Santa Maria Barbecue
Santa Maria Barbecue
Santa Maria is a lovely town on California's Central Coast which is famous for its
barbecues. If you want to try these recipes, and you don't live near here, you'll have to
use substitutes for the primary ingredients, because you won't find them where you live
(except by mail order).
A traditional Santa Maria Barbecue consists of tri-tip roast, pinquito beans, salsa,
macaroni & cheese, green salad, French bread, a local red wine, and a simple dessert.
It traces its origins to the Californio days, but I suspect that the macaroni was a Yankee
We'll give the tri-tip and bean recipes here. For the salsa, try one of our pebres. For the macaroni & cheese recipe, go to
Maria site, where you will also find mail-order sources for the meat and beans.
Pinquitos are the small pink beans grown in the Santa Maria Valley.
You can mail-order them, or buy locally a similar bean, such as small red or pinto.
The tri-tip is the triangular-shaped boneless butt, or tip,
of the bottom sirloin. Hence the name. Santa Marians make a big deal about it because it's
without question the best beef for grilling. The larger and thicker the better - anything
under 2" thick is really a steak, not a roast, and won't taste as good.
Why real tri-tips are hard to find. In the East, butchers cut most of
the bottom sirloin butt into "culotte steaks", and sell it for a higher price
per pound. (This cut is called "colita" (tail) in Argentina.) California
shoppers demand the tri-tip roast, which is traditional here, and costs a lot less per
pound than culotte. Midwestern meat packers may cut the tip and and ship it west to meet
the California demand (and now Oregon), but don't make it available where shoppers don't
The tri-tip pictured here is the original Santa Maria tri-tip, a complete sub-primal
cut bottom sirloin butt, and weighs about 5 pounds. However, meat markets can
maximize their profits by cutting the wide end into cullotte steaks (called tri-tip steaks
in the West), and sell the remaining narrow tip as "tri-tip roast", even though
it's just a portion and weighs only 1½ to 2 pounds. This is called a portion cut
and is the size preferred by supermarkets who sell only tray beef. Since there is only one
of these cuts per hind quarter, it doesn't make sense to wrap it, so most markets cut this
remnant into stew bits or grind it. If you live near Santa Maria, you'll know where to
find a 5-lb sub-primal tri-tip. Elsewhere in California and Oregon, the "tri-tip
roasts" are under 3 pounds (but the more expensive "tri-tip steaks" are
available - the "steak" label adds a dollar per pound). If you're really lucky,
you'll find a meat market or butcher who'll sell you the full 5-lb tri-tip for around 10
The tri-tip is not marbled, so is considered a lean cut, but has a thin layer of fat on
one side (the underside if sold in a tray, see above). This fat automatically bastes the
meat while roasting, and will be mostly rendered when the roast is done.
In Santa Maria, the tri-tip is simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic salt and
placed on an open-pit barbecue (with red oak charcoal) and grilled until the center is
medium rare (135-140° F). (Time depends on the size of the roast, but is approx. 15
minutes per lb - newbies keep a meat thermometer handy.) It's allowed to rest for 10-15
minutes (under a foil tent) and sliced across the grain. (If you slice it hot off the
grill, you'll lose all the juices.)
You don't really need an open-pit barbecue (unless you live in Santa Maria). A kettle
or gas grill will work fine (you can even use your oven). Our recipe employs the
fool-proof indirect heat method.
Grilling tip: the tri-tip is a roast is not a steak, so you don't want to be flipping
it like a burger. Place it fat side up on the grill (don't trim the fat until slicing) and
leave it alone until it's done.
*6 to 8 servings*
1 lb *pinquito* (or pink, red or pinto beans)
1 bacon slice, diced
¼ c diced cooked ham
1 small garlic clove, minced
¾ c tomato puree
¼ c canned red chile sauce
1 T sugar
1 t dry mustard
1 t salt
1 d MSG (optional)
Cover beans with water and soak overnight. Drain and cover with fresh cold
water and simmer 2 hours, or until tender.
Meanwhile, saute bacon and ham until lightly browned. Add garlic and saute
1 or 2 minutes, then add tomato puree, chile sauce, sugar, mustard, salt and
MSG. Drain most of liquid off beans and stir in sauce. Keep warm over very
low heat, or in low oven until ready to serve.
2 - 5 lb beef tri-tip
salt, pepper, garlic powder
Season the untrimmed roast and allow to come to room temperature. Preheat
grill to hot, around 500°F. Place roast on oiled grill away from hot coals,
fat side up. Close cover. If using gas grill, reduce heat to 350°F after
15-20 minutes. Allow to roast undisturbed for a total of 15 minutes per
pound (to internal temperature of 140°F). Remove from grill and allow to
rest 10-15 minutes before slicing. Slice across the grain, trimming any
remaining fat from the edges.