Rodeo Parade on Saturday. From barrel racing to team roping, steer wrestling to bull riding, this rodeo has it all. And naturally, the aromas of red oak and sizzling Santa Maria barbecue will be prevalent throughout the festivities.

The rodeo speaks to the Santa Maria Valley’s rich ranching heritage, the same heritage that gave rise to Santa Maria Style Barbecue. Indeed, the roots of Santa Maria Style Barbecue date back to the mid-1800s, when large ranches occupied the hills of the Santa Maria Valley. Local ranchers would host Spanish-style feasts each spring for their vaqueros, or cowboys, as well as family and friends—barbecuing meat over earthen pits filled with hot coals of red oak. Out of this tradition came Santa Maria Style Barbecue.

The Santa Maria Elks Lodge has also played a storied role in the legacy of Santa Maria Style Barbecue, staging epic barbecues through the years, and counting numerous Santa Maria BBQ experts among its members.

As R.H. Tesene wrote in his Santa Maria Style Barbecue book, “The Santa Maria Elks Lodge has been by far the largest and most active organization to promote and put on Santa Maria Style Barbecues since the Santa Maria Club…There are many teams of Elks barbecuers who travel great distances throughout the United States with their barbecue its, red oak wood, meat and personnel to put on large special out-of-town Santa Maria Style barbecues.”

Visit the Elks Rodeo web site for information and tickets, and don’t forget to bring your appetite.