With temperatures on the rise, thoughts are turning to backyard grilling, but if you’d rather be chilling, have Oak Pit BBQ Company do the work for you.
Though it has an Arroyo Grande address, Oak Pit BBQ is on the Nipomo Mesa, at the corner of South Halycon Road and Mesa View Drive (Highway 1).
Like most barbecue joints worth their smoke, it’s not big on frills. After you put in and pay for your order at the counter, take a seat at one of the few nearby tables or out in the small adjacent Quonset hut structure.
Owner Vincent Cano just recently took over Oak Pit BBQ but has worked at the eatery since it opened about two and a half years ago. Before that, his only food industry experience was on a fast-paced taco truck, but the young Santa Maria native proved a quick learner in the ways of barbecue.
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Oak Pit BBQ does have some elements of Santa Maria-style barbecue, as in meat that’s grilled over oak.
However, this joint also has traditional barbecue, as in low-and-slow smoking over an oak pit. (Yes, the Santa Maria style is an iconic tradition around here, and is recognized as authentic regional cuisine, but if you went to the Midwest or the South and called it “barbecue” you’d be run out of town.)
For the traditional barbecue items, Cano keeps the smoker out back going all day long.
The St. Louis-style pork ribs take about three hours, and the cuts used for the pulled pork take about nine hours. You can also order smoked beef ribs and chicken, or go to the oak-grilled side of the menu for tri-tip and linguica.
The side dishes have a similar dichotomy going on. Traditional options include coleslaw, potato salad, corn bread and steak fries.
Sides familiar to the Santa Maria style are Vaquero beans, garlic bread and green salad.
In a category all their own are the house-made, deep-fried potato chips called “Oak Chips.”
All the meats and sides are available a la carte, or you can opt for one of the generous combos.
The Ranch Hand Plate offers a choice of a half pound of tri-tip, half a chicken, two beef ribs or three pork ribs, and from there you get beans, plus your choice of garlic bread or corn bread, plus your choice of another side.
For the Sandwich Plate, you’ll get piled high tri-tip, linguica or pulled pork, plus either steak fries or Oak Chips.
If you really can’t decide, go all in with the Round Up Meal, which feeds at least four to six people and includes a little bit of everything except salad and potatoes.
Cano noted that two other popular items are the Oak Pit Cheese Steak — thinly sliced tri-tip, pepperjack cheese, grilled onions and chilies on a French roll — and the Redneck Nachos. Those came about because the staff noticed that customers were putting beans on top of Oak Chips, so they kicked it up to include pulled pork, coleslaw and cheddar cheese over the chips and put it on the menu.
Taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, Cano has only slight changes planned for the future of Oak Pit BBQ Company.
He’ll soon start using an adjacent building for an indoor seating option, and he’s listened to customers’ requests and added burgers.
“It made sense since we had the grill going for the tri-tip anyway,” he said, “and we’ve had so much local support — I want to give them what they want when I can.”