DIY BBQ: How to Barbecue Santa Maria-style
Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas City, Texas and Santa Maria--all are barbecue styles; only one is native to California. Traced to early ranchers and vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) of the 1800s Central Coast, Santa Maria barbecue is traditionally grilled meat cooked over native red oak.
Jeff Kirshbaum Michael Cordsen of Guadalupe's Far Western Tavern barbecues pork loin and chicken Santa Maria style
Today, many restaurants are dedicated practitioners of the style--from the Hitching Post II and Far West Tavern north of Santa Barbara to Culver City's aptly named Santa Maria BBQ. However, it's not so complicated that an average non-pro chef can't give it a good ole cowgirl or cowboy try, vegetarians too.
All you need is a grill, wood, spices, some beans, a few sides and whatever you are cooking up. Turn the page for tips and techniques from the experts.
Wood. If you're going old school then you'll need red oak firewood as the heat source. Southeast of downtown, Fire Wood of My Ranch has red and white oak (40 pounds of red oak is $10) and supplies many local restaurants. Look for Fire Wood of My Ranch red oak stacked next to the wood burning pizza oven at Los Feliz's Mother Dough.
Jeff Kirshbaum That's a lot of meat on the barbie! Grilling via red oak at the Hitching Post II
The trick to cooking over a wood fire is patience. "In a barbecue situation, you don't just want the flaming wood, you want the coals to provide the radiant or base heat," explains Clark Staub of Los Alamos' Full of Life Flatbread. After building a fire, kindling and a Lincoln Log-like structure work best for fire-starting says Staub, there's waiting period (approximately an hour) while the red oak burns down to a bed of coals.
Kathy A. McDonald Red oak
The apparatus. Pros use a Santa Maria-style grill. Rectangular in shape, the grill is adjustable and rises and lowers via a hand crank. Not only does it look cool and very home-on-the-range, the adjustable grill keeps the meat away from direct flames. A Weber or other kind of grill will do the job too; the key is to keep away from the flame. "It's very labor intensive," advises Michael Cordsen, manager of Guadalupe's Far Western Tavern. "You have to keep an eye on the grill constantly, there's no walking away," he declares.
And here's the rub. The essence of Santa Maria style barbecue is a dry rub: Beef should be heavily seasoned before grilling. The basic Santa Maria rub, per Chef Pascal Godé of the Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, is a blend of three kinds of pepper, garlic, onion and salt. (He's also created some custom smokin' blends as well). Susie Q's popular brand of Santa Maria rub adds in a bit of dried parsley.
When cooking protein other than beef--Tri-tip is the standard cut--remember that chicken, pork and fish will tend to dry out. Best to marinate first; the Far Western Tavern's Cordsen recommends a marinade of butter, garlic and white wine. At the Hitching Post II, everything on the grill gets basted in a half-and-half combo of oil and vinegar. Vegetables grill up quite nicely on the red oak fire. One savory idea: cook an artichoke, cut in half, season and grill (wet baste that too!)
Sides matter. Owing to the Santa Maria Valley's Mexican and Spanish heritage and influence, a mild tomato salsa is a traditional accompaniment. Pinquito beans (locally grown) are essential--dried pinquitos are available in various farmers markets including Beverly Hills and Mar Vista and also at Cookbook in Echo Park. A green salad and grilled French bread complete the hearty plate.
|Kathy A. McDonald|
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