Labor Day barbecues are coming up soon, so what to do? Santa Maria Style Barbecue often uses steak, usually a "top block." This is a whole top sirloin cut into 3-inch thick slabs. A "top block" can weigh anywhere from 9 to 20 pounds; 11 to 13 pounds is the average size in our local markets. Plan on at least a half pound per person or more, if your group includes "good feeders."

I like to cut this whole sirloin into 8 chunks trimmed of excess fat. Slice it vertically down the middle, and then halve each half. Finally, slice each quarter lengthwise to make two thick steaks (about 3-inches thick.) Now you have 8 thick steaks weighing about 1½ pound each.

By now, there’s not much holding the meat together, so I tie the steaks up with butcher’s twine. Wipe meat with damp paper towels and season with salt, garlic powder and pepper or your favorite dry rub.

If you want to impress your friends as a real cowboy or cowgirl, grab a chunk of excess fat you trimmed from the top block and wipe the grate of the grill before putting the meat on. If you’re using an open-pit barbecue, you will need a longer cooking time than on a Weber with the lid on, so you be the judge. It’s better to check too often, than to forget about it and return to a charred piece of leather.

Impress your friends by checking the doneness with your finger. Test how quickly the steak springs back into shape. If it doesn’t spring, it’s rare; if it springs back slowly, it’s medium rare; if it springs back quickly, it's medium. When steaks are done to your liking, remove from the fire and let stand a few minutes; then cut steaks across the grain into slices about 3/4-to-1-inch thick and serve.

Syrah is a great choice for barbecue beef plastered with spicy rubs. Its heavy body stands up to the meat and its own spice compliments the spices in the rub. Pair this top block with Qupé’s 2013 Santa Barbara Syrah, Los Angeles Dodgers Club Series. This 2013 Santa Barbara County syrah is sourced from grapes primarily from the Bien Nacido and Sawyer Lindquist Vineyards. It is enhanced with syrah from the Ibarra-Young and French Camp vineyards. There is also a small addition of grenache from Sawyer Lindquist to lift the aromatics. Aged for 27 months in French oak barrels, this red bleeds Dodgers blue.

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Or try Stolpman’s 2014 Originals Syrah. In 2008, they decided the wine from their older Block 1 and 2 vines should be bottled separately, and the Originals Syrah label was born. Because of Originals vines’ age, Ruben Solorzano withholds irrigation to create intense, inky dark and firm syrah that carries the true stamp of Ballard Canyon.

Enjoy.

John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook, "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at sacredmeals@comcast.net.

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