Nearly four hours north on Highway One, far from the hustle, bustle, bright lights, glitz and Hollywood glamour of Los Angeles lies the Santa Ynez Mountains and gateway to one of California’s few destinations where the pace of time, for decades, seems to have romantically rambled on just a little bit slower than otherwise. Gently nestled in valley of these breathtaking coastal mountains is the renowned Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort. Due immediately west, the Spanish colonial heritage of oceanside Santa Barbara, and to the east, dramatic countryside landscapes and endless rolling hills, nearly seventy-five unique vineyards, among the most fruitful farmland on God’s green earth, and golden sunsets that could only be painted by the hand of the Good Lord, Himself.
At the center of this picturesque Rockwellian image is a distinctly-charming jewel of the region, Alisal; with history dating to the early 1800’s and richly-steeped in traditions of America’s famed Wild West, this 10,000 acre property boasts a fully-immersive working dude ranch (accompanied by 73 luxury guest suites), a private all-recreation lake, an adjacent river and seasonal streams abound with runs of enormous steelhead trout, more than 50 miles of horseback riding trails, 2 championship golf courses, and host to one of the most inspirational live fire cooking events annually from Sea to shining Sea.
Long on my bucket list of culinary travel destinations, it was here that I had the privilege to attend (and honor to play a small part in preparing several meals) at Alisal’s BBQ Bootcamp 2019.
BBQ Bootcamp is an all-inclusive and entirely-immersive outdoor cooking adventure, conducted in the native Santa Maria-style of cooking, led and co-hosted by some of the most talented individuals across the world of live fire cooking, working together in effort to prepare one awe-inspiring, mouthwatering feast upon another, from sun up to sun down for 3 consecutive days!
Born, bred and baptized in the art of red oak smoke and Santa Maria-style cooking, Alisal’s BBQ Bootcamp is led by the brilliantly-talented Chef Anthony Endy. Joining Chef Endy was the acclaimed Chef Frank Ostini, James Beard Awarded-Author Paula Disbrowe, my good friend and internationally-recognized pitmaster Burt Bachman, breadmaker-extraordinaire Bob Oswaks, and television personality Chef Valerie Gordon (who also expertly played the dual role of event emcee). Over the following 72 hours, we would indulge in the barbecue experience of my wildest carnivore dreams, directed at the hands of this championship collective of culinary talent, each performing their art in the Santa Maria Style of cooking.
With that said, it is important to understand, what is “Santa Maria Style”?
Simply speaking, it is a regionally-influenced form of live fire cooking centered upon a specific type of grill, specific type of wood, and for the traditionalists in our audience, a very specific cut of beef (tri-tip).
The heavy-duty grills are cast in iron, constructed in an open-lid boxed-shape, and equipped with an elevated hand crank (or wheel) and chain system that raises and lowers the grate in proximity to the fire pit, in effort to control temperature. Lower the grate and impart direct, high heat. Spin the grate upwards and yield indirect, lower temperatures. The wood employed is always red oak, primarily as it is abundant on the west coast, is fairly dense and subsequently yields higher temperatures over a longer period of time as compared to other varieties of wood. And, far from least, the wood imparts a beautifully-subtle essence into cooked foods, both sweet and savory.
In terms of the beef… while we were spoiled with dozens of chimichurri-rubbed @SnakeRiverFarms American Wagyu tri-tip beef steaks over the grill, dozens of dishes throughout the weekend employed the same style of cooking – the Santa Maria style!
To give you a flavor of the meals prepared, take a peek below.
Locally-harvested oysters shucked, simply seasoned, dressed with a beautiful herbed-butter, rested over a bed of sea salt in cast iron, and prepared to perfection over a bed of red oak embers. Paired with skewers of enormous barbecue spice-rubbed pacific prawn. And, all washed down with two handfuls of ice cold Figueroa Mountain IPAs!
Dozens upon dozens of enormous tomahawk steaks. Not to mention the smokers packed to the tilt by @slab with whole briskets, beef short ribs, turkeys and St Louis pork ribs. That’s not even including the showstopper sweet treats prepared by @valerieconfctns over the @biggreenegg.
From forest to fire. And fire to table!!! Freshly-harvested Wild Mountain Quail. Skewered, seasoned simply, then basted with a buttery buffalo sauce and prepared to tender perfection Santa Maria-style over an inferno of live fire and smoky red oak wood. So awesome!!
By the way. Somewhere in the middle of this meat madness we handcrafted dozens of homemade seasoning concoctions, using the most unique herbs and sought-after spices, with great thanks to expertise of @solvangspice. What a special treat to take home and share with friends and family.
Carnivore Heaven!! The finest beef on God’s Green Earth. More than a dozen of the most mouthwatering Newport Farms prime grade cowboy-cut Porterhouse Steaks rubbed in a bold barbecue blend of dried herbs and toasted spices, finished with an herbed-butter baste, and paired with wild mushrooms, roasted garlic, onion and peppers. Then, all washed down with two handfuls of ice cold Firestone Walker lager brews.
Tabasco-herb butter basted Spiny Lobsters – fished only hours before from the cool coastal waters of Santa Barbara, California. Grilled over white hot cast iron and red oak embers in the traditional Santa Maria style. Just phenomenal work by Chef @anthonyendy and his team all weekend. Very grateful to have played a small role in preparing this meal. A beautiful evening amongst family and friends at @alisalguestranch!
If this wasn’t enough, on our final morning, we were greeted at dawn with a warm cup of coffee and a horse-drawn hayride through the rustic, winding trails of the ranch to a remote adobe just beyond the sycamore groves and pristine waters of Lake Alisal. Here we were treated to an intimate final breakfast prepared by Chefs Gordon and Endy. Quite literally, this pork belly-smoked brisket-baked brie bread pudding prepared in the Big Green Egg may have been the most phenomenal thing to have touched my taste buds all weekend. Simplicity. Perfection!
Whether you’re motivated in the New Year to learn the basics of the backyard barbecue, or you’re a well-seasoned master of the pits, this is a must-attend event. And, if your time at Alisal is anything like mine, you’ll not only leave with a full stomach, but an unforgettable experience, and a host of new friends for a lifetime. Take a moment, click below and give my friends a follow. -Cheers and long live the adventure, David
@alisalguestranch, @anthonyendy, @valerieconfctns, @hitchingpost2, @trudys_underground_barbecue, @slab, @pauladisbrowe, @bobswellbread, @whistlepigwhiskey, @figmtnbrewsm, @wagstaffmktg, @robertjacoblerma, @getmica, @yeastieboysbagels, @hitchingpost2, @grillinfoolgreg and @grillinfools.