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    HomeHealthA Comparative Analysis: Santa Maria BBQ Grill vs. Traditional Barbecues

    A Comparative Analysis: Santa Maria BBQ Grill vs. Traditional Barbecues


    As any grillmaster will tell you, there’s more to barbecue than flipping hot dogs and burgers on a grill. The word refers to cooking meat outdoors using fire and smoke, but the end product can vary between regions, cultures, and even individual cities within the United States. Whether it hails from Kansas City, Texas, or Brazil, each barbecue style employs its own set of techniques and flavor combinations. One style that has risen in popularity in recent years is Santa Maria-style barbecue.

    What is Santa Maria-Style Barbecue?

    Santa Maria-style barbecue refers to a cooking technique that originated in the fertile Santa Maria region of California sometime in the mid-1800s. This style first emerged for beef ranchers to feed large crowds, often including their Spanish-speaking vaqueros. For this reason, there is a distinct Spanish influence in the flavors and sides accompanying the Santa Maria barbecue style.

    In its early years, the traditional method entailed roasting meat skewers over an open pit of smoldering red oak harvested from local trees. The same result can be achieved in the modern age with a portable Santa Maria BBQ grill. Prefabricated grills are usually outfitted with a rotisserie-like spit that can be adjusted to various heights to control heat intensity. This makes capturing the essence of Santa Maria barbecue outside of California possible. If you’re interested in this type of grill, here are four key differences between Santa Maria and other barbecue styles.

    4 Differences Between Santa Maria-style and Traditional Barbecue

    1. You Must Use Live Red Oak

    Rather than cooking directly on a grill, Santa Maria-style barbecue uses the smoke of live red oak for heating and flavoring. Outside of roasting meat on skewers, the use of live oak is the defining characteristic of Santa Maria-style barbecue. Feel free to get creative with your protein choices and seasonings, but it’s not Santa Maria barbecue without live red oak chips.

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    2. You Don’t Need Sauce

    This style came out of beef ranchers who used high-quality cuts of meat to feed their guests. When such high-quality cuts are used, adding a barbecue sauce can mask the flavor of the meat. As such, a dry rub is favored for this particular technique. If you’re new to Santa Maria, you can start with a basic, traditional salt, black pepper, and garlic powder recipe.

    3. But You Do Need Sides

    Santa Maria-style barbecue originated as a way to bring people together for celebrations, and no celebration is complete without a spread. Traditional accompaniments include fresh salsa, macaroni salad, crusty grilled garlic bread, and “pinquito” beans, which are small, neutral-flavored white beans native to the region. The sides’ flavors are kept mild to complement the star of the show, which is the meat.

    4. Choose Top Sirloin or Tri-Tip

    Due to its origins, it’s best to use beef when hosting a Santa Maria-style barbecue. The technique calls for a meaty cut that cooks quickly while staying tender and juicy. Top sirloin has been the go-to cut since its early years due to affordability and fat content. Since the ’50s, tri-tip has emerged as the more decadent alternative to top sirloin. 

    Unless you are an expert grillmaster and experienced in Santa Maria-style cooking, avoid lesser cuts, like skirt steak, top round, or chuck, which can all become tough or dry when cooked using this technique. If you are using a prefabricated grill with an additional grill plate under the skewer, you can also use the area for roasting other proteins like sausages, ribs, or chicken.

    Impress Your Guests with a Santa Maria Grill

    With roots in the sprawling estates of central California, Santa Maria barbecues are literally made for parties. The sights and smells of open-air cooking make it easy to share the joy of this technique with a crowd of guests. Ultimately, food tastes better when it’s shared in the company of loved ones. The next time you plan to host a backyard cookout, consider making it a Santa Maria-style barbecue.

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