Bringing Santa Maria Style Barbecue Back Home: Recipes and Pro Tips for Grilling it Yourself

If there’s one thing that brings travelers and adventurers to our valley, it’s our iconic Santa Maria Style barbecue. The reason our barbecue is treasured by taste buds around the world? Authenticity and simplicity. We use recipes that date back generations—and we know better than to mess with a good thing. Fortunately for barbecue lovers and grillmasters alike, the timelessness and simplicity of our recipes means they’re easy to prepare on your own.

Today, then, we’re serving up our top tips and secret recipes (shhhh!) to help you bring the flavors of Santa Maria style barbecue to your grill back home. Just don’t blame us when your neighbors come knocking for a plate or two.

It starts with the right seasonings and the best barbecue products.

Before you dive fork-deep into our recipes, make sure you’re starting out with the best products and seasonings—the simplicity of Santa Maria Style makes the ingredients you use all the more important. We recommend getting your products from Susie Q’s. Founded by Santa Maria local Susan Righetti, Susie Q’s offers the pinquito beans, Santa Maria Style seasonings, and red oak chips you’ll need to ensure your barbecue is authentic.

What are we cooking?

Today, we’re whipping up the classic Santa Maria Style barbecue plate. This includes:

  • Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip
  • Authentic Santa Maria Style Pinquito Beans
  • Santa Maria Salsa
Pro Tips Before You Begin:
  • The pinquito beans need to soak overnight, so start those the night prior.
  • The salsa needs to sit for at least one hour to develop its full flavor, so make it the morning of your barbecue, or 1-2 hours before you start on your meat.
  • Red oak chips are the key to getting that distinct Santa Maria flavor in your meat. Be sure to use them, or your tri-tip won’t taste authentic.
  • For a truly authentic Santa Maria Style barbecue meal, serve this all up with a fresh strawberry dessert (our Valley is famous for ‘em) and a good glass of red wine.

Authentic Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip

You’ll Need:
  • A charcoal grill
  • Red oak chips (Don’t skip this! It’s what gives the meat that authentic Santa Maria Style flavor)
  • A smoker box or aluminum foil to make your own “pouch” for the red oak chips
  • Premium top-block sirloin or tri-tip (do not trim fat)
  • Santa Maria Barbecue Rub
To Prepare Your Grill:
  • Soak approximately 1-2 cups of red oak chips in water for 45 minutes.
  • While the chips are soaking, get your charcoals going on your grill.
  • Once your charcoals are ready (the top coals should look grey and ashy), add your red oak chips to a smoker box and place the oak-filled smoker box on your grill rack.
  • Or, if you don’t have a smoker box, place your wood chips at the center of a square piece of foil. Fold the foil around the oak chips to create a pouch. Poke 4-6 holes in the top of the pouch to allow red oak smoke to escape. Place pouch directly on your grill rack.
To Prepare Your Meat:
  • Use premium top-block sirloin or tri-tip.
  • Keep the fat on your cut of meat. (You can trim after cooking, but leaving the fat on for cooking makes for more flavorful meat.)
  • Pat down your meat with a paper towel before applying rub. Absorbing the excess moisture before cooking will allow the meat to sear evenly.
  • Spread your Santa Maria Style rub evenly across the entire surface of the meat, and massage it gently into the meat until the entire surface is covered in the rub.
  • Set aside or refrigerate until your grill is ready.
To Grill Your Meat:
  • Starting with the fat side down, sear your meat quickly directly on a hot grill rack to seal in the juices.
  • While searing, close the lid of your grill to help lock in the flavorful smoke from the red-oak pouch.
  • When juice appears at the top of the meat, it is time to turn it over.
  • Turn over and cook until desired doneness, keeping the lid closed.
  • Medium rare is recommended—which typically takes 20 minutes per inch of cut thickness. When the internal temperature of your meat reaches 140 degrees, it’s time to remove from the grill to let rest. (Or, 155 degrees for medium; 165 degrees for medium well.)
  • Remove from grill and let rest for 3-5 minutes before cutting. (If you cut the meat immediately after removing from the grill, the juices will escape.)
  • If you wish, trim the fat after cooking.
  • For tri-tip, slice against the grain the long way, not across the triangle. It won’t be a uniform cut, but it will be far more tender.
  • Serve with pinquito beans, a fresh green salad, and Santa Maria style salsa.

Authentic Santa Maria Style Pinquito Beans:

You’ll Need:
  • 1 pound pinquito beans
  • 1 strip bacon, diced
  • ½ cup ham, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup tomato puree
  • ¼ cup red chile sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
To Prepare Your Pinquito Beans:
  • Place the dry beans in a strainer and remove any stones.
  • Rinse beans and place them in a pot. Fill with water, and allow beans to soak overnight.
  • Drain beans through a strainer, then place back in a pot with fresh water.
  • Simmer over low-medium heat for 2 hours or until tender.
  • In a separate pan, saute bacon and ham until lightly browned.
  • Add garlic to ham and bacon; sauté 1 to 2 minutes longer.
  • Add tomato puree, chile sauce, sugar, mustard and salt to pan with ham and bacon. Stir and let combine for 2-3 minutes over low-medium heat. Remove from heat.
  • Drain most of the liquid off beans and then stir in the sauce. Simmer all together for 30 minutes. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Authentic Santa Maria Style Salsa:

You’ll Need:
  • 3 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery
  • ½ cup chopped green onions
  • ½ cup finely chopped California green chiles
  • 2 tablespoons snipped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Pinch of garlic salt
  • Pinch of dried oregano, crushed
  • Few drops of hot pepper sauce
To Prepare Your Santa Maria Style Salsa:
  • Simply combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover and let stand for at least one hour to blend flavors.

That’s it! Enjoy an authentic Santa Maria Style barbecue plate that will transport your taste buds to our Valley…no matter where you are. Want even more tasty tips?


In the Santa Maria Valley, there’s so much to do from here. Hit the road and explore all you can do. The Santa Maria Valley boasts 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms, 6 unique AVAs, 15 beaches, and a growing selection of local breweries, all within a beautiful 30-minute drive. There is no need to venture far if you are looking for sand dunes, cycling and authentic Santa Maria Style dining. You’ll find it’s the perfect home base, where you can eat, drink and do more for less. This post was updated July 1, 2018.