When someone mentions Santa Maria Style Barbecue, a few things come immediately to mind. The tri-tip cut, the signature local seasoning, the accompanying pinquito beans…But there is one other crucial ingredient that is sometimes overlooked, and that is red oak wood.

Indeed, the traditional and authentic Santa Maria Style Barbecue is cooked over coals of native red oak. And trust us, red oak isn’t mere fuel for the fire. It’s an integral part of the flavor profile of classic Santa Maria barbecue. The aromas and flavors that red oak imparts are both sweet and smoky, rich yet mellow, and utterly distinctive.

Red oak is indigenous to the foothills of California’s Central Coast, making it the go-to wood for the original Santa Maria barbecues in the mid 1800s, long before commercial charcoal was a retail staple. Over time, red oak’s aromas and flavors become synonymous with the local barbecue tradition.

Several purveyors offer red oak products for barbecuing, including Susie Q’s Brand of the Santa Maria Valley, which offers red oak barbecue chips. Just a handful of red oak chips will transform your barbecue and give you an authentically natural taste of how it’s done here in the Santa Maria Valley.