Santa Maria Style Grilling with Aaron Ward

Santa Maria Style Grilling with Aaron Ward

The Smokehaus menu draws inspiration from the rich tradition of central coastal California’s Santa Maria grilling style. Our Smokehaus method includes slow smoking our meats and grilling them on a traditional Santa Maria grill over an open flame with mesquite and oak wood for a rich and unique flavor.

Before I walked in, I could smell the smokey goodness inside these four walls. This place comes at a good time, too. I’ve been craving good BBQ and was excited to hear an authentic BBQ place was opening. When I learned they were working with Camelback Smokers, I knew this authentic flavor would have more to it than a thick BBQ sauce.

In an effort to learn more about Smokehaus, and to learn more about this unique style of cooking, I sat down with Aaron Ward.

Tell me about Smokehaus.
We wanted to do a casual BBQ joint that was fun and allowed us to play around with the menu a bit. We have a smoker on the patio. We wanted this to be a cool place to hang out.

I grew up in California, and when I moved to Arizona, no one had heard of tri tip. It’s a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin. No one had tried it, so I found a butcher in town that had it. 15 years later, it is starting to catch on. It started out as a butcher’s cut, and the butcher would keep it. It would be their dinner. In Santa Maria, California, they started grilling it up and making it into a BBQ thing in the Central Valley. Now you can find it everywhere.

We decided we would go that route and stick to my roots a little bit. The owner of Little Miss BBQ originally owned the smoker. He outgrew it, and we got it! We have a little juju in there now. There is a local guy that makes them, and he is actually right across the street from Little Miss BBQ.

We use mesquite charcoal and red oak, which is indigenous in Central California. It was hard to find at first, but we ended up finding a good source out here. So we use all red oak.

Brat Haus is next door… That is convenient. What is the strategy with the “haus” naming convention?
We wanted to keep it in the family. The opportunity came up for this building, and it worked out. The space works for a BBQ spot. It makes it easy for me. I don’t have to drive anywhere. We built a reputation with Brat Haus and wanted to keep that connection with Smokehaus.

What happened with Taco Haus?
We would need a lot of beers to go over that one. It’s a long story. It was the perfect storm of things that didn’t work out. From the ashes rises the phoenix.

I love BBQ. Tell me more about the menu and what some of the more signature dishes are all about.
Tri tip is our signature dish. There aren’t many people focused on that. Other items included are the chickens we do. They have a southwest marinade. We use a paste and grill those on the charcoal grill. We have ABT, atomic buffalo turds. (Laughs.) It’s a jalapeño stuffed with sausage and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon and then smoked. They are awesome.

We do some of the regular BBQ stuff, too. We do pulled pork and ribs. We have waffle fry nachos with chicken or beef. We wanted to keep the menu approachable and not too complicated. We are doing the Big Boy Burger, a shout out to Bob’s Big Boy. We also do roasted chiles, the 1984 taco salad, a recipe my mom used to make. That’s a shout out to my mom. We wanted to have a little bit of fun with the menu.

Tell me more about Camelback Smokers.
They helped to design our smoker. They fabricate custom smokers available for sale on their website. The one we have is a 250-gallon smoker, and they go up to about 1,000 gallons. It is insulated and very convenient to use. It burns steadily and provides a consistent heat. It’s been fun to play around with.

What are some good side dishes to serve with BBQ?
The pork belly mac and cheese is really good. I like the ranch beans a lot. You get a little bit of sweet with the BBQ.

I watch a lot of cooking shows on TV. There are also a lot of BBQ competitions out there. Does Smokehaus plan on getting involved with any of those over time?
This is only our first week. We are taking baby steps. We do a lot of festivals. We are doing The Great American BBQ & Beer Festival in March. We will do some festivals like that, and with Spring Training coming up, we will be on the patio grilling every day. That is a busy time of year for us.

Dan Attaway wants to know, “How do you describe a good burnt end?”
Well, we don’t do brisket here. We do all tri tip, so you will have to talk to a brisket expert about that!

When cooking ribs, what temperature do you cook them and for how long?
We do it on the big smoker about 160 degrees for about 3 hours. Then I wrap them and we do it about 180 degrees for another 2 hours. They are really tender; fall off the bone. They get a lot of good smoke from the big smoker, and I have a smaller smoker in the back we use.

What makes a good BBQ sauce?
I would say the balance, for sure. I like a little vinegar, smoke, and sweetness blended together. I like the spicy ones. We use pickled jalapeño in ours. That gives you the vinegar flavor along with the smokiness. It is a different flavor using those compared to fresh peppers. The sauce should complement the meat. It needs to complement the food, not cover it up.

What is the California’s Santa Maria grilling style?
There is a specific grill that has the cranks on the side. The grates go up and down and, as I said before, we use all red oak and mesquite charcoal. Tri tip has a pretty thick fat cap on it. You want to render that out, and slow cook it. It is convenient to have the crank on there. There is a lot of garlic in the rub we use… Always a dry rub. There is some parsley, garlic, and sea salt that makes up the rub.

I bet beer pairs nicely with BBQ… What beers do you have available?
We have an all American draft list. At Brat Haus we have a lot of imports, but here we wanted to keep it simple. We have domestic beers, but also have a variety of craft beers that will please the craft beer lovers. My favorite right now is Modus Mandarina IPA from Ska Brewing. That beer has a little of the citrus that complements the smoke in our BBQ. I am an IPA guy, myself. The Four Peaks Brewing Company Belgian White uses a lot of local citrus, and also pairs nicely with our dishes.

We also have a beer called 805 from Firestone Walker Brewing Company. We also do 99 cent PBR all day every day. We have a few beers from Huss Brewing Company . Jeff Huss is awesome. Jeff and Leah… They are really great people.

I know you are just getting open, but what’s next for Smokehaus?
Right now we are trying to grow into the spot. We will start picking up some of the catering stuff. We’ve got a good takeout program and want to expand upon that.

In addition to that, we have meat by the pound, too. It’s a good program where someone can come have a couple of beers and their food will be ready. We have a couple takeout spots right by the door making it easy and convenient. The parking lot is a big hit. That was a big selling point for us.

In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. BBQ is art. Go!
Cool! This is a labor of love and something we are passionate about. I have mom’s recipes, tips from my dad, the blues playing… We want to make it a comfortable place for you to come. If you are young, old, single… If you want to crush beers or have a glass of wine, we have something for everyone.

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