Homemade Santa Maria-Style BBQ Beans

| 2/23/2015 10:10:00 AM

Renee-Lucie BenoitI've been living in California since 1977. All this time I have really enjoyed the cuisine. For example, there's the groundbreaking way of cooking started by Alice Waters that has influenced many people. It's known as "California Cuisine." However, California had its own cuisine long before Alice. This is the cuisine rooted in Spanish traditions.

The Spanish Californios were ranchers and they took good food seriously. When I was learning to make rag rugs from my neighbor Anna she introduced me to poquito beans (also known as pinquito) and Santa Maria-style barbecue. I made them and immediately became addicted. Poquito or pinquito (either way is right) beans are a long-standing tradition on the Central Coast of California. These little (for that's what poquito means: "little") beans have been used in Santa Maria-style barbecue for generations. Anna is from a family that ranched in Santa Barbara county. She should know.

Start with dry beans.

This small, chili-type bean is loaded with California history. They are a cross between a pink bean and a small white bean, and grow well in the fertile soil and mild climate of the Santa Maria Valley, which is the only place where they are grown commercially. Some think the Santa Maria "Pinks" were brought in with the migrant citrus workers in the 1950s (they also introduced us to the tri-tip cut of meat), but now there's some thought that it was a crop during the Californio Mission era. Whatever its origins, it's delicious and meaty and the perfect match for any barbecue, chili or even salad. They hold their shape and don't get mushy.

A typical Santa Maria-style BBQ will include poquito beans, macaroni and cheese, a fresh green salad, toasted sweet french bread, salsa, coffee and a simple desert like fresh strawberries. The meat will be a thick cut of beef seasoned only with salt, pepper and a hint of garlic, cooked over coals made of red oak also known as coast live oak. To be authentic the cut of meat should be 3 inches thick and weigh 3 to 4 pounds, but in modern days a smaller cut, frequently tri-tip, is more popular.

The traditional Santa Maria-style barbecue menu was even copyrighted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1978.