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.
They were not bashful with the tommy’s at Alisal:
It makes sense, though. Look at the crowd they have to feed:
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:
But let’s get back to those tomahawks:
Yes, these steaks can stand:
Time for them to lay down and feed that crowd:
But what about other steaks? How about these MONSTER Porterhouses:
These were so big and sexy, I had to get a 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:
And the man who is responsible for all of these magnificent spreads is Chef Anthony Endy:
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:
And 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:
And some of the best root veggies you will ever have:
Now that we covered the healthy eats, let’s get back to the fun stuff. Did somebody say lobster?
And check out this cauldron cooker:
There were more lobsters on one of the Santa Maria cookers:
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:
And one of my all time faves, 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:
Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections who made some of the most incredible desserts I’ve ever had:
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:
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.
I can tell you that I got the end of that chunk of bread that Bob Oswaks is holding. It was amazing:
And the bread baking presentation was one of the best:
But my favorite was listening to Frank Ostini wax poetic about grilling Santa Maria style:
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.
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:
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:
And there was some amazing beers, particularly for those that like the hoppier brews:
And of course, my favorite, they had an amazing selection of the Whistle Pig Rye:
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.
Here’s a better picture of all the amazing spices we were able to sample from:
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:
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:
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:
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.