Santa Maria-Style Barbecue

You may recall in my post, Aspen Food & Wine Classic 2016 (, I attended a class where Tyler Florence extolled the virtues of Santa Maria-style barbecue.  Santa Maria-style barbecue is the “fifth style of barbecue”, he said, after Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and Carolina.  He walked us through the preparation of a simple rub for tri-tip, smoked it, and served it with two complementary salsas.  What Tyler described intrigued me.  I had to learn more…how many times had I been wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley, the “birthplace” of Santa Maria-style barbecue, stopping to nosh on a tri-tip sandwich, and I didn’t know its history?  So this summer, while in Santa Barbara, I hit Google, called up a baby sitter for the kids, and drove off on an adventure up Highway 101 in search of traditional Santa Maria-style barbecue.

An hour and a half north of Santa Barbara, I arrived in Santa Maria at Shaw’s Steakhouse.  Now part of the Andersen Pea Soup franchise, Shaw’s was established in 1953.  At the entrance, guests are greeted by an original open air barbecue pit inside the restaurant, giving way to the dining room replete with red leather banquettes, wood paneling, and black and white photographs. There is also an adjacent tavern, and looks like it probably rocks at night.  But since I was there for the early bird special, I situated myself in a red leather booth and ordered a glass of Cambria Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard, imagining myself at a Spanish-style feast.

Tri-tip entrée at Shaw's Steakhouse in Santa Maria.

Tri-tip entrée at Shaw’s Steakhouse in Santa Maria.

Experiencing this style barbecue was something new for this Texas girl.  I had to put aside my preconceived notions of the barbecue I know and love from Texas.  I had to forget about dousing the meat in barbecue sauce and scooping it up with tortillas or Wonder Bread.   In lieu of outdoor wooden benches, creamed corn and buckets of beer, there was air-conditioning, Central Coast Pinot Noir, and relish trays.  Reminiscent of a Wisconsin supper club, a fresh relish tray of carrots, celery, olives and butter pickles was served as prelude to the meal.  Next, I had a choice of soup or salad.  The obvious choice for me was the infamous Andersen’s pea soup.  Loaded with chucks of yummy ham bits and served with Saltines and Ritz crackers, the pea soup was perfection.  With the tri-tip entrée, there was a choice of potato, fries or rice.  And just in case we didn’t have enough carbs with the meal, crispy garlic bread is included.  Traditionally, the tri-tip is served with pinquito beans, tiny light-red beans grown in the Santa Maria Valley.  Shaw’s is old school, so of course the beans were center stage alongside the tri-tip.  And I am so thankful, for the beans were outstanding and well seasoned.  The gringo salsa, a mixter of canned tomatoes and mild green chiles was a nice acidic accompaniment to the meat.  However, I craved a little more spice, and was therefore inspired to make this meal at home.  Courtesy of Tyler, I already had a road map for the rub and the salsas, I just had to find the beans.  That proved easy with Amazon, and in two days I had pinquito beans from Rancho Gordo (don’t you love the name?).  The kids and Hubby proclaimed it one of my best meals yet.  Check out the recipes below…and don’t forget to wash it all down with Central Coast Pinot!  Provecho!

Near Casmalia, returning from Santa Maria. This is true California cattle country.

Near Casmalia, returning from Santa Maria. This is true California cattle country.

Tri-tip prepared sous vide, alongside pinquito beans from Barbareño in Santa Barbara.

Tri-tip prepared sous vide, alongside pinquito beans from Barbareño in Santa Barbara.

Mis frijoles pinquito (see recipe below).

Mis frijoles pinquito (see recipe below).

Tri-tip served at Casa Symington (that would be my house).

Tri-tip served at Casa Symington (that would be my house).

The base of a Santa Maria rub has salt, pepper, and either garlic salt or garlic powder.  Anything beyond that is optional.  In many rubs, I love to add smoked paprika, a bit of cumin, ground coriander seed and some ancho chile powder.  Coffee grounds would be yummy too.  If you cannot find tri-tip cut, try using a thick London broil or sirloin steak.

Charred poblano salsa

  • 2 tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1 poblano chile, halved, stemmed and seeded
  • 12 onion
  • 1 garlic clove, whole
  • chopped cilantro
  • 1 T white vinegar
  • salt, to taste

On a cooktop grill, or in a skillet on a range, place tomatoes, poblano chile, onion and garlic over high heat, and char on all sides.  Remember, Tim Love says in order to burn food, you must have patience.  Once all sides are charred, or blackened, remove from the heat and let cool.  Add the tomatoes, chile, onion and garlic to a food processor and pulse to desired consistency.  This is where I would add the cilantro and pulse it one more time.  Many would argue to leave the cilantro out, but that is up to you.  Place in a bowl, and add the vinegar and salt to taste.  Adjust the seasonings and serve alongside the tri-tip dinner.

Pinquito Beans

  1. Pick over beans to remove dirt and small stones; cover with water and let soak overnight in a large container.
  2. Drain, cover with fresh water and simmer 2 hours, or until tender.
  3. Sauté bacon until lightly browned.
  4. Add onions and garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add diced tomatoes, and sauté for a few more minutes.
  6. Add the tomato mixture to the beans and stir. Season with salt and keep warm on low heat until ready to serve.


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  • John Finley

    Is Casa Symington accepting reservations? 😉

    • TexazTaste

      Always, for you, my dear friend!!

  • Famous Dave’s – Texaz Taste
    January 18, 2017 - 7:46 pm

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