Saturday, February 13, 2016     Volume: 16, Issue: 49

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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

BBQ In The Stix launches tri-tip food truck


Santa Maria Valley loves its signature tri-tip barbecue: oak wood, open fire grill, just a bit of salt, and salsa on the side. So what could make it better? A couple of entrepreneurs decided to take on that challenge, and what they came up with can be described as deliciously instant gratification. 

In the Santa Maria Valley, tri-tip is prepared only one way—Santa Maria-style—and BBQ In the Stix knows how to prepare it right.

For most people, enjoying Santa Maria-style tri-tip is what you do when you have a languid Saturday or Sunday afternoon. After all, grilling takes time. BBQ In the Stix took the process mobile, and so far they’ve got lunchtime warriors clamoring to get some. 

Chef and co-owner James Gentry said a tri-tip food truck took a lot of planning but it was something they believed would be welcomed. 

“Food trucks are in. And around here we are inundated with taco trucks but nobody’s doing anything different. We wanted to do something that would turn heads,” Gentry said.

So far they’ve done just that. With a soft opening providing boxed lunches on Fridays, In The Stix has had a warm reception. “It’s been awesome. Everybody loves the food. They’re so happy. They don’t understand why someone hasn’t thought of this before,” Gentry said. 

Gentry is a chef with Le Cordon Bleu training. He’s also a former executive chef at the Far Western Tavern. Gentry and co-owner and grillmaster Ronny Cavazos dreamed up In The Stix as a way to combine Gentry’s culinary training and Cavazos’ grilling skills in order to present local favorite dishes with a twist. 

BBQ In The Stix offers boxed lunches and full catering services.

In The Stix started as a catering company, but the real plan was always to eventually start the food truck. 

Getting the truck was no easy feat. After all, there are a lot of logistics to cover when adding an open oak grill into a vehicle. Gentry said there were certain design elements they had to take into consideration, like where in the truck the pit would be located, and the need for a special hood system for proper ventilation. They also had to make sure that they would be able to park the truck. And because they can’t drive with a burning fire pit they have to split the wood smaller than normal to be able to quickly build a fire and put it out, Gentry said. 

Those customizations all came after going through a long and complicated permitting and approval process that wasn’t without a few hiccups. 

“Everything was custom so it took a little while to pass state. They couldn’t find anywhere that said you can’t have it [a fire pit in a truck] but it didn’t say anywhere that you can have it,” Gentry said. 

BBQ In the Stix had a custom food truck built in order to accommodate a wood-burning grill.

Eventually the truck was built, and Gentry and Cavazos received the completed truck in January. 

Funds for the custom truck were raised entirely through their catering work, which they still provide for clients. 

Gentry’s dishes are influenced by a multicultural upbringing, his professional culinary training, and his experience working in some of the finest steakhouses in Los Angeles. Locally, in addition to his work at the Far Western Tavern, he’s also worked at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez. Though In The Stix focuses on barbecue and using local produce and flavors, Gentry likes to expand beyond the area and focus on French, Asian, and even South African cuisine. But the heart of In The Stix is the barbecue. Grillmaster Cavazos has been barbecuing Santa Maria-style since a young age. Over the last 21 years Cavazos has proved his barbecuing skills by winning a variety of grilling competitions. 

Gentry and Cavazos plan to operate the truck six days a week and will be present at various locations for boxed lunches. 

Right now foodies can get a $10 boxed lunch that includes an oak-grilled certified angus beef tri-tip sandwich served on fresh ciabatta with homemade salsa, a side salad of Babé Farms spring greens with farmer’s market veggies, and balsamic vinaigrette. The lunch also includes a side of In the Stix potato chips, freshly made from Kennebec potato chips, and for dessert, vanilla bean crème brulee. Optionally, boxed lunch customers can choose an oak-grilled chicken and strawberry salad—with Babé farms spring greens, Parmesan cheese, candied rosemary walnuts, and aged balsamic vinaigrette—with a side of In The Stix potato chips, and vanilla bean crème brulee.

Grab and grub
To find out where BBQ In The Stix will be serving next, visit them on Facebook at or email or text 264-7871.

Gentry said In The Stix will soon roll out its full menu. Long term they hope to launch five trucks in the next three years. “We want to give back to the community by providing employment,” he said.

For now, though, they are just enjoying feeding the appetites of hungry locals with their recent launch.

Editor Shelly Cone can be reached at