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We know that to make Santa Maria BBQ there are very few “must haves”. Tri-Tip, Salt, Pepper…and nicely seasoned Red Oak. Even thought these requirements are few, true Santa Maria BBQ cannot be accomplished without these basics.
To those of us on California’s Central Coast, the Red Oak and many of it’s cousins are plentiful. However, to my friends around the country, Oaks are either of a less flavorful variety or nonexistent. These Oaks of California are not “furniture grade”, they have many twists, turns, knots and kinks…not to mention bark that can approach an inch thick on older trees. These Oaks are meant for Sublime Beauty and BBQ. We don’t take the bark off like other BBQ cultures practice; we treat it the precious maker of fine BBQ coals – the wood and bark give a coal bed of unique texture, burn and smoke rates.
In order to find the wood – several commercial wood companies contract to “prune” in the case of the California Live Oak – and cut the Red & White Oaks…It’s illegal to cut down a California Live Oak without a permit….so ask before you buy, exactly what kind of Oak you’ll be getting.
Visiting local newspaper websites will generally provide contact for people that are selling the Oak wood by the cord – these guys typically are for the local customer, and don’t have the ability to box & ship to a customer…this will however be a great way to get lots of wood much cheaper than “by the box” retailers.
I’ve found a great website for locating Oak BBQ woods near you – many will ship directly to you in boxes or bags.
This is a very complete list and incorporates the major regions of California.
After you get your Oak BBQ wood coming, try this BBQ seasoning…
The Rub Co. - “Santa Maria Style” – purchase it at www.greenleafbbq.com – AWESOME rub for this genre of BBQ – and others – The Rub Co. and their BBQ team just won Reserve Grand Champion (2nd place) over all at the Wild West BBQ Bash…using this line of BBQ rubs!
Best of luck to you in obtaining the BBQ woods that made the Santa Maria Style, the equal of every other BBQ culture in the world.
“This sumptuous feast of barbecued sirloin, salsa, Pinquito beans, toasted French bread, and green salad has been called by Sunset Magazine, the “best barbecue in the world””
Simple aroma of the Red Oak burning in the bottom of an iron pit. The hot smokey air surrounds everything, changing everything. The deep crackle of the big oak logs, the fire is preparing to give up its gift. Men in jeans and boots, as authentic as the aroma itself prepare the 4″ thick Top sirloin “Block” steaks or tri-tips. Preparation is simple – shaking on some coarse garlic, salt & pepper. We have a few beers – waiting. We aren’t going to trim very much – the fire will need that. Families are happy, women talk. The fire wisps and cracks as we lower the iron grate on the rotating shaft. We control heat with the movement of the grate. This scene has been repeated thousands of times, more in this Central California region. We know nothing else. This is our lifestyle. Every important event. Every sad event. Grill marks, weeping, dripping fat into the fire, reddened meat, swollen. This is my BBQ. This is Santa Maria Style.
Families grill everyday in “backyard” California. Our weather is beautiful for 9 months of the year. Some slow smoke, others charcoal grill, others gas grill.
This style, like other landmark BBQ styles, is not the “only” way to BBQ, it is just the only true CALIFORNIA BBQ. It is ours. As simple as the corner of Mill and Vine streets in Santa Maria where the first Tri-Tip roast was discovered. Bob Shultz stumbled into the core of modern Santa Maria BBQ…only by accident. This discovery put Santa Maria BBQ on the map.
The fire lighting tips are simple:
Traditional Oak Pit: as pictured, load it with 5 or so logs and light it up. When those logs burn down, to coals, put one log in the back of the pit at the edge of the fire. This log will smolder and give you new coals slowly as the main fire burns down. Continue to add logs to the rdge of the fire as needed to continue making coals. Rake or drag the coals to the center as you BBQ. (If you have one of these pits, my information probably isn’t new or revolutionary. Have patience for those that are new.)
Charcoal grill or any “Stick Burner”: make a fire with BBQ oak wood chunks/small logs make a large pile, light them up, add more until you get a nice bed of coals 3″ thick. During this process, you probably won’t have seen your grill emit this much fire, so add sparingly to keep the fire manageable. A person could add charcoal to the BBQ chunks, but that isn’t what we’re talking about here. This is a process, enjoy it. Have a glass of wine, enjoy friends around that huge pile of burning oak wood.
Gas Grill: I don’t know what to tell you. Oak chips soaked in water don’t do it. Use this an excuse to buy another type of BBQ. After all, two or more isn’t bad.
Let the coal bed rest until you can keep the back of your hand over the coals for about 2 1/2 seconds. It’s gonna be hot… On the charcoal grills, move the coal bed to one side, block the fire with foil covered bricks or something firm, creating a slightly indirect heat.
In this temp range, the term “indirect” sorta goes out the window. We could be looking at 600+ over the fire, and around 450+ on the “cold side” In a charcoal grill, where you don’t have much control of the heat/grill height. Wait until the heat is within the 350-400 degree range before even thinking about putting that $30 dollar 4″ Sirloin Block or tri-tip on the grate. If you have an Oak Pit, lower the grate as the fire cools to maintain the 350 degree range. Oh yeah, you probably aren’t going to need that lid on the charcoal grill or Big Green Egg, Weber etc. Cook this on the grate, moving it around as needed to keep things in line.
Lets see, what else…yeah, your arm hairs may be singed, and you eyes may sting from that cookable clear smoke – that’s a sign that everything is normal. Just keep that meat moving a bit, don’t burn it & make sure to serve it with a great salad (and strawberries if you can get them)
This BBQ Style will take practice, and will probably cause a newbie some degree of frustration at first. Stick with it, and you will begin to unconsciously begin to “feel” your BBQ & it’s sumptuous rewards.
We’ll continue to have more on Santa Maria Style BBQ in the future…