The Secret to Santa Maria Style Grilling: 3 Pro Tips for Tasty, Timeless Barbecue

They call Santa Maria the “barbecue capital of the world”—and anyone who’s visited our Valley knows why. Our tasty, slow-roasted tri-tip makes for an unforgettable meal. But how, exactly, do you recreate that unmistakable barbecue flavor after vacation’s over? Today, we’re breaking down our top three tips for grilling Santa Maria Style…no matter where you’re located.

1. Use the right spices.

A generations-old (and flavorful-as-ever) spice rub recipe is the first key to perfect Santa Maria Style tri-tip. You can make your own by combining 2 tablespoons of salt with 1 teaspoon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of garlic salt. Or, you can purchase authentic Santa Maria Style rub from the local flavor experts at Susie Q’s.

2. Don’t forget the red oak.

If it isn’t roasted over red oak, it isn’t Santa Maria Style. Our tri-tips have a distinct (and delectable) smoky flavor you’ll find nowhere else. To achieve this at home, make sure you use red oak when you’re grilling (the same way the rancheros in the mid 19th century did!). You can cook your tri-tip over the hot coals of a red-oak fire. Or, simply wrap your red oak chips in a “pouch” of aluminum foil (with a few holes poked in it so the flavor can escape), and place that pouch directly on your grill rack or barbecue screen as you cook your meat.

3. Invest in a Santa Maria Grill.

This one just might be the best kept barbecue secret of them all! If you’re really hoping to achieve that authentic Santa Maria Style tri-tip, you’ll need a Santa Maria Grill. Once upon a time, Santa Maria Style barbecue was prepared by stringing cuts of top-block sirloin on large skewers and cooking them over the coals of local red oak…but building a red oak fire from scratch isn’t exactly a backyard-friendly option these days. That’s why we love Santa Maria grills as a convenient alternative to the classic fire-and-skewer method.

A key feature of Santa Maria grills? They include adjustable grilling screens—a hand crank allows you to raise and lower your barbecue screen (quickly and easily adjusting its distance from the fire, and thereby, controlling your heat). So how do you use these grills to achieve the perfect Santa Maria Style sirloin or tri-tip? Starting with your screen low (directly over your coals), quickly sear your meat to seal in the juices, starting with the fat side down. When juice appears at the top of the meat, it is time to turn it over. Flip your meat and raise the barbecue screen further from the heat source to allow for slow-cooking to desired doneness (medium rare is recommended). This prevents burning and makes controlling your heat over a coal fire a breeze.

Hungry yet? Check out our Santa Maria Style cookbook for a complete Santa Maria Style barbecue meal. (Did someone say pinquito beans?)

In Santa Maria Valley, there’s so much to do from here. Hit the road and explore it all with our 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms, seven unique AVAs, 13 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 September 25, 2018.