How to Build a Santa Maria Grill

A Santa Maria grill is a traditional Argentinian grill, originating from a town in the province of Catamarca.

It is also known as an Argentine grill. They are primarily used with firewood as the fuel source, to provide a woody and smoky flavor.

The traditional Santa Maria grills have a deep firebox that is filled with red oak wood. 

The red oak smoke combined with a dry rub of salt, pepper, and garlic gives the traditional flavor. The most common meat cooked on these grills is a tri-tip.

This was introduced in the 1950s by Bob Schutz, a local butcher. It is described as a triangular cut of beef from  the bottom sirloin subprimal cut. 

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The grill has an open frame and a rotating chain that moves the meat layer of the grill. This is said to preserve heat better and allows you to change the positioning of the meat on the grill.

This means that you are much less likely to burn your food on a Santa Maria grill than you are on a regular one. 

They are rectangular and contain 2-3 layers. One is for the fuel (coal or firewood) and the second is for the meat to lie on. If your model has 3 layers, one is a tray to collect fat and ash - making it much easier to clean. 

Santa Maria grills tend to have 3 or 4 sides. 3 sided grills enable you to move the fuel while the grid is lowered. 4 sided grills mean that the grid must stay elevated while the fuel burns and settles.

Once the fire is stable, you can turn the grill handle to position the meat above at the desired distance. 

What will you need to build a Santa Maria grill?

You will need a metal cutter to cut your pieces of metal for the grill to the correct shape and size. You will also need a welding machine to attach the pieces of metal to one another to form the grill. 

As these processes involve heavy-duty and dangerous machinery, you must take the appropriate safety precautions. At the least, we suggest a protective helmet and visor (or face shield), as well as some thick protective gloves.

You will also need clamps to hold the metal in place while you are working on it. Additionally, you will need measuring tape to ensure you get the proportions correct. 

You will need sheet metal of at least 6mm thickness, a stainless steel mesh, metal rods, and metal table legs. These are the raw materials required to assemble the grill.

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How to build a Santa Maria grill

Before you start measuring and cutting your metal, it is important to decide whether you want a 3 or 4 sided grill. 4 sided grills allow you more control over the temperature and allow you to reach higher heats. 3 sided grills mean that you can reach the fuel area easily without having to move any hot bits of metal. 

Your first step is to measure the dimensions of your sheet metal. Measure out the size you wish the grill base to be, and then mark around the perimeter of this area. Use the size of the grill base as a reference point for the length and width of the surrounding panels. 

Cut along the guidelines you have made using your metal cutter. Using the measurements shown on the grid, make grooves in the metal. These will be what the layers will sit upon when assembled. 

Line the long edges of the metal base and sides up. Ensure that they are perfectly together and then weld. Start at one corner, and then weld the center, followed by the other corner. This will ensure the welding is done straight and your grill will be even. 

Repeat this process on all of the other sides of the grill base. Flip the grill so that the base plate is on the top of the grill, facing upwards. Weld all 4 of the legs onto the underside of the grill base. Allow to set and then turn back upright. 

Using 2 rods that are the same length, attach them to either side of the grill. Take great care to center these rods, as they will be the anchor points for the rotating rod.

Attach the chain to the end of the rod. This chain should be sufficiently long to reach the flames and then return up safely. Test this out a few times with the grill to see how the chain copes with the weight of the grill.

There will be many sharp edges on the grill you have made. Your next step is to sand down all of these rough edges to ensure no one gets hurt. 

You should cover the rotating mechanism’s handle with a layer of insulation before using. This is because the handle is made of metal and will heat up dramatically as the grill is in use. Wood is a suitable substance to use here. 

There are many Santa Maria grill kits that you can purchase online. These will save you a lot of hassle when it comes to construction. This is because all of the metal is precut and everything you need to create the grill is in one place.

How do you clean a Santa Maria grill?

You should first raise your grill grate to the highest point it reaches. This should allow you around 19 inches of space to work with. 

You should brush the grate with a damp cloth while it is still warm to easily clean off debris and fat residue. Never use a stainless steel brush or implement to clean as this can cause scratches.

Allow the grill to cool completely. Using a small metal spoon or shovel, scoop out all of the ash and fuel residue from the firebox. Wipe clean and dry. 

Wipe the entire grill fully before covering and storing it for an extended period of time.

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