As with many longtime regional traditions, the “truth” about Santa Maria Style Barbecue is sometimes a matter of friendly debate.
For example, some folks believe that Santa Maria Style Barbecue is all about the cut of meat known as tri-tip. Yet many locals can recall when tri-tip was first popularized locally in the 1950s, long after Santa Maria Style Barbecue was already a well established tradition revolving around top-block sirloin. In fact, some old-timers still don’t consider tri-tip a legitimate cut for true Santa Maria BBQ!
Similarly, if you ask around about the origins of Santa Maria Valley pinquito beans—long a staple of the Santa Maria BBQ menu—you will hear a variety of stories that rarely connect.
The fact is that, over time, traditions evolve, no matter how much we try to contain them. There is definite merit in documenting traditions so that they can defined, respected and properly followed (hey, after all, that’s what this blog is all about!). At the same time, we accept the fact that “Santa Maria Style” is going to mean different things to different people.
Which brings us to the notion of “Santa Maria BBQ Chicken,” a riff on the traditional beef preparation. We recently came across this Santa Maria-style chicken recipe by a valley native, demonstrating his methods and ingredients (which creatively include local Firestone beer!). So what makes the chicken Santa Maria style? Mainly it’s the dry rub of pepper, salt and garlic. In our opinion, a little Santa Maria red oak would be a nice touch, too.
So is there really such a thing as Santa Maria Style BBQ chicken? Technically, no. And yet…it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? The “truth” is that Santa Maria seasoning and red oak go with just about anything you can put on the grill, and it’s hard to argue against good taste!