Santa Maria Style Barbeque

The history of Santa Maria Barbecue dates back to the early 1800s, when the mainstay of the early California economy was cattle.  In those days, the Californio vaqueros hosted beef barbecues that can only be termed "epic" following the cattle roundup.  Replete with music and festivities that would last several days, Santa Maria style beef had is origin here.  Click on the flowered tiles for an excellent site on the history of the Californio Vaquero:

The only secret of the Santa Maria Barbecue is its simplicity -- no special sauces or magic ingredients. It consists of thick cuts of beef, seasoned with nothing but salt, pepper, and garlic salt.  Purists from Central California insist the meat be cooked over Red Oak, native to Central California Coast Range - I assume this must be because they have to. Here in the Sonoran Desert, we use mesquite or piñon pine, because we can. 

The cut of meat called for in an authentic Santa Maria Barbecue is a 3-inch thick boneless top sirloin weighing 3 to 4 pounds. If that is a bit more meat than you need, use the tri-tip.  It's another part of the sirloin, but it only tips the scales at 1.5 to 2 pounds.


  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 top sirloin steak (3" thick), or tri-tip
  • Mesquite or Piñon coals

Combine salt, pepper, and garlic salt, and rub mixture over the meat. Place the meat on grill and adjust so meat is 2 or 3 inches from the coals. Sear each side of meat over hot coals 5 to 8 minutes to seal in juices, turning once.

Move meat to 6 to 8 inches from coals. Cook 20 to 30 more minutes, turning every 7 or 8 minutes until beef is cooked to desired degree of doneness, 130 degrees for rare. Slice and serve.

Santa Maria Pinquito Beans

1 lb. small pink beans (Pinquito*)

  • 1 strip bacon, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced ham
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup tomato puree
  • 1/4 cup red chili sauce
  • 1 tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard

Pick over beans to remove dirt and small stones; cover with water and let soak overnight in a large container. Drain, cover with fresh water and simmer 2 hours, or until tender. Sauté bacon and ham until lightly browned; add garlic, sauté a minute or two longer. Add tomato puree, chili sauce, sugar, mustard, and salt. Drain most of liquid off beans and stir in sauce. Keep warm on low heat until ready to serve.

*Note: Pinquitos are grown locally only in Santa Maria.  Pinto or charro-type beans work fine.

Santa Maria Style Salsa

Yields 3 1/2 cups

  • 3 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green chiles
  • 2 tbsp. snipped cilantro
  • 1tbs. vinegar
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Pinch of garlic salt
  • Pinch of dried oregano, crushed
  • Few drops of hot pepper sauce


Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and let stand for one hour to blend flavors.