Every region of the country seems to have its own barbecue style. Southern style focuses on sweet, thick sauces and gets applied to almost everything but mostly chicken; Carolina style is focused on pork and has vinegar-based sauce (usually applied sparingly during cooking, if at all); Texas style is a dry rub applied before a slow smoke, usually of beef brisket. And there’s St. Louis style and Memphis style and, well, pretty much any place there’s a rural population, there’s a style.
Except California. Is there a California native style? After all, most of the state is pretty rural, and there’s been cowboys here for as long as there’s been cowboys in Texas. As it turns out, yes, there is such an animal: Santa Maria Barbecue. Apparently, the main characteristics of it are:
- Tri-tip or top block sirloin
- A dry seasoning rub of just salt, pepper and garlic
- Smoking over red oak (native to Southern California)
- Topped not with barbecue sauce, but salsa
And traditionally it’s served with seasoned pinquito beans.
I found out about all this from bumbling around yesterday and coming across a reference to the Red Smoke Grill in Pleasanton, and deciding that I needed to go out there and give it a try.
This isn’t a restaurant you’d necessarily look twice at, because it’s in a strip mall and does a marvelous job of looking like a chain restaurant. One suspects it’s an aspiring chain. But it’s definitely worth seeking out. I got the “original,” with a side of pinquitos. The sandwich was topped with salsa and a mild cilantro cream sauce, which despite my deep suspicion of cilantro—the difference between pleasantly sweet and my food tastes like soap is about two leaves’ worth—worked really well. I’ll definitely be back, although it may be a little far for even coyotes to travel during a lunch break.
And all the tables had bottles of just one hot sauce: Tabasco chipotle. That has to be worth something, too.