Barbecuing like a true Argentine is something else from lighting up your gas powered grill and burning those burgers to a crisp in under 5 minutes.
In this article I try to summarize the bit of knowledge I’ve gained in that stunningly beautiful country.
The Argentine love eating.
Juicy meats, fire and luscious red wines are what defines the flavor of Argentina.
Meat is actually such an important part of their culture than presidents have promised maintaining low meat prices in order to gain more voters. And basically every household has a barbecue (Parrilla). Even apartment buildings tend to have multiple lined up on the rooftop.
And there’s no denying the influence of the Gauchos (liberally translated as “Argentine Cowboys”).
All of this has led to strong traditions and characterizing methods of preparing meat.
This article lists them as best as I can.
This is the result of barbecuing.
Generally it’s a variety of cuts of rundvlees, sausages and achuras (sweetbread / thymus and other tasty “trash”)
The hero that braves the heat and turns the classic cuts into culinary climax.
The barbecue itself. Typically it’s built of brick with a flat bottom onto which the charcoal or wood is placed. So not a whole lot of airflow going on there.
Wood. By many this is regarded als the ultimate source of heat, beating charcoal.
By far the most popular type of wood to use for the Parrilla is quebracho.
Types of meat
There’s so many types of meat that I will dedicate an entire page to this.
But in general the menu is dictated by beef, chicken and goat.
Good meat has fat!
Begone clean cuts of supermarket meat!
Fat adds flavor and keeps the meat juicy and when it drips onto the coals even the smoke that causes further enriches the flavor.
The quality of meat in Argentina is so much better than here in the Netherlands. That’s why even the cuts we consider to be waste are considered real treats.
You can buy very good meat at the supermarket, but almost every 300 yards there’s another butcher that’ll get you exactly what you want. They may not appear all that hygienic, but let’s not forget that here in the West we’ve lost ourselves a bit in going sterile.
The Argentines don’t do sauces.
You may see them in some restaurants but generally that’s for tourists.
What is allowed is chimichurri. A delicious mix of herbs and oil that sits well any type of meat.
Salt is really the only thing you add to this naturally tasty meat.
The fat takes care of the rest.
The process of Barbecuing
The Asador is never alone
Surely you’ve been there. You’ve got a house full of guests but you’re alone outside handling the barbecue because everyone thinks it’s too chilly outside.
This is NOT DONE in Argentina.
Someone is bound to join you.
This buddy keeps you company and refills your wine. Their reward: You share the best corners you’ve cut of the meat with this person.
A thin layer of charcoal
A Parrilla has a flat bottom onto which you deposit a layer of about 1 inch of charcoal.
The harder types of wood (such as Quebracho) burn rather long and don’t need all that much oxygen to not extinguish.
The grill, which confusingly is called Parrilla as well, tends to float about 5-7 cm above the coals.
Bones / Fat first
Most cuts have a layer of fat or a bones.
Always start grilling by having the fat facing the heat.
This allows for gradual and protected heating of the meat behind the fat and allows the fat to melt a bit.
If the other side has no fat this side should be grilled less long.
Most cuts are grilled somewhere between 35-60 minutes.
(Of course not the Entrecôtes or Ribeyes)
Cuts with bones, such as Costillas (short ribs), are treated equally. Bones facing the heat first and for quite a long time too.
No flipping frenzies!
Don’t turn over the meat more than strictly necessary.
A parrilla tends to burn at 300 Fahrenheit if you don’t stack up that thick a layer of coals. This means you can leave the meat on the heat for quite some time before it gets crispy.
Cuts that aren’t that thick will have a layer of meat juices on top of them.
Leave that there as long as possible! Every time you turn the meat around you loose precious juices leaving you with a dried out beef.
Sear and mellow
The juices are retained best if you first sear the meat at high intensity heat and then place it over a cooler part of the grill.
Also it is a good idea to wrap cuts that are prepared quite quickly (such as ribeye) into tin foil once they are done. Let them sit for about 5 minutes so the juices can redistribute in the meat. This way they won’t spill out as soon as you cut through the meat.
Bite by bite
Traditional asado is eaten in multiple servings of one cut at a time.
You serve what is ready and eat it while it’s warm.
Then when the next cut is ready the asador will visit your table again for the next round.
And so on.
Essentially the asador will miss most of the dinner party.
Pro-tip: Have the guests eating close to the BBQ!
Nope, music isn’t an official element of asado.
But personally I always have to listen to “Asado y Fernet” by “Los Caligaris” while cooking.
In my humble opinion this band from Córdoba, Argentina has written the barbecue anthem of all times.
To summarize the Spanish lyrics: A group of friends is going to have a barbecue and dreams of all the food they’ll eat, accompanied by many glasses of Fernet and Coke (a super popular mix drink in Córdoba).
A very humorous song for those who understand the lyrics. Note that Google Translate makes a royal mess of it!
The asador has been laboring like an animal to serve his guests. Hence he is traditionally rewarded with an applause triggered by the first person to shout “¡Aplauso para el asador!”.