Breaking Tradition with Santa Maria Style Chicken

May 18, 2020

While there’s no debate around the fact that our valley is known as the “barbecue capital of the world,” the same isn’t exactly true when it comes to what constitutes true Santa Maria Style barbecue. Top-block sirloin or tri-tip? And where in the world did those tasty pinquito beans come from? Today, then, we’re talking the debate behind Santa Maria barbecue — and digging our forks into something super tasty, but not exactly traditional: Santa Maria Style chicken.

Is it really all about the tri-tip?

While most folks argue that Santa Maria Barbecue is all about the tri-tip, a cut of meat that our valley popularized in the 1950’s, there are others who hold that tri-tip isn’t the true Santa Maria cut. After all, our barbecue originated as top-block sirloin on skewers slow-roasted over the coals of a red oak fire, back in the mid-19th century — long before the tri-tip’s rise to popularity. (You can learn more about Santa Maria’s fascinating history with tri-tip here.)

An Evolved Tradition

Similarly, if you ask around our alley about the origins of Santa Maria Valley pinquito beans — a long-time staple of the Santa Maria Barbecue menu — you’ll hear a variety of stories. The fact is, traditions evolve over time to accommodate our changing lifestyle and needs. The traditional red-oak coal fire is now often replaced with red oak chips in an easy-to-use, backyard-friendly Santa Maria Grill, for example. And while there is definite merit in documenting traditions so that they can defined, respected and followed, we’re all for allowing the roots of an age-old tradition to inform and inspire creative takes on a classic (hey — that’s what our valley is all about, after all!).

Santa Maria Style Chicken

So, all of this brings us to the notion of Santa Maria barbecue chicken, (gasp!). A riff on the traditional beef preparation, we recently came across this Santa Maria-style chicken recipe from a valley native (it even includes local Firestone beer!). So what makes the chicken Santa Maria Style? Mainly, it’s the classic Santa Maria dry rub of pepper, salt and garlic. In our opinion, though, a little Santa Maria red oak would be a nice touch, too! Simply mix some red oak chips in with your coals to get that classic subtly sweet, slightly smoky Santa Maria flavor.

Overall, no matter where you fall on the scale — tried-and-true traditionalist or all about the new-age — there’s one truth we can all agree on: and that’s the fact that Santa Maria Style seasoning and red oak go with just about anything you can put on the grill. (Someone pass the vino and call it a meal!)

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In the Santa Maria Valley, there’s so much to do from here. Hit the road and explore all you can do. The Santa Maria Valley boasts 24 hiking trails, 34 tasting rooms, 6 unique AVAs, 15 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 May 18, 2020. 

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