For many, the art of grilling can border on obsession. And in the United States' most famous barbecue cities, technique, tools, and temperature can all invoke heated discussions and long-winded explanations.
And while you've probably heard stories about Kansas City and Austin-style 'cue, you might not know that one of the country's most unique barbecue hot spots is right here in California. Santa Maria-style barbecue, named for a small, somewhat unremarkable central coast town near San Luis Obispo, is all about tri-tip and always served with Pinquito beans, salsa, and greasy garlic bread. The menu stems from the Spanish rancheros who settled in early California and always used fragrant red oak when cooking meaty feasts, which gave the meat a smoky, hearty flavor.
Steaks grillin'— is there a better smell? (Courtesy of The Alisal)
One of the masters of the Santa Maria style is Frank Ostini Jr., son of Frank and Natalie Ostini who opened the original Hitching Post steak house in nearby Casmalia in 1952. The original Hitching Post, and Frank Jr.'s subsequent Hitching Post II, which opened in Buellton in 1989, are in part responsible for bringing fame to Santa Maria-style barbecue after being featured in the 2004 Academy Award-winning movie Sideways. Since then, Ostini has become a spokesman for his smoky craft, as well as a respected winemaker of the region's other specialty, Pinot Noir.
So what does all this have to do with you? Well, this fall, anyone can learn the art of grilling from Ostini himself while eating, drinking and luxuriating at The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, a historic dude ranch and resort in the Santa Ynez Valley. Alisal chef Pascal Godé has teamed up with Ostini to offer a BBQ Bootcamp twice a year. That's three days of full immersion grilling, spice blending, local beer and wine tasting, and even horseback riding and fishing at the on-property lake. Morning sessions will cover all the aspects of barbecue—from the best way to start a fire to what to do with spice rubs—afternoons are free for horseback riding, golf or a visit to the spa, and evenings give you a chance to interact with local guest chefs and winemakers.
Horseback riding above the lake in the Santa Ynez Valley(Courtesy of The Alisal)
Interested? The hotel package for two includes a two-night stay in Alisal's cozy cottage accommodations (complete with wood-burning fireplaces), all meals, private winemaker and brewmaster tastings, seminars on grilling and Dutch oven cooking, a take-home barbecue booklet and access to all ranch activities, including golfing and fishing. The next bootcamp takes place October 19-21, 2016. Start your fires! // $1,575, 1054 S. Alisal Rd. (Solvang), alisal.com/rooms-packages/featured