A parade of slow-roasted meats accompanied with herbaceous chimichurri sauce, Argentinian grilling is one of the most delicious styles of barbecue in the world. Known as asado, this form of barbecue is most common in Argentina and Uruguay. Meat is a way of life in Argentina as the average Argentinian consumes an incredible 125.6 pounds of beef a year, coming in second place behind Uruguay in per-capita beef consumption.
An Argentinian asado is delicious for any social gathering and perfectly doable with the right tools and ingredients. All you need is the right beef cuts, seasoning and techniques.
Cattle were introduced to Argentina in 16th century by the Spanish. The first breed of cattle was Turdetano, a Spanish breed. Eventually, other breeds such as the British Angus and Shorthorn would also be imported to improve meat quality. Cattle were a natural fit to the vast plains and climate of Argentina. By the early 18th century, around 40 million cattle were estimated to be in Argentina. These huge numbers allowed beef to be both cheap and plentiful.
The men who raised these cattle are known as gauchos and it was these workers who birthed the tradition of Argentinian asado. Gauchos barbecued beef as a social gathering, eating everything from meat to offal like sweetbreads and udder. A popular method was splaying and attached a small cow to an asado cross, which is a metal frame staked into the ground over slow burning coals.
Most Argentinians barbecue on a parrilla or Santa Maria-style grill. There are several differences between a parrilla and an American charcoal grill. First, parrilla’s have a side fire box that allows the griller the ability to add wood to refuel the coals. Second, the parrilla is built to allow grillers easy access to the coal bed. Parrilla’s will also be lined with heat refractory bricks to focus the fire’s heat back up to the grill grates along with a dedicated fire box on one side where wood or lump charcoal is burnt down to embers. This gives the parrilla a unique flexibility in temperature and fire control according to Matthew Brothers, Founder and Managing Director of , a maker of Argentinian grills.
“As the hot coals fall through the bottom of the basket, the asador slides them under the grill grates to cook,” Brothers says. “They can pile the coals high for searing meats or rake them into a thin layer for low-and-slow cooking. The other key feature for any gaucho grill is a movable grill grate that can move closer to the heat or raised away from the coals to control the intensity of the heat.”
There are two common styles of Argentinian grills. There’s the traditional parrilla where the grill grate is controlled with an adjustment arm on the side of the grill, and then there’s the Santa Maria-style grill which features an overhead assembly and a wheel to raise and lower the grates.
Beef is the centerpiece of the Argentinian asado. While pork chorizos or blood sausage are popular, beef cuts are the star. Cuts familiar to Americans like bife de chorizo (NY strip), ojo de bife (ribeye) and entraña (skirt steak) are all popular. Because of the unique setup of the parrilla, Argentinians love to slow cook large cuts not traditionally popular for American grilling, such as short ribs.
To prepare an asado style short rib, Argentinian chef and social media star Alejo Frugoni recommends placing the cut bone-side down on the grill for about 70% of the cooking time (about an hour and a half for a large four-bone short rib). Cooking the rib with the bone on the grill will protect the meat from drying out as well as rendering the fat. Then, flip the rib once to the fat side (bone will now be on top) for about 30 minutes.
A key asado difference is the Argentinian preference for more well-done meat when compared to most American eaters. This comes down to a contrast in beef preferences between the two cultures. American eaters on average prefer tenderness. But Argentinians place a premium on cuts with an intense beefy flavor, which is most common in cuts that require longer cooking at lower temperatures. The short rib and brisket are good examples of these cuts. Most Argentinians enjoy their beef cooked medium-well. If your looking for a rarer meat temperature at an Argentinian asado, simply request your steak be cooked “a punto a jugoso,” for pink and juicy.
Asado is all about maintaining the natural flavor of beef, so marinades or spice rubs are rare. For a true Argentinian touch, use a special grilling salt known as sal parrillero. It’s a heavy grain salt that dissolves slowly and perfect for slow grilling beef. Sometimes a bit of black pepper is also used for seasoning.
The famous tangy and herbaceous chimichurri sauce is common sight for any asado. There isn’t one standard chimichurri recipe as every Argentinian family has their own version. Usually, chimichurri features some combination of finely chopped parsley ( cilantro and oregano are common as well) with crushed garlic, finely chopped chilis, onion, all stirred with salt, oil, and vinegar. Traditionally, the ingredients are diced and then whisked together with a fork until emulsification occurs. Nowadays, many people use a food processor or blender to save time although some think this method produces a slightly bitter taste in the finished sauce. Another popular condiment is salsa criolla, which is a mix of chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, garlic, chilis, cilantro with vinegar, and oil.
(By Alejo Frugoni of alfrugoni, Open Fire Cooking)
An Argentinian native turned Texan, Alejo Frugoni loves to combine his favorite American and Argentinian flavors with open fire cooking techniques. His energetic videos have garnered a large following on social media. Alejo also recently launched his own line of dried chimichurri (with mild and a spicy versions).
- 1 medium tomato
- 1 small onion
- 1 bell pepper (or the equivalent combination of red, green and/or yellow peppers)
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Deseed a nice fresh tomato and let the liquid drain in a sieve for a minute.
- Then finely dice the tomato, onion, and bell pepper. You can use just green pepper, but combining red, green, yellow and orange bell peppers will make for an attractive looking salsa criolla when spooned on to the plate.
- In a large mason jar, layer in the tomato, onion, and pepper, and season with salt and pepper. The mason jar gives you an attractive service dish.
- Pour the oil and vinegar over the diced vegetables, and stir aggressively to combine.
- Serve or refrigerate for later.
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