Santa Maria, step aside: Kern County is coming for your notoriety.
"Kern County is the barbecue capital of California. We’re taking it (the title)," said Jeff Salters, owner of Salty's BBQ & Catering. "They would have to do a lot of work to challenge it, " he said of other California cities who might be foolish enough to take on the local restaurants and their passionate customers.
"The number of barbecue restaurants we have is pretty cool. That's something as an owner myself that I’m very grateful for the support that our community gives us."
And now Salters and his peers want to give a little something back with the first-ever BBQ Tour of Kern County.
Launching May 1 — for National Barbecue Month — the self-guided tour is a way to get diners out to enjoy some of the county's best barbecue.
Salters said he was talking last year with Brandon Slichter, who owns PorkChop & Bubba's BBQ, about doing something for May.
"I had an idea: We'll do a barbecue tour," Salters said. "We thought that's a great idea and then it just sat there."
Salty's, which has two locations in Bakersfield, did its own promotion last year but Salters is now thinking bigger. So when the wheels got turning in his head again this year about a possible tour, he brought in more restaurants.
For this monthlong event, Salty's and PorkChop & Bubba's BBQ are joined by fellow Bakersfield spots Angry Barnyard BBQ, Champs BBQ, Brooklyn's BBQ and Prime Time BBQ, Meats & Deli along with Roots Eatery in Taft, Tehachapi's Red House BBQ and Willow Ranch in Buttonwillow.
There are more barbecue spots in the county but Salters said they wanted to start at a manageable number and stick with brick-and-mortar restaurants for now.
"We wanted to keep it something that people could accomplish in a month. It's two a week and one extra just for fun."
Based on the response this year, Salters said future tours would grow to include more businesses.
Diners joining this first tour can enjoy a lot of barbecue and earn a T-shirt in the process.
The rules are simple: Visit any of the nine restaurants and take a photo of your meal at the location. Post your photo on Facebook (on your page and/or BBQ Tour of Kern County's Facebook page) and tag the location.
Continue through the month, making your way to the other restaurants, posting photos and keeping the pictures. When you hit your last spot on the tour, show your photos to staff and earn your free T-shirt.
Happy customers will earn a free shirt emblazoned with the tour's design featuring all the restaurants' logos over an image of California. (T-shirts will be available to purchase for those who can't complete the list by the end of the month.)
Salters said the focus is on Facebook for now but that people can also keep the photos on their phone and show them at the end.
The goal is to help spread the word about all the good local barbecue both to residents and to those throughout the Golden State.
"We want people to come to Kern County and spend their money here," Salters said.
Three of the tour stops are conveniently located along travel routes: Willow Ranch off I-5, Red House BBQ is a short detour off Highway 58 in Tehachapi and Roots Eatery is a simple stop in Taft, which is often on travelers' route out to the Central Coast.
Less than a week out and word is traveling fast on the upcoming tour. Salters said a post on the tour's Facebook page has gained major traction, and plans are already brewing among car clubs and other residents for events to hit up tour spots.
That's no surprise to Salters, who said he's seen the community rally around restaurants.
"The coolest thing is that it's going to bring people together around food.
"Whether through tragedy or triumphs, Kern County supports its local businesses. They came out (during the pandemic) and they've done a tremendous job of being there for us. ... We have a great community that really sticks together."
Visit facebook.com/bbqtourofkerncounty for the latest on the tour.