The barbecue world has unique flavors that set it apart from other cooking methods, but not everything is about BBQ itself. From the sizzling and fast grilling to the slow smokers and the cultural richness of Argentine asado, in this BBQ guide, I’d like to discuss the difference between your traditional BBQ and other equally great cooking methods that give meat the most delicious flavor. Who knows, perhaps soon you’ll find yourself cooking some achuras over an Argentinian grill!
When it comes to backyard gatherings, BBQ and cookouts emerge as contenders. Picture a typical summer evening, the sun casting a warm glow on the backyard, and a group of friends or family eating outside. Is what they are doing it barbecue or cookout?
Geographical location plays a pivotal role in shaping the meanings of "barbecue" and "cookout." In the Northeast and Midwest of the USA, these terms are often used interchangeably, referring to a gathering where friends and family grill hot dogs, hamburgers, and other summer favorites.
But the distinctions become more pronounced in the South, where a "cookout" signifies fast cooking over a direct flame, featuring fast food like hot dogs and hamburgers. On the other hand, a "barbecue" in Southern states involves a grander scale event, characterized by slow cooking over an indirect heating source, such as pits or smokers.
This method requires meticulous preparation of meat (which includes pork, chicken, and beef), including marinating meats overnight and slow-cooking them for hours. All in all, barbecues involve slow cooking in indirect heat, often planned well in advance, while cookouts are characterized by quicker, direct heat cooking and a more spontaneous gathering.
Now let’s delve into the difference between BBQ vs grilling. Barbecuing entails slow-cooking large cuts of meat over an indirect heat source, commonly using charcoal or wood. The process, often characterized by a temperature range between 100 and 150°C, demands a significant time investment, with the goal of achieving tender, flavorful results. This method is ideal for tougher cuts like:
The idea is to eat meat that is soft, moist, and infused with a distinct barbecue flavor.
Meanwhile, grilling is more like an action movie, as you’ll be cooking foods hot and fast (typically around 230 - 290°C) over direct heat. Dinner is served in less time than it takes to decide what to watch on a streaming service! This means you cannot really grill anything, but you’ll need small cuts of food that take less than 20 minutes to cook, such as:
Grilling is versatile and suitable for a variety of foods, including vegetables and fruits, making it a popular choice for providing a diverse range of dishes, including those suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets.
This comparison is even more difficult and your taste buds will be the ultimate judges. While barbecue requires a temperature dance between 100 and 150°C, ensuring the meat emerges tender, the smoker uses hot charcoal and slow-burning hardwood to envelop meats in aromatic wood smoke.
Smoking is typically done at lower temperatures, often ranging from 82 to 135°C and using different types of wood, such as hickory, mesquite, or fruitwoods, that can give unique flavors to the smoked meat. Just consider that smoking is not for the faint-hearted or the impatient: some recipes call for 24 hours of smoking time —yes, you read that right!
Now comes the ultimate duel in the art of cooking meat with hot charcoal: what’s the difference between barbecue and Argentine Asado? While both BBQ and Argentine Asado share the common denominator of grilling meat, they diverge in the details.
The Argentine Asado is not just a meal; it's a sacred ritual that takes place every weekend, on birthdays, during Christmas, before or after important football matches, or, to be honest, whenever possible. It involves friends and family, who gather around the fire as a whole social event that takes hours to prepare and enjoy.
The first crucial step in mastering the Argentine Asado is building the fire, a task that demands respect for tradition and a bit of finesse. Asadores, the designated grill masters, understand that the fire's quality directly influences the flavor of the meat. So, they typically use hardwoods like quebracho, carbón made of wood, and even piquillinto strike the perfect balance of embers and flames. A good asador would never use starters or lighter fluid to accelerate the process: instead, they shovel brasas under the grill. In contrast, in the US many grills are powered by gas or electricity.
This fire-starting ritual takes a long time, so preparing an asado can be a lengthy process: you would spend 3-4 hours preparing everything. Because it’s not just steak you would prepare in an Argentine Asado, as many times happens in an American barbecue: achuras are served and enjoyed first. Some examples include:
After these achuras, Argentinians enjoy different cuts of meat like whole racks of ribs, flank steak, brisket, and even vegetables like potatoes or bell peppers. Special asados, like the ones that take place during someone’s birthday, can start at around 9 am and end at night, so get ready for an intense experience. And if you ever meet an Argentinian, don’t you dare suggest using a gas barbecue to prepare asado - you will surely offend them!
Barbecue and Tandoori, while both centered around the art of cooking meat, also come from different culinary realms. While Barbecue, a heavyweight in the American culinary landscape, involves slow-cooking meat over an open flame, Tandoori is the star of Indian cuisine and has a different method.
When using the Tandoori method, you’ll be marinating meats in a mixture of yogurt and spices, including garam masala and turmeric, before cooking them in a tandoor (a clay oven). The intense heat of the tandoor gives a delicious smokiness to the meat, creating an aromatic, earthy flavor that is also rich with spices.
So, barbecue relies on slow cooking over indirect heat, allowing the meat to absorb smoky nuances over an extended period of time. In contrast, Tandoori embraces high-heat, rapid cooking, resulting in the searing of spices into the meat and creating a unique crust - spices play a big role in ensuring food is tasty.
As smoke curtains descend on this BBQ guide, I’d like to emphasize that all of these cooking methods offer something unique. From the slow-cooked steaks of BBQ to the whole Argentine asado experience, you’ll discover whole new ways to cook your meat and even transform your backyard into a stage for a culinary ritual, and, who knows, new techniques that will make your beef even more tasty.
What is piquillin wood and why is it used in Argentine Asados?
Choosing the right wood for your Argentine Asado or grilling experience is key. In this article, I will explain why we use the famous piquillin firewood so frequently and why we get amazing results from this magical hardwood. The Piqullin asado firewood is used mainly in Patagonia in Argentina. Although this native fruit wood is available widely throughout Argentina and some parts of Latin America
The Piquillin Wood is also known as Condalia microphylla it is a native Argentinean fruit hardwood with a tanned reddish color on the inside and brown outer bark. This small tree is a slow grower in the harsh Patagonian climate. With temperatures in the Summer being above 40oc Celsius and in Winter -10oc Celsius the Piquillin has developed a resistance over thousands of years to reproduce and populate the Southern part of Argentina.
One of the biggest climate characteristics of Patagonia is the consistent strong breezes and gusts of wind.
Due to this climate, the Piquillin tree has developed its own defense mechanism and instead of growing up in height, it grows wide and with thick boughs.
The diameter of the average Piquillin log for our Argentine Asados is less than 30cm and varies between 10-20cm on average.
The Piquillin tree is extremely hard. Although it can’t be used for construction or furniture due to the nature of its size, for cooking it is a dream come true.
Hardwood is good wood. Hardwood gives you the best ingredients to create a good fire and great coals, this is why the Piquillin hardwood is our wood of choice.
The Piquillin wood before it is used for the fire is generally “seasoned” or dried for 3-6 months. This allows for the fibers in the wood to become more brittle and more suited for producing great coals/embers as all moisture and fungus have been removed from the wood.
The question that I get asked so often when I have guests around to my Argentine Asados is “Jason why does the meat taste so different?” “What's the tangy aroma in the meat?” “Why is the meat tinged slightly red”?
The Piquillin wood is at the heart of our cooking experience, without the Argentine Asado would not be complete. Although there are alternatives to Piquillin, in our opinion this is the #1 cooking firewood that produces the most consistent heat and leaves the best taste.
Let's break down these characteristics and why they are so predominant and important for our Asado.
One of the key aspects of Piquillin firewood is the aroma that is produced thanks to a very distinct smoke that the Piquillin produces.
The aroma is nothing like your standard Hickory chips, or the musty aroma of a Maple, Redwood, or Oak. It's a clean distinct aroma that resembles red fruits, chocolate, and the Patagonian mountains, a true Argentinean experience.
The meat or vegetables that are then grilled using Piquillin wood are then scented with this marvelous comprehensive aroma.
Creating coals for your Argentine Asado is the #1 reason why you will love Piquillin firewood.
The Piquillin firewood produces coals that stay hot for up to 45 mins. This allows the heat to consistently grill your meat or veggies.
Producing consistent coals will allow you to calculate the cooking time much more efficiently, allow you to dictate better when you should turn the meat, and give your a more fluent cooking session.
The Piquillin wood takes some time to light combust and turn into coals, but because of its extremely hard nature, the coals are unique in regards to their strength and heat.
The smoke that the Piquoillin produces is a unique grey-blue the reason this happens is of the outer bark and the deep reddish body of the log.
This smoke is the vehicle for the unique aroma that the Piquillin produces.
Predicting the heat is fundamental to not overdoing your Asado or burning your meat or veggies. If you can predict the heat better the more likely you will be able to calculate your cooking time and achieve a better result.
Also, the flames that the Piquillin produces are not big and overwhelming, allowing the fire that you are stoking next to your grill to not interfere with your cooking.
Also, because the Piquillin wood has very little sap or oxygen within its fibers there are very few sparks, but more deeper crackles as combustion takes place.
Here is a simple list of questions I get asked regularly on the YouTube channel.
The Piquillin wood is available to purchase in Argentina and some South American countries, although it is a native Argentinean tree it’s not widely available. If you are in the United States there isn’t a wholesaler that I am aware of yet. If you can contact me here on my website or via DM and I can share with you the best alternatives to purchasing Piquillin Wood.
Piquillin Wood provides all the elements to build a great fire that produces amazing coals that are at the heart of a good traditional Argentine Asado. I think it produces a great aroma and the heat that the coals give off is extremely consistent and predictable which leads to grilling succulent and extremely tasting food.
If you have time on your side Fire Wood will produce better coals and a more positive cooking experience. The charcoal or carbon on the other hand will light easier and produce coals faster. But the good heat for grilling won’t last nearly as long. The charcoal will last around 15-20mins and Fire wood will last around 30-40 mins, and Piquillin can last up to 60 mins.
What are the alternatives to Piquillin Firewood?
The alternative piquillin firewood that you can potentially locate easier in the United States or Europe are:
The majority of the fruit woods tend to be harder and better for producing great coals.