If you are a meat lover, you probably have heard of the Argentine asado, or barbecue. But do you know what makes it so special and mouth-watering? It’s not just the quality of the meat, which is usually grass-fed and organic. It’s not just the variety of the meat, which includes everything from beef to lamb to sausages to offal. It’s not even just the sauces, which are fresh and tangy and add a burst of flavor to every bite. No, what makes the Argentine asado truly amazing is the way it is cooked: over a wood fire, using different techniques that have been perfected over generations. In this article, we will take you on a journey through some of the most common and delicious Argentine outdoor grilling techniques that will make you want to book a flight to Buenos Aires right now.
The first thing you need to know is that in Argentina, grilling is not done over charcoal or gas. That would be sacrilege. Grilling is done over wood, which gives the meat a unique smoky taste and aroma that you can’t get from any other fuel. The type of wood used depends on the region and the preference of the cook, but some of the most popular ones are piquillin (a hard and dense wood that burns for a long time), algarrobo (a sweet and fragrant wood that adds a subtle flavor), and espinillo (a thorny and aromatic wood that creates a lot of smoke). The wood is burned separately in a fire pit or a brasero (a metal basket) until it produces hot coals, which are then spread under the grill.
The grill itself is called a parrilla, and it can have different shapes and sizes depending on what you want to cook and how you want to cook it. The most common parrilla is a flat metal grate with rods or bars that can be raised or lowered by a wheel or a crank to adjust the distance from the coals. This allows you to control the heat and the cooking time with precision. You can use this parrilla to cook almost any cut of meat, from steaks to ribs to sausages. Another type of parrilla is the cruz, which consists of two metal crosses that hold the meat vertically over the fire. This technique is usually used for large cuts of meat, such as whole lambs or pigs, that need to be cooked slowly and evenly. The cruz gives the meat a crispy exterior and a tender interior, and it looks impressive as hell. A third type of parrilla is the disco, which is a large metal disc or wok that is placed over the coals and used to cook stews, soups, or vegetables. The disco is great for making dishes that have a lot of liquid and flavor, such as locro (a hearty corn and meat stew) or humita (a creamy corn pudding).
The meat that is grilled on the parrilla is usually seasoned with only salt and sometimes pepper, garlic, or herbs. The reason for this is simple: the meat is so good that it doesn’t need anything else. The salt enhances the natural flavor of the meat, while the pepper, garlic, or herbs add some extra kick. The most popular cuts of beef are vacío (flank steak), entraña (skirt steak), asado de tira (short ribs), bife de chorizo (sirloin steak), bife de lomo (tenderloin steak), and matambre (flank steak stuffed with cheese, ham, eggs, and vegetables). Other types of meat that are commonly grilled are pork, chicken, lamb, goat, sausages, blood sausages, kidneys, sweetbreads, and chitterlings. If you are feeling adventurous, you can try some of these delicacies that are considered delicacies in Argentina.
The parrilla is the most common grilling method in Argentina, and it closely resembles what most people think of when they hear the term "barbecue." It involves cooking meat over a charcoal or wood fire on a grill rack, typically accompanied by the use of a parrilla (grill grate) that can be adjusted in height. The most popular cuts of meat used in parrilla grilling include ribs, sausages, flank steaks, and ribs. The slow, indirect heat creates tender, smoky, and flavorful meat that's often seasoned simply with salt.
This is the most classic and traditional tool, it consists of a metal grate with bars that you can raise or lower to adjust the heat. You can use this grill to cook almost any cut of meat, from steaks to ribs to sausages. This tool became popular when workers used it to make their barbecues on construction sites, which is why it’s called “work barbecue”. It sounds like hard work, but it’s worth it.
To use this grill properly, you have to prepare the fire separately so that when the coals are ready, you can spread them evenly under the grill. You have to let the iron get hot and remove any fat that has stuck to it.
Then you place the meat on the grill and watch as magic happens. The salt and fat fall on the coals and create smoke and flames that give the meat a crusty and tasty surface. The meat also releases its juices, which you can soak up with bread or drink directly from the grill. Don’t judge us.
This is one of the most impressive and badass tools, it consists of an iron frame that has the shape of a cross that you hang the meat on. You place it over the coals and let it cook slowly and evenly. Down in the southern reaches of Argentina, this technique is a big deal, especially when it comes to cooking the famous "roast with leather." No, they aren't making a fashion statement; they're talking about leaving the animal's skin on to prevent it from drying out. It's like eating leather jackets, but in a good way – the kind of fashion-forward cuisine that even Milan would approve of.
This contraption consists of an iron frame, and it's not just any frame; it has the shape of a cross. Yep, you heard it right, you hang the meat on a cross. It's like turning your barbecue into a high-stakes culinary exorcism. You place this meat crucifix over the coals and let it cook slowly and evenly, just like a BBQ guardian angel watching over your feast.
The "Chapa," also known as the metal griddle, is like the superhero of the Argentine grilling world, swooping in to save the day when you've got a craving for thinly sliced meats and grilled veggies. It's the kitchen tool that goes sizzling where no grill rack has gone before.
It’s a method used for preparing thinner cuts of meat and other ingredients like vegetables. This technique involves cooking directly on a hot metal surface, often with a small amount of oil or fat to prevent sticking. Thin steaks, sausages, and provoleta (melted provolone cheese) are commonly prepared on the chapa. It results in quick and even cooking, ideal for those who prefer their meat well-done or just in a hurry to get their grilling fix.
The chapa technique is all about simplicity and speed. You don't need fancy grill marks or smoky complexities here. Just lay your thin steaks, sausages, or a slab of provoleta (melted provolone cheese) on this blazing-hot griddle. Add a dash of oil or fat, and you're good to go. It's like a well-lubricated slip 'n slide for your ingredients.
One of the beauties of chapa grilling is its quick and even cooking. It's the go-to method for those who prefer their meat well done or simply can't wait to satisfy their grilling cravings. So, if you're the kind of person who checks their watch impatiently while the coals heat up, chapa grilling is your salvation. No more drumming your fingers while waiting for the grill to reach the perfect temperature; the chapa is always ready for action.
And let's not forget about the versatility of the plancha or better said “chapa”. It's not just a meat maestro; it's an all-in-one performer. You can throw your veggies, cheese, or anything else that tickles your taste buds right onto the sizzling surface. It's like a one-stop shop for your grilling desires, where the only limit is your imagination.
The process is as delightful as it is straightforward. Instead of tossing the wood into the fire, the Argentine grill master places it strategically beside the grill. As the wood smolders, it releases a gentle plume of fragrant smoke that mingles with the sizzling meat. It's like the meat is enjoying a rejuvenating spa day, except the hot stones are replaced with smoldering wood, and the aromatherapy is courtesy of the enchanted forest.
This smoky infusion adds a layer of depth and complexity to your grilled delicacies, elevating them from everyday eats to culinary masterpieces. It's the secret ingredient that makes your barbecue dishes memorable, and it's almost as if your grill suddenly earned a Michelin star.
So next time you're in Argentina or hosting a barbecue, consider these diverse techniques to take your grilling game to the next level and savor the essence of Argentine cuisine while sharing a laugh or two with friends and family.