In the Santa Maria Valley, the term “old timer” isn’t just a term of endearment, but also an official affiliation that has been rooted in Santa Maria Style Barbecue since the late 1920s.

Indeed, what is now known as the Santa Maria Valley Pioneer Association was originally founded in 1923 as “The Old Timers of Santa Maria.” The name was changed in 1924 to the Pioneer Association. Initially, the main requirement for membership was that members had to have arrived in the valley prior to 1890. No wonder they called themselves old timers!

And every year since 1926, the association has held an annual Pioneer Picnic, with this year’s picnic being held next week on July 13 at Pioneer Park.

According to local historian Shirley Contreras, “In honor of the first Pioneer picnic (in 1926), all businesses and schools in Santa Maria were closed while more than 100 people brought their basket lunches.”

Three years later, in 1929, the meal turned into a classic Santa Maria Style Barbecue, and so it has been ever since.

In 1996, the organization christened the new Pioneer Park in Santa Maria during the 72nd annual picnic. And, of course, a centerpiece of the new park was a large hand-built Santa Maria Style Barbecue pit that can accommodate cooking on both traditional rods and adjustable screens. The park spans 15 acres at 1150 West Foster Road in Santa Maria.

We salute all of the “old timers” who paved the way for Santa Maria Style Barbecue, and who continue to set the tone for small-town hospitality in the Santa Maria Valley!