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From the counter to your stomach 

If you’re craving a taste of the Central Coast, Matthew Pearce, owner of the Old San Luis BBQ Co., has a heaping plate of authentic Santa Maria-style barbecue waiting for you.

click to enlarge COOKING IT OLD SCHOOL :  Mathew Pearce is bringing authentic Santa Maria-style barbecue to downtown San Luis Obispo. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • COOKING IT OLD SCHOOL : Mathew Pearce is bringing authentic Santa Maria-style barbecue to downtown San Luis Obispo.

The new eatery opened it doors on June 26. Santa Maria-style barbecue is, as Pearce says, “part of the culture of the Central Coast.” It’s a style original to the cowboys of the Santa Maria Valley, who enjoyed it with family and friends during large feasts. What makes the barbecue unique is that the meat, usually tri-tip, is cooked over a red oak fire. Pearce uses coastal live oaks to prepare his barbecue. The red oak provides a distinct flavor: “smoky but not hickory, not mesquite,” Pearce said. “It tastes like the Central Coast, tastes like sunshine and blue oceans.”

Pearce was exposed to Santa Maria-style barbecue through a family friend’s grandfather, Mutt Anderson. Pearce was instantly blown away by the unique taste.

“Wow!” he remembered thinking. “I’ve never had barbecue like this.”

And so he learned the family recipes, embracing the technique and tradition and promoting the local family-styled barbecue in the catering business he was running.

Pearce graduated from Cal Poly, where he received a degree in civil engineering. After working at Diablo Canyon—and, in his spare time, selling barbecue at farmers markets and catering events—his barbecue business picked up. So Pearce left civil engineering—which he described as “too dry”—and sank his teeth into something more savory, opening his first restaurant.

Having grown his business through farmers markets, Pearce wanted to re-create the market experience at his restaurant. He uses fresh, locally grown products, and boasts a simple menu, just a few things done to perfection.

In keeping with the farmers market theme, the storefront is modest: clean and open glass, giving a clear view of the kitchen. Customers order from a take-out window.

Upon walking up, I was greeted with a smoky, familiar aroma wafting from the pit, and invited in with the pleasant smiles of the servers.

Seating is outdoor only, which is all the better for taking in the downtown area from one of the patio tables and enjoying some barbecue in the warm sun.

The must-have item, according to Pearce (and he’s the boss so he should know) is the tri-tip pit plate. The main attraction is a deconstructed sandwich with either barbecued tri-tip or chicken (tri-tip is recommended) and sourdough garlic bread dipped in butter with a Parmesan garlic blend. For a side, Pearce suggests the corn pie, a family recipe, made with diced jalapenos and cheddar cheese.

Old San Luis BBQ also offers Santa Maria pinquito beans—like pinto beans, but smaller and grown locally—served with a lot of bacon and a lot of ham.

If the craving for an authentic, locally inspired, savory delight hits you, look for Old San Luis BBQ Co. at 670 Higuera St. To see the menu, visit Pearce can be reached at work at 285-2473.

Fast fact

Hospice of SLO County is looking for participants for a suicide bereavement group. Rowland Tucker, a marriage and family therapy registered intern, will run the group under the supervision of Anthony Huffaker, a licensed marriage and family therapist. The start date and location will be determined once enough participants have registered. There’s no cost to participate. Contact Tucker at 544-2266 for more information. For information about Hospice SLO and other services offered, visit 

Intern Kristofer Marsh compiled this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send your business ad nonprofit news to

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