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Santa Maria Grilling Style on Memorial Day: Ignite Your Patriotic BBQ Passion

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Memorial Day is almost here. That means summer is almost here, which also means…time for outdoor grilling! In Santa Maria Valley, that’s Santa Maria Grilling means beef tri-tip on a traditional crank-down grill. In fact, May is officially Barbecue Month…so move over, Texas!!

Our open pits bring the heat and make everything better—especially barbecue. 😉Did you know Santa Maria Style barbecue originally came about in the mid-1800s as a way for local ranchers to cook for their vaqueros? They dug earthen pits and filled them with red oak (Coast Live Oak) to cook large slabs of top block on skewers directly over the flames. This led to the open pits (and bold flavor) we know and love today.

Santa Maria Valley

This is historic California cuisine, and a relatively small portion of the Central Coast keeps Santa Maria-style barbecue alive. From San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara, “barbecuing” means getting a tri-tip cut of beef (a flavorful, triangular cut of beef from the bottom of the sirloin), lighting up a crank-down grill (otherwise known as a Santa Maria-style grill), rubbing the meat with dry spice rub, and slow-cooking it outdoors.

This style of cooking and cut of meat, both originated in the times when cattle ranching dominated the hills, some of which are now covered with grape vines. In the 19th century, all this land was controlled by Mexico and divided into ranches and land grants, whose names still dominate the borders and landscapes throughout these counties. After big cattle roundups, the ranchers threw Spanish-style feasts cooked over fire for their vaqueros, or cowboys. And we’re still eating it today.

Don’t miss the 2023 Santa Maria Barbecue Festival on May 13 in Santa Maria!

Read more about Santa Maria Grilling and the history of Santa Maria-style barbecue here.

You can, of course, grill this meat on a gas or charcoal grill, or even a smoker, but nothing beats the open flame and oak flavor of the crank-down grill. For it to be authentic, Santa Maria tri-tip has to be cooked over red oak or live oak, which you can find at almost any grocery store around these parts. It’s also served with chunky tomato salsa and local pinquinto beans (unless you’re north of Nipomo, but we won’t talk about barbecue sauce here). The crank allows the grill master to adjust the heat accordingly, so they can sear the outside and slow cook the rest over indirect heat. It’s one of the most delicious foods you can eat on the Central Coast!

Here at the Summit Club at Rice Ranch, we offer a beautiful, large Santa Maria-style grill made of iron with stone surround (as well as various gas grills) for residents’ use—just bring your own wood or propane tank.

Santa Maria Grilling

Of course, summer santa maria grilling also means burgers, hot dogs, and grilled chicken (or portobello mushrooms) on a grill or in the oven! Backyard barbecues can consist of anything from all-veggie meals, wine, and cheese, crostini, skewers, or even a big salad on hot days. And Santa Maria strawberries are an easy, crowd-pleasing dessert.

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Another fun thing to do is take the Santa Maria Valley Barbecue Hop (using our local barbecue map), so bring your appetite and plan a weekend of meals prepared by Santa Maria style.

Or, skip the planning and check out this Santa Maria Style Barbecue itinerary, designed for you to enjoy:

  • Authentic Santa Maria Style Barbecue
  • Easy outdoor hike to walk it off and take in the scenery
  • Beer and wine
  • A little more barbecue!

Make it festive, enjoy Memorial Day, and get to grilling! Come see our model homes, Meadow View Townhomes at Rice Ranch in Orcutt.

santa maria grilling
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