Santa Maria-Style Barbecue Bean Recipe

These small, chili-type beans are a cross between a pink bean and a small white bean, and grow well in the fertile soil and mild climate of the Santa Maria Valley.

article image
Photo by Renee Benoit
Santa Maria style poquito beans are a heritage recipe for cold winter nights.
10-16 servings SERVINGS


  • 2 lbs. poquito beans
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb. bacon, diced
  • 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 envelope chili mix or 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 2 to 4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1-1/2 cups tomato juice or tomato sauce


  • Cover beans generously with water. You don’t need to soak them as they are small and cook relatively quickly. Bring to a boil and add salt and pepper.
  • Turn heat to simmer and cook two hours or until tender.
  • In a separate pan (cast iron works great!) sauté in this order: onion and garlic, bacon, and hamburger. Brown both meats. Don't let the onions and garlic burn.
  • Drain off as much fat as you can and then add salt and pepper, oregano, chili mix, and tomato juice. Cook until thoroughly warmed through.
  • Add the mixture to beans and simmer 1 hour.

I got this heritage recipe from my good friend Anna, who is Gabrileno-Tongva Native American.  I told Anna that I never met a bean that I didn’t like. One day while she was teaching me rag rug crocheting, she exclaimed that she was going to gift me some bags of the wonderful poquito beans that are native to the area where she grew up in California in the Santa Maria valley. These beans were always on the menu at Ronald Reagan’s barbecues at his ranch in the Santa Ynez mountains.

These small, chili-type beans are a cross between a pink bean and a small white bean, and grow well in the fertile soil and mild climate of the Santa Maria Valley, which is the only place where they are grown commercially. Some think the Santa Maria “Pinks” were brought in with the migrant citrus workers in the 1950s (they also introduced the tri-tip cut of meat), but now there’s some thought that it was a crop during the Spanish Mission era. Whatever its origins, it’s delicious and meaty and the perfect match for any barbecue, chili or even salad. They hold their shape and don’t get mushy. They are a filling meal on a cold wintry day.

A typical Santa Maria-style BBQ will include poquito beans, macaroni and cheese, a fresh green salad, toasted sweet French bread, salsa, coffee and a simple desert like fresh strawberries. The preferred meat is a thick cut of beef seasoned only with salt, pepper, and a hint of garlic, cooked over coals made of red oak. To be authentic, the cut of meat should be 3 inches thick and weigh 3 to 4 pounds. In modern days, a smaller cut, frequently tri-tip, is more popular. The traditional Santa Maria-style barbecue menu was even copyrighted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1978.

The traditional grill is made of iron and has a hand crank that lifts or lowers the grill platform over the coals to the desired distance from the heat. The Santa Maria Valley is often rather windy, so the style of cooking is over hot burning coals as opposed to the cooler radiant heat that covered BBQs use.

Renée Benoit lives in southeastern Arizona. She can see Mexico from her living room! She and her partner Marty are in the process of transforming their property into a sustainable homestead. Right now they have 2 dogs, 2 horses and 1 cat to keep them company. She also enjoys traveling to new places to discover native foods as well as wildlife. She writes creative non-fiction and gardens, hikes, reads, sews, cans, ferments, bakes, cooks and needle felts in her spare time.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.