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Far West Tavern, Orcutt
Far West Tavern, Orcutt
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12 Impressive Stops for Central Coast Barbecue in California

Discovering a regional barbecue style you may never have known existed

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Far West Tavern, Orcutt
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Along the Central Coast of California, that loosely defined stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles, tri-tip is king. The leaner low sirloin cut often takes a backseat to brisket in other parts of the country, but owing to California’s long-standing ranchero culture tri-tip cooked over red oak has become something of a tradition. Though its true origins are a bit hazy, most agree that, much like barbecue in the rest of the world, tri-tip ultimately earned its place at the table because for years it was considered a cheap, tough cut without much fat or collagen — but given the right treatment it could shine.

Today, tri-tip is a large cog in an even larger barbecue machine that’s gaining its own West Coast reputation: Santa Maria style, cooked over proprietary pit grills using widely abundant red oak. You’ll find those boxy cookers at classic stops like The Hitching Post II in Buellton, and throughout Santa Maria proper at weekend park parties and Sunday grill sessions. And they’re not just for tri-tip: pitmasters along the coast routinely use Santa Maria grills for everything from steaks to ribs, giving the largely rural wine country its signature barbecue style. Here are some of the best options for a barbecue pit stop the next time you’re traveling through.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Wildwood Kitchen

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A new Santa Barbara barbecue option in a hip multi-use complex, Wildwood Kitchen is earning raves for its rosy tri-tip, well-cooked meats, and cozy environs.

Hitching Post II

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A Buellton institution just off the highway (and a much easier drive than the family-owned original in Casmalia), The Hitching Post II is where locals mix with tourists over perfectly rendered steaks. The grill is on full display in the dining room, albeit behind glass, while the bar on the opposite side of the place lets folks play out their own Sideways wine dreams all night long.

Far Western Tavern

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A classy take on ranchero barbecue, Far West is an Orcutt institution that seamlessly combines grilled meats like tri-tip, robs, and pork chops with upscale sides like prosciutto-wrapped jalapeños.

Shaw's Steakhouse

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Set right in the heart of Santa Maria barbecue country, Shaw’s is a classic for thick slabs of tri-tip served straight-up wit some beans and a baked potato, or tossed into a strongly-stacked sandwich for easier eating. You can watch the masters at work in the kitchen as well.

Rancho Nipomo Deli and BBQ

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Rancho Nipomo is a popular Central Coast choice for tri-tip sandwiches and heaps of pulled pork, plus more unusual barbecue offerings like burritos and shrimp cocktails.

Jocko's Steak House

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Jocko’s is a beef lover’s dream, set down right in Nipomo cattle country where steaks, ribs, a variety of chops and some damn fine burgers are cooked over open flame out back all day long.

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Tanner Jacks

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An Arroyo Grande barbecue specialist from breakfast through dinner, Tanner Jack’s is the place for tri-tip sandwiches smoked over applewood, or their Tuesday night all you can eat rib free-for-all.

The Rib Line

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The Grover Beach outlet of Rib Line BBQ sits just off the public beach, making it a popular weekend dining spot for those passing through. Angus tri-tip is the starring sideshow (after those ribs), and you can even pile on the meat with giant sandwiches like the one-pound Baby Brahma, served in a grilled sourdough loaf.

F.McLintocks Saloon & Dining House

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A Santa Maria barbecue favorite overlooking the ocean in Shell Beach, F. McLintock’s works their grills nightly with a variety of steaks, ribs, and tri-tip. They even grill their artichoke appetizers, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, and a half-pound sirloin burger.

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Old San Luis BBQ Co.

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Right on Higuera at the south end of downtown, Old San Luis BBQ Co. is a popular option for college kids and their families. The menu is a straightforward take on tri-tip and pulled pork, plus those grilled linguica sausages that are commonly found along the coast.

Firestone Grill

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Firestone’s is an essential stop for just about anyone passing through San Luis Obispo. The lines are long for cheap beer, giant bowls of fries, and the restaurant’s signature tri-tip sandwich, called out over the loudspeaker by number while throngs of adoring diners wait impatiently out on the summery patio.

Scotty's BBQ

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An Atascadero eatery with a strong barbecue sense, Scotty’s does tri-tip, linguica, pulled pork, and full rib racks for $25. Don’t skip on the smoked chicken either, which is among the best around.

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Wildwood Kitchen

A new Santa Barbara barbecue option in a hip multi-use complex, Wildwood Kitchen is earning raves for its rosy tri-tip, well-cooked meats, and cozy environs.

Hitching Post II

A Buellton institution just off the highway (and a much easier drive than the family-owned original in Casmalia), The Hitching Post II is where locals mix with tourists over perfectly rendered steaks. The grill is on full display in the dining room, albeit behind glass, while the bar on the opposite side of the place lets folks play out their own Sideways wine dreams all night long.

Far Western Tavern

A classy take on ranchero barbecue, Far West is an Orcutt institution that seamlessly combines grilled meats like tri-tip, robs, and pork chops with upscale sides like prosciutto-wrapped jalapeños.

Shaw's Steakhouse

Set right in the heart of Santa Maria barbecue country, Shaw’s is a classic for thick slabs of tri-tip served straight-up wit some beans and a baked potato, or tossed into a strongly-stacked sandwich for easier eating. You can watch the masters at work in the kitchen as well.

Rancho Nipomo Deli and BBQ

Rancho Nipomo is a popular Central Coast choice for tri-tip sandwiches and heaps of pulled pork, plus more unusual barbecue offerings like burritos and shrimp cocktails.

Jocko's Steak House

Lucas Peterson

Jocko’s is a beef lover’s dream, set down right in Nipomo cattle country where steaks, ribs, a variety of chops and some damn fine burgers are cooked over open flame out back all day long.

Lucas Peterson

Tanner Jacks

An Arroyo Grande barbecue specialist from breakfast through dinner, Tanner Jack’s is the place for tri-tip sandwiches smoked over applewood, or their Tuesday night all you can eat rib free-for-all.

The Rib Line

The Grover Beach outlet of Rib Line BBQ sits just off the public beach, making it a popular weekend dining spot for those passing through. Angus tri-tip is the starring sideshow (after those ribs), and you can even pile on the meat with giant sandwiches like the one-pound Baby Brahma, served in a grilled sourdough loaf.

F.McLintocks Saloon & Dining House

Google Maps

A Santa Maria barbecue favorite overlooking the ocean in Shell Beach, F. McLintock’s works their grills nightly with a variety of steaks, ribs, and tri-tip. They even grill their artichoke appetizers, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, and a half-pound sirloin burger.

Google Maps

Old San Luis BBQ Co.

Right on Higuera at the south end of downtown, Old San Luis BBQ Co. is a popular option for college kids and their families. The menu is a straightforward take on tri-tip and pulled pork, plus those grilled linguica sausages that are commonly found along the coast.

Firestone Grill

Firestone’s is an essential stop for just about anyone passing through San Luis Obispo. The lines are long for cheap beer, giant bowls of fries, and the restaurant’s signature tri-tip sandwich, called out over the loudspeaker by number while throngs of adoring diners wait impatiently out on the summery patio.

Scotty's BBQ

An Atascadero eatery with a strong barbecue sense, Scotty’s does tri-tip, linguica, pulled pork, and full rib racks for $25. Don’t skip on the smoked chicken either, which is among the best around.

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