Step into the smoky, savory world of Central Coast BBQ — a culinary tradition that traces its roots back to the 1850s. Originally developed to feed large gatherings of ranchers, vaqueros (cowboys) and their families during springtime feasts, this method of barbecue isn't just about cooking food — it embodies a rich local history, community and the abundant natural resources. It's a taste of tradition that has grown from humble ranchero gatherings to be loved both locally and globally. Taking your first bite of Central Coast BBQ in SLO CAL (San Luis Obispo County) will make you feel like you transported back to an old-time cowboy cookout.  

Central Coast & Santa Maria Style BBQ

Back to Top of List

Central Coast BBQ is deeply influenced by the Santa Maria style of cooking. This style is an experience that’s deeply rooted in the heritage of the Central Coast. What distinguishes Santa Maria style barbecue is its specific preparation and local ingredients that you can’t find anywhere else.

What makes this style of barbecue unique?

  • Cooking over Red Oak: Why red oak you ask? The local hero of a tree indigenous to the Central Coast is the secret ingredient to giving the meat a distinct smokey flavor. 
  • Specialty Cuts of Meat: The classic cuts of meat—Tri-Tip and Top-Block sirloin—are generously seasoned with a simple, yet perfect blend of salt, pepper and garlic. This enhances the natural flavors of the meats without overpowering the high-quality local cuts.  
  • Unique Cooking Method: The grills used are specially designed to allow the pitmaster to adjust the height of the grill over the coals, providing precise control over the cooking temperature. This technique ensures that the meat is cooked to succulent perfection. 
  • Traditional Accompaniments: Central Coast BBQ is typically served with pinquito beans; a variety native to the Central Coast. Other traditional sides include a fresh salsa, a simple green salad and grilled french bread slathered in garlic butter. During certain seasons, meals may also be accompanied by locally grown strawberries, adding a sweet touch to the savory feast. 

Where to Find Traditional BBQ in SLO CAL

Back to Top of List

steaks grilling on a Santa Maria Style BBQ

Looking to experience Central Coast BBQ the way the cattle ranchers did? These restaurants offer the most traditional flavors around:

Jocko’s Steakhouse 

📍 125 N Thompson Ave, Nipomo, CA 93444 

No restaurant serves more traditional Santa Maria style barbecue than Jocko’s Steakhouse in Nipomo — a local establishment that has been renowned for its commitment to traditional cooking methods since 1926. Here, you can enjoy their famous steaks grilled over a red oak fire, accompanied by classic sides that reflect the simplicity and flavors of the region. Whether you're a barbecue aficionado or a curious traveler, Jocko’s is sure to provide a memorable culinary experience.  


📍 670 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 

Located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, Old SLO BBQ Co. serves up authentic Santa Maria style barbecue, highlighted by their signature tri-tip sandwich and locally made artisan sausages, all grilled over fragrant red oak. The restaurant also features over 45 craft beers on tap, offered in a unique pay-by-the-ounce system, making it the ideal spot to enjoy classic barbecue and explore a wide array of local brews. If you’re a BBQ lover or a craft beer enthusiast, Old SLO BBQ Co. delivers a true taste of the Central Coast in a lively, inviting setting. 

Firestone Grill 

📍 1001 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 

Firestone Grill in San Luis Obispo is renowned for their tri-tip sandwich. Served on a buttery french roll piled high with succulent tri-tip smothered in a sweet, and smokey, BBQ sauce.  This experience is even more rewarding after completing the infamous Tri-tip challenge, where adventurous hikers take on the three major peaks in the area. However, if hiking isn't your preference, the sandwich is equally delicious enjoyed at the bar, where you can watch a variety of sports games on multiple screens, or on the outdoor patio. 

Barbecue at the Farmers Market

Back to Top of List

Farmers Market in Downtown SLO
Craving some quick BBQ as you stroll through the streets? Discover the local flavors served up by these restaurants at our vibrant farmers markets:

Linn's at Cambria Farmers Market 

📍 1000 Main St Cambria, CA 93428 

If you find yourself in Cambria for the Friday Farmers Market, make sure to visit Linn’s, a standout experience for any food lover. You can’t miss their large Santa Maria-style grill, heaped with an array of meats like succulent tri-tip, tender pulled pork and juicy chicken. Don't overlook the classic sides to complement the smoky flavors —rich baked beans and creamy potato salad. For the perfect finish to a hearty meal, indulge in a slice of their world-famous Olallieberry pie, a sweet treat that captures the essence of local produce. Linn’s offers a delightful taste of traditional Central Coast cuisine right in the heart of the market. 

F. McLintocks at San Luis Obispo Farmers Market 

📍 Higuera St San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Strolling through the Thursday Night Farmers' Market in Downtown San Luis Obispo, the lively sounds and enticing aromas of F. McLintocks will grab your attention long before you spot their stand. The cooks are not just pitmasters, but entertainers. As they grill pork ribs, chicken kebabs and classic tri-tip to perfection, they engage the crowd with boisterous jokes and dazzling cooking displays. Whether you're there for that classic Central Coast BBQ taste or a fun experience, F.McLintoks has you covered.  

Restaurants Cooking Up New BBQ Flavors

Back to Top of List

Bread and meat cooking on open grill

If you're looking to diversify your BBQ palate, these restaurants bring some different barbecue flavors to the table:

Jeffry's Wine Country BBQ 

📍 819 12th St suite b, Paso Robles, CA 93446 

Since opening its doors in 2018 Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ quickly became a favorite among the locals and visitors alike. While their delectably slow smoked meats are always a fan favorite, the other culinary crafted aspects of their menu are what keeps the crowds coming back. Their award-winning mac and cheese really steals the show, generously topped with options like smoked brisket, succulent pulled pork and garlic-5 cheese.  For those looking to diverge from the traditional BBQ lineup, Jeffry's famous Paella is a standout, boasting four wins at the Paso Pinot and Paella competition. No visit to a Paso Robles eatery would be complete without the opportunity to sip local wines, and Jeffry’s extensive wine list promises the perfect pairing to elevate any meal. 

Rancho Nipomo BBQ 

📍 108 Cuyama Ln, Nipomo, CA 93444

Tucked away in the heart of California's Central Coast, Rancho Nipomo BBQ offers a delightful twist on the traditional BBQ experience with a vibrant Mexican flair. This culinary gem artfully blends the rich, smoky flavors of classic barbecue with a flare Mexican cuisine, creating a menu that's both familiar and thrillingly unique. Rancho Nipomo's menu boasts an impressive array of burritos, enchiladas and tortas, each featuring their signature grilled meats. Elevating BBQ classics like brisket, tri-tip and pulled pork with traditional Mexican-style dishes. Specialty menu items such as the Santa Maria style fries feature house-made battered fries, loaded with chopped tri-tip, three cheeses, pico de gallo and sour cream. Complementing their unique take on BBQ, Rancho Nipomo often hosts large events, live concerts and karaoke nights. 

Taste Central Coast BBQ for Yourself!

As you indulge in the smoky, simple flavors of Central Coast BBQ, you're not just enjoying a meal—you're becoming part of the SLO CAL (San Luis Obispo County) community. This culinary tradition, deeply rooted in the simplicity and camaraderie of historic ranching times, invites everyone to gather around the grill. Each bite of tri-tip or spoonful of pinquito beans connects you to the laid-back, communal spirit of the early ranchers. Here, the straightforward preparation and local ingredients aren't just a nod to the past; they're a celebration of a lifestyle that values the joy of sharing good food with good company. Eating Central Coast BBQ is like stepping back to simpler times, making every visitor feel like a true SLO CAL local, embraced by the warmth and simplicity of this beautiful region.