ROAD TRIP: BBQ Boot Camp at Alisal Guest Ranch

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When I was 17, my friend Lynne and I took a road trip from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Galveston, Texas. We hatched our plan while lying out by the pool on a scorching hot summer day, wishing aloud that we were lying on a real beach. The next thing we knew, we were heading to the Texas coast in her mom’s Cadillac Town Car.

Writer Jennifer Evans Gardner (right) and Lynne, her old traveling friend, at BBQ Boot Camp.

I don’t remember much about that 36-hour trip, but I do remember the delicious barbecue we stumbled upon in a dive just over the Texas border. Oklahoma BBQ is delicious, but the ribs at this place were special… sweet, smoky and fall-off-the-bone tender.

I had a flashback of that road trip  when I attended the first ever “BBQ Boot Camp” at Alisal Guest Ranch in Santa Ynez, with – who else but — my old friend Lynne, who now lives in Santa Barbara.

BBQ Bonanza

For three days, a group of about 45 barbecue experts and barbecue-challenged (me being in the latter category) learned the art of the barbecue from two master chefs: Pascal Godé, Executive Chef of Alisal, who began his career at a Michelin star restaurant in the South of France, but who learned to grill in Texas; and Frank Ostini, the chef/owner of the legendary Hitching Post II Restaurant, made famous in the film “Sideways.” They were charming and helpful, and though they each had a unique approach to the grill, they really complimented each other, like good seasoning complements food – neither overpowering each other.

A lake nearby adds to the rustic charm.

They revealed their top grilling secrets, such as how to choose between the various woods (alder, hickory, cherry, oak, mesquite…), how to flavor your smoke, how to properly light a fire and when to put the meat on – and take it off. We learned how to create our own seasoning blends, when to baste and when to use a rub — and so much more, including recipes for dishes such as Oak-Grilled New York Steaks, Stuffed Pasilla Chiles and Green Lentil Salad with Pancetta, Herbs and Duck Leg Confit, to name just a few. We watched the chefs light up their grills, and barbecue big hunks of meat, fish and pork to perfection, and washed it all down with local wines, including those from Ostini’s own Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Winery. In between grilling and eating, smoke-scented clothing and hair be damned, we rode horses, visited the glassy Alisal Lake, rode bicycles down a country lane, and of course, sunbathed by the pool… just like old times.

Get the full ranch experience.

The next BBQ Bootcamp takes place October 27-30, and includes lodging, all meals, a “breakfast” horseback ride through the lush green hills, and a welcome basket filled with BBQ essentials such as seasonings and a rather adorable denim apron.

For pricing and more details, go to:

Jennifer Evans Gardner is a food and travel writer, cookbook author, and owner of the Little Feet in the Kitchen cooking school. Formerly Editor-in-Chief for, Jennifer has also written for The Los Angeles Times,, ePregnancy, Eating, Santa Barbara, and Kiwi, among other publications.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.