Featuring fiery Santa Maria Salsa
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Fire Roasted Santa Maria Salsa

Bring a taste of Cali to your grill with this savory Fire-Roasted Santa Maria Salsa, loaded with spicy chiles, grilled tomatoes, celery, shallots, and more. The hints of smoke and char will have you topping, dipping, and diving into the bowl, eager for the next bite.

Santa Maria salsa is loaded with fire-roasted chiles, tomatoes, shallots, and more.

What is Santa Maria-Style Barbecue?

Just like Texas, the Carolinas, and Kansas have their own distinct, regional-style barbecue, and so does the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County. This style of barbecue dates back to the mid-19th century when California ranchers and their vaqueros, or cattle herders, would celebrate in the spring with a Spanish-style feast. 

The Santa Maria County Chamber of Commerce copyrighted the menu in 1978. Top sirloin or tri-tip roasted over red oak, savory fresh salsa that perfectly compliments beef, pinquito beans, green salad, and grilled French bread dipped in butter make up the components of a traditional Santa Maria barbecue. Check out our Santa Maria Tri-Tip for an authentic experience!

Traditional Santa Maria barbecue involves wood-grilled tri-tip steaks.

Why This Recipe Works

  • Flavor and texture. The balance of flavors and textures brings incredible depth to this fire-roasted salsa giving it smokiness, brightness, and tang without being overly spicy. The unique addition of celery combined with the use of a mortar and pestle keeps this salsa chunky with a little bite.
  • Make ahead. Not only can you make this recipe ahead of time, but the flavors develop even more as the ingredients marry. The roasted vegetables absorb the acidic pop of vinegar, lime juice, and Worcestershire.
  • Keeping tradition. This roasted version of the beloved California salsa recipe pays respect to the history of tri tip’s best friend while adding the additional mysterious ingredient of smoke. Whether you’re looking for the perfect pairing for Santa Maria Tri-Tip or a flavorful salsa to stack on your smoked shredded beef sandwich, this is it.
These are the key ingredients that will be grilled for the fire-roasted salsa.

Key Ingredients

  • Anaheim Chile. This is the authentic chile of choice for Santa Maria-style salsa. It’s mild and fruity, making it a chile pepper the entire family can enjoy. Its size and texture make it ideal for raw, roasted, and grilled preparations.
  • Celery. For the true Santa Maria salsa experience, this ingredient is mandatory. It adds a grassy flavor to the salsa that is mellowed by the roasting. Use the celery heart if possible as the leaves add additional flavor.
  • Worcestershire Sauce. This might seem like a surprising ingredient for salsa, but this fire-roasted salsa is meant to be paired with beef, namely tri-tip. It brings instant umami and salt to the salsa while also complementing the richness of the beef.

Substitutions

  • Use a different chile if you don’t have access to Anaheim peppers. Hatch chiles are the closest in flavor and size. You can also use canned green chiles. Poblanos will work but offer a slightly earthier, more bitter note. Skip the jalapenos on this one and save them for pickling. 
  • Canned fire-roasted tomatoes make this recipe easy to recreate year-round when tomatoes might be looking a little sad. They’ll give you that smoky flavor. Just make sure to drain them well so your salsa isn’t too liquidy. 
  • Try a different vinegar. Balsamic vinegar offers a little more sweetness while white wine vinegar offers a clean, mild flavor. Use what you like and what you have on hand.
Use a charcoal grill to char the vegetables for this fire-roasted salsa.

Recommended Equipment

  • Charcoal Grill. Ideally, you’ll want to fire up the charcoal grill to make this salsa, but any grill will work. No grill? No problem, you can also char the vegetables in the oven or on a grill pan.
  • Charcoal. The vegetables are charred directly in the charcoal. Both lump charcoal and briquettes work for this recipe. You’ll want to use a high-quality, natural charcoal. 
  • Molcajete. The texture of this salsa is as important as the flavor. You want it chunky and not overly processed. A molcajete, or mortar and pestle will give you control. You can also use a food processor, pulsing until you’ve reached your desired consistency.
Char the salsa ingredients right on the coals.

How to Make Santa Maria Salsa

  1. Prepare your grill. You want to make sure that the grill is clean of any ash before lighting your charcoal. You’ll need a medium-sized pile, or about ¾ of your chimney starter, of charcoal. Once your charcoal is glowing and turning slightly gray, spread it out into an even layer. Carefully blow off any excess ash before adding your vegetables. 
  2. Char your vegetables. Spread your vegetables in an even layer across the ashed over charcoal. Everything will cook at a different rate so this is a hands-on process (Please use tongs!). Rotate the vegetables as needed. You will want the shallots and chiles charred on all sides. Don’t worry if the thin skin of the tomatoes split as you’ll be removing it before you use them. 
Allow the salsa ingredients to cool off before peeling the skins.
  1. Let your vegetables cool. Remove the vegetables as they are charred. Place the peppers and tomatoes in an airtight sealed container. This will allow them to steam as they cool, making it easy to remove their skins. 
  2. Chop your vegetables. Peel the skins from the tomatoes and peppers and remove the seeds from the peppers. You will also need to remove the outer skin from the shallot. Dice all of your vegetables into small chunks, about ¼”.
Use a food processor to chop the salsa to a chunky consistency.
  1. Make your salsa. A mortar and pestle will work best for this, but a food processor also works. Add the chopped vegetables, cilantro, and Mexican oregano to your molcajete and grind it down until you’ve reached your desired texture. You want it a little chunky. Stir in the lime juice, Worcestershire, vinegar, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper. 
  2. Let it refrigerate. Allow the Santa Maria salsa to refrigerate for at least two hours so the flavors can develop. Taste again just before serving to see if you need to add any additional salt or pepper.
Mash the Santa Maria salsa up in a molcajete for a nice texture.

Important Tips

  • The vegetables for this fire-roasted tomato salsa get cooked nestled directly in charcoal. You want to make sure to carefully blow off any excess ash before adding them. A handheld portable fan or even a hair dryer can be used for this. Once your wife tastes the salsa she won’t mind if you borrowed it.
  • All of the vegetables will cook at different times. Be mindful and keep flipping. The scallions will char quickly while the chiles will take a little longer. 
  • Once the skin has split on your tomatoes, they’re done. You don’t want to overcook them as they’ll become mushy. You still want them to have integrity.
  • The texture of this salsa is important. If you do use a food processor be careful not to over pulse it. You want it a little chunky.
  • Don’t peel your celery! The outer layer will protect it during the charring process. You will also want to leave the skins on the shallots.
  • Pick hearty, plump, firm tomatoes. Soft tomatoes tend to burst over the fire. Vine-ripe tomatoes will give you the best flavor. If they’re on the smaller side go ahead and add an additional tomato.
  • Taste your salsa after it’s chilled. Tomatoes are like sponges and absorb salt. You may need to add an additional splash of Worcestershire or a pinch of salt.
Dig in to this California salsa recipe featuring roasted Anaheim chiles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to fire-roast this Santa Maria salsa?

No. Santa Maria-style salsa isn’t traditionally roasted but instead a raw preparation. Fire roasting adds an additional element of flavor while enhancing all of the natural flavors of the ingredients.

How long can I store Santa Maria salsa for?

This roasted salsa will stay extremely fresh in the refrigerator for up to three days.

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Featuring fiery Santa Maria Salsa

Fire Roasted Santa Maria Salsa

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Brace yourself for this irresistible fire-roasted Santa Maria Salsa, loaded with spicy chiles, grilled tomatoes, celery, shallots, and more.

  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 cups 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 3 medium-size tomatoes
  • 2 ribs of celery, untrimmed with leaves
  • 1 medium shallot
  • 3 stalks of scallions (green onions)
  • 3 Anaheim chile peppers
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • (optional) 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • Salt & pepper

Instructions

Notes

  • All of the vegetables will cook at different times. Be mindful and keep flipping. The scallions will char quickly while the chiles will take a little longer.
  • Taste your salsa after it’s chilled. Tomatoes are like sponges and absorb salt. You may need to add an additional splash of Worcestershire or pinch of salt.
  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 5
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Category: Sauces & Salsas
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: Salsa
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