There are barbecue kings, and then there are barbecue kings of the road. Robert Santoro is the latter. While his brisket, ribs and chicken earn high marks at sanctioned cook-offs up and down the West Coast, his mobile kitchen has no competition.
Santoro, who divides his time between Los Angeles and the Santa Ynez Valley, draws a crowd whenever he pulls up with his 40-foot-long trailer, a former NASCAR concessions stand that he transformed into a gleaming, rolling, show-stopping professional kitchen and “Q” pit.
“I must give fifty tours a day at barbecue events,” he says. He also gives classes, pulling up anywhere and using the trailer as base camp while teaching amateur cooks to barbecue like a pro on any kind of equipment.
The air-conditioned fifth-wheel trailer has big serving windows, 18 feet of stainless-steel counter space, a 25-watt generator, a top-of-the line refrigerator and the clincher, a removable hickory-pit convection barbecue that allows Santoro to “drive onto a field of dry grass, barbecue for a thousand, and never throw a spark” – important for events in our fire-prone foothills.
How professional is it? Consider that behind every Food Channel cooking star is a real working kitchen where a team of food professionals make the food that ends up on camera. For culinary goddess Giada De Laurentiis, that kitchen is Santoro’s trailer.
A former butcher for his brother’s meat-packing business, Santoro was coordinating transportation for the television studios in L.A. when he got the idea for a trailer project. But he wasn’t sure what to build. Then a friend introduced him to De Laurentiis’s cooking staff.
“They were working in a small, cramped trailer and not having much fun,” Santoro recalls. “I said, ‘Let me build you something nice.’” He did, and in 2008 the staff moved in and have been cooking there five months of the year ever since.
The rest of the time, Santoro follows the competitive barbecue trail, cooks at wineries and special events, teaches classes, and rents the rig out to other chefs. Whether competing or teaching, he says “I give the best I have. The payoff is when people come up to me and say it’s the best barbecue they’ve ever eaten.” For more information, go to www.santaynezbbq.com.