Back in the 19th century, during the early days of Santa Maria Style Barbecue, you couldn’t just drive down to the nearest grocery store to buy your meat and charcoal. No, you had to work hard for your food, and you had to be resourceful in preparing it—including building your cooking fires with available natural fuels.

Enter red oak, an oak tree species that is common in the coastal hills of the Santa Maria Valley. No doubt, after sampling all of the available woods, the locals discovered what we all know now: red oak, unlike any other, adds a remarkably distinctive and wonderful touch to both the aromatic and flavor aspects of barbecue. Over time, it became the go-to wood for barbecues in the Santa Maria Valley.

Today, red oak remains a core component of the classic Santa Maria BBQ preparation, adding a distinctively smooth, smoky and slightly sweet dimension to the meat. It’s not true Santa Maria Style Barbecue if it’s not cooked over red oak!

Local red oak is culled from naturally fallen trees and branches, and from tree maintenance. But you don’t need big logs to enjoy the magic of red oak. Indeed, a little goes a long way, and several purveyors offer red oak chips that can be sprinkled over your fire.

Or, better yet, you can just come to the Santa Maria Valley and visit one of our local barbecue restaurants, where the masters really know their way around their red oak coals!