If you draw a 30-mile circle around the center of Santa Maria Valley, you’ll find a treasure trove of the best barbecue in the world. Santa Maria Style Barbecue is a 150-year-old tradition, born on the ranches of this beautiful valley as a simple, delicious way to bring people together. You can enjoy barbecue from the Hitching Post and the Elks Club to regional events and backyard barbecues. Santa Maria Valley is the perfect home base, connecting you to everything the California Central Coast has to offer in a style only found here, we call it #SantaMariaStyle.
“We have the same routines we did 40 or 50 years ago, we use the same quality meat, we cook it the same way,” said Bill Ostini, owner of the Hitching Post. “One thing we’ve always heard is that people walk in and feel like they’re at home. We try to give people the best food and the best service they’ve ever had.”
It started in the mid-19th century when the rancheros gathered to help each other brand their calves each spring. As a thank-you to his fellow vaqueros (America’s first cowboys), the host would prepare a Spanish-style barbecue, consisting of beef barbecued over a red-oak fire, served with Pinquito beans, bread, salsa, and homemade desserts.
The present-day Santa Maria Style Barbecue grew out of this tradition, when, some 60 years ago, locals began to string their beef on skewers and cook it over the hot coals of a red-oak fire. The meat, either top-block sirloin or tri-tip, is rolled in a mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic salt and slow roasted over red-oak coals—giving it a hearty, smoky, irresistible flavor. Served with salsa, French bread dipped in melted sweet butter, Pinquito beans, and a fresh green salad, Sunset Magazine, named our Valley’s classic feast the “best barbecue in the world,” and California’s Visitor’s Guide dubbed it the “number one food not to miss while visiting California.”
Santa Maria Style barbecue is a cultural staple in Santa Maria and throughout the Central Coast. The barbecue teams at the Santa Maria Elk’s Lodge prepare thousands of tons of Santa Maria Style cooked meat each year using the same recipes and methods as the Spanish vaqueros before hundreds of years before them. The recipe is so popular, that in 1978, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce copyrighted the Santa Maria Style barbecue recipe to preserve its authenticity.
“We really push simplicity with our recipe,” said Wayne Stahl, the Santa Maria Valley Elks Lodge grill master. “We start with a very simple seasoning… most of the flavor comes from the red oak wood that is grown and used in this area. It’s all about simplicity, having fun with friends and family… that’s what Santa Maria Style barbecue is all about: fun.”
Hungry yet? Browse a complete list of restaurants serving classic Santa Maria Style Barbecue here or explore our Santa Maria Valley Cookbook, and learn how to make it all at home: