Recently, Dad and I got invited to attend Barbecue Bootcamp at Alisal Ranch outside of Santa Barbara in Southern California. I know, I know. A lot of you are rolling your eyes at Barbecue and Southern California. But bear with me here. Alisal is located right in the heart of the Santa Maria region of California where Santa Maria style grilling and those amazing grills originated. What some barbecue snobs lose sight of is that barbecue is regional. Some will swear by the mustard based sauces on their pork in the Carolinas, or that white BBQ sauce in Alabama, or beef smoked over post oak in Texas, or simply pork coated with a nice rub that I love so much from here in St. Louis. Don’t forget a tri tip on a Santa Maria cooker which was put on the map by folks in this area. I, for one, couldn’t wait to immerse myself in that style of BBQ and experience it from where it began.

Also, I’m thinking of taking my family back to Alisal for a long weekend when it is not Barbecue Bootcamp Weekend. My wife gets enough barbecue at home. She doesn’t want it on vacation. But with all the hiking, horse back riding, cruising up the PCH, the wonderful pool and accommodations, the amazing scenery and fantastic weather, I’m thinking there is plenty for my family of 6 to enjoy. And just maybe, I will be able to sneak off, find Chef Endy and throw a couple tomahawks onto a Santa Maria style cooker.

Now back to Santa Maria Barbecue. What is it? Well essentially, it’s cooked on a Santa Maria Cooker which is a big open pit that has a grill grate that raises and lowers depending on how hot one wants the surface to be. No charcoal here though. Traditionally, red oak logs are used. And while the tri tip roast is most commonly associated with Santa Maria Barbecue, the fine folks at Alisal showed me that just about anything can be cooked on these fantastic rigs.

When I arrived, I found my friends David Olson from Live Fire Republic and Burt Bakman of Trudy’s Underground BBQ and Slab out of LA hamming it up, or should I say beefing it up:

David Olson and Burt Bakman posing with some tomahawk steaks
They love the tomahawk steak and beef in general at Alisal. Stay tuned and you will understand

They were not bashful with the tommy’s at Alisal:

Burt Bakman showing that the steaks at Alisal stand alone
Too rare, just right, or burnt?

It makes sense, though. Look at the crowd they have to feed:

Tomahawk steaks on a Santa Maria style cooker
Those are some extremely patient people awaiting that feast of bone in ribeyes

This event isn’t just a bootcamp of all things grilling and barbecue, it’s feast after feast of epic proportion and the hospitality is unmatched:

Barbecue Bootcamp at Alisal Ranch
Barbecue Bootcamp at Alisal Guest Ranch

But let’s get back to those tomahawks:

David Olson is extremely excited about this tomahawk
David Olson is extremely excited about this one

Yes, these steaks can stand:

Tomahawk steaks standing up
Tomahawk steaks standing up

Time for them to lay down and feed that crowd:

Tomahawk steaks ready to serve
Tomahawk steaks ready to serve

But what about other steaks? How about these MONSTER Porterhouses:

32 ounce porterhouse steaks waiting for some seasoning
Who wants some 32 ounce porterhouse steaks?
Steaks seasoned and on the heat
Seasoned and on the heat

These were so big and sexy, I had to get a selfie:

Scott Thomas in front of a Santa Maria style cooker
Steak Selfie

And who else do you know has porterhouse steaks so big, that you can play dominos with them?

Let’s not forget the style of BBQ that puts this region on your culinary bucket list. Everything I have showed so far has been cooked on Santa Maria style cookers that this region is known for. Live fire from red, or sometimes white, oak in the base of these big rectangular grills, with a grill grate that can be raised or lowered depending on the needs of the pitmaster and the food. Tri Tip was popularized here. Simple seasoning, a Santa Maria style cooker and a red oak fire is what makes this place an ultimate barbecue destination. Here are some of those Tri Tips with a basil pesto marinade:

Tri tips with a basil pesto marinade
Tri tips with a basil pesto marinade

And the man who is responsible for all of these magnificent spreads is Chef Anthony Endy:

Chef Endy posing in front of his Santa Maria style cooker
Chef Endy posing in front of his Santa Maria style cooker
Chef Endy tending to copious amounts of beef
Chef Endy tending to copious amounts of beef

This guy covers so much ground for such big crowds that I’m utterly impressed by his skill and patience on the grill. Before we get to the other stuff he cooks, let’s finish up the beef we had on this trip. Can’t forget the brisket:

Smoked brisket at Alisal Ranch
They call that bark! BARK!

And beef ribs:

Bones sticking out on beef ribs
Bones sticking out on beef ribs

I know, I know. Some of you are getting the meat sweats just looking at these pics. There were veggies too. How about grilled kale:

Kale kooking
Kale kooking

And some of the best root veggies you will ever have:

Grilled root vegetables
Grilled root vegetables

Now that we covered the healthy eats, let’s get back to the fun stuff. Did somebody say lobster?

Piles of lobsters
Lobstah anyone?
A mountain of split lobsters
A mountain of split lobsters

And check out this cauldron cooker:

A cauldron cooker loaded with split lobsters
A cauldron cooker loaded with split lobsters
An overhead shot of those split lobsters
An overhead shot of those split lobsters

There were more lobsters on one of the Santa Maria cookers:

Chef Endy taking care of dozens of lobsters
Chef Endy taking care of dozens of lobsters
Chef ______________ presenting the lobster
I ate that one

I told you that the feasts were epic. I wasn’t kidding. This is unlike any other cooking and eating experience I’ve ever been a part of.

I almost forgot these bacon wrapped scallops that were nearly as big as my fist:

Massive scallops wrapped in bacon
Massive scallops wrapped in bacon

And one of my all time faves, chargrilled oysters:

Chargrilled oysters
Chargrilled oysters

But the best part of this multi day event was the knowledge I was able to take home with me. The seminars were not just delicious, but extremely informative and given by some really phenomenal people.

The list of presenters was absolutely legendary.

The afore mentioned Burt Bakman:

Burt Bakman prepping some tomahawk rib eyes for the grill
Of course we have more tomahawks and yes, that is me in the background sporting my fire shorts.

Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections who made some of the most incredible desserts I’ve ever had:

Scott Thomas with Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections
Getting a selfie with the dessert queen of Southern California

Multi cookbook author Paula Disbrowe who wrote “Thank You for Smoking.” Why didn’t I think of that for a name of a book? It’s brilliant and so is the book:

Thank You for Smoking by Paula Disbrowe
Thank You for Smoking by Paula Disbrowe
Here is Paula and Valerie Gordon getting ready to gill that kale
Here is Paula and Valerie Gordon getting ready to gill that kale

And it wasn’t all meat and desserts, and a couple veggies thrown in. There was also a bread baking demonstration by the esteemed Bob Oswaks from the Bob’s Well Bread Bakery.

Bob Oswaks from Bob's Well Bread Bakery
Bob Oswaks from Bob’s Well Bread Bakery

I can tell you that I got the end of that chunk of bread that Bob Oswaks is holding. It was amazing:

Bread from Bob's Well Bread Bakery
Hearty, warm, crusty. If I had to choose one word – Perfect

And the bread baking presentation was one of the best:

The bread baking presentation

But my favorite was listening to Frank Ostini wax poetic about grilling Santa Maria style:

Frank Ostini from the Hitching Post II giving a grilling presentation
Notice the name at the top of the Santa Maria cooker in the background.

That’s the owner of the Hitching Post II and here he is next to Virginia Madsen a few years ago when they filmed the movie Sideways at his restaurant. Sideways starred Ms. Madsen, Paul Giamati, Thomas Hayden Church and Sandra Oh and really helped to push wine to the forefront of libation choice of millions of Americans.

Frank Ostini and his Restaurant Hitching Post II in the movie Sideways
Frank Ostini and his Restaurant Hitching Post II in the movie Sideways

It wasn’t so much that his place was in the movie. It was the knowledge he imparted and how he did it. I could’ve listened to the guy talk for hours about cooking over an open fire:

Frank Ostini holding court and presiding over how to cook over fire
Frank Ostini holding court and presiding over how to cook over fire

Mr. Ostini also brought some of his impeccable wine. Did I get this far into the review without mentioning the thirst quenchers? There was the wine, which also came from Mr Ostini and the Hitching Post:

Hitching Post wine at Alisal Ranch
A bevy of wine, ready for the pour

And there was some amazing beers, particularly for those that like the hoppier brews:

805 Brewery beers chilling on ice
805 Brewery beers chilling on ice
Keg end from Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Keg end from Firestone Walker Brewing Company

And of course, my favorite, they had an amazing selection of the Whistle Pig Rye:

Whistle Pig Rye. That 10 year is particularly delicious
Whistle Pig Rye. That 10 year is particularly delicious

One of the coolest things we did at Alisal was to get to hear the presentation from Joy Culley from Solvang Spice Merchant who explained that the modern world exists as it is thanks to the spice trade. That spices and seasoning shaped the ancient world and paved the way for not only the trade of flavors but also the trade of knowledge and ideas. Then we got to sample a ton of amazing spices, some I’d never heard of. I was able to craft a couple nice spice blends.

Bucket after bucket of spices from the Solvang Spice Company
Bucket after bucket of spices from the Solvang Spice Company

Here’s a better picture of all the amazing spices we were able to sample from:

The extent of the spices at Alisal
That is me in the background sporting another interesting pair of short pants

When it was all said and done, the best part were the friendships made or strengthened. Such as getting to meet in person Burt Bakman whom I’ve known online for years:

Burt Bakman and Scott Thomas hamming it up at Alisal Ranch
Burt Bakman and I posing for a pic

The question is, where did I get that Yeti hat. I don’t own a Yeti hat. Oh, that’s right. This guy handed it to me:

Robert Jacob Lerma doing what he does
Robert Jacob Lerma doing what he does

That is none other than the best BBQ food photographer on the planet (left), Robert Jacob Lerma and check him out on Instagram:

Robert Jacob Lerma mixing up spice blends with David Olson
Robert Jacob Lerma mixing up spice blends with David Olson

My only complaint about the event was that I was unable to stay longer. I wasn’t able to enjoy the pool or hot tub. Or get a massage. Or go on a horseback ride. Or do any hiking. But after being in 5 cities in 6 weeks, and this one being the 5th, I was ready to be home with the family. Now I have to find some time to take the wife and kids out to Alisal for a few days. I can get my grill fix while enjoying some family time at picturesque Alisal Guest Ranch. Oh, one more thing. Try to fly into Santa Barbara if going by air. Getting out of LA sucks even during non rush hour. Even in the Camaro SS I rented. Once I got past Santa Barbara, it was on like Donkey Kong in this beast:

Camaro SS ready to tear up the PCH
My ride from LA to Alisal

The farther away from LA I got on the Pacific Coast Highway, the more fun this car became. Getting to drive up the PCH should be a bucket list item. Getting to do so on the way to Alisal checked off two from my list.

Thanks to Dad for taking a bunch of these pictures for this post. Much appreciated, Pop.

 

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas, the Original Grillin’ Fool, was sent off to college with a suitcase and a grill where he overcooked, undercooked and burned every piece of meat he could find. After thousands of failures, and quite a few successes, nearly two decades later he started a website to show step by step, picture by picture, foolproof instructions on how to make great things out of doors so that others don’t have to repeat the mistakes he’s made on the grill.
Scott Thomas

@GrillinFool

https://t.co/lVWgniik3V - #GrillPorn abounds here. All meat, all the time!
Oh my wow! There is so much perfection right there! 😲✔️👍😎 . Video shot by the insanely talented @carlaocarvalho77 …… https://t.co/uKHWyunSxp - 3 years ago
Scott Thomas

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