One of Summer’s greatest pleasures is barbecue grilling. To make the most of your barbecue season, we invite you to discover Argentinian grilling. Argentina takes its beef very seriously and has mastered the art of grilling.
After spending three months in Argentina on our quest for authentic food, we had the chance to share and enjoy many asados (barbecues) and parrillas (steakhouses). We observed the Argentinian grilling customs. And we also learned the various grilling techniques including what makes Argentinian grilling so unique.
To further ground ourselves in the Argentinian grilling culture, we had the pleasure of meeting Argentine top chef, Francis Mallmann, who shared insights about the Argentinian grilling culture. According to Francis Mallmann, “grilling in Argentina isn’t just about the food, it is a ritual and ceremony”. You can read more here about our conversation: Francis Mallmann and The Seven Fires.
To make your Summer grilling remarkable, here are 9 ways to grill like an Argentinian.
1- Start With Good Quality Ingredients
When it comes to what you put on the grill, the quality of the ingredients matter.
In Argentina, the cows where the meat comes from are grass fed. In the Pampas, one of the most important farming regions, you see the cows freely roaming and eating grass in the fields. As a result, the beef cuts are leaner and healthier. You will find quality ingredients not only for the meat, but also for chicken, pork, fish and vegetables.
In Argentina, the quality of the products that are put on the grill are exceptionally high. You will never see frozen patties sizzling on a grill. This means that when you sit down to enjoy your meal, you will taste and appreciate the flavors and textures. When grilling this Summer, get the best quality products you can, and taste the difference.
2- Put More Than Beef On The Grill
While beef is the king of the barbecue, you will be surprised to see more diverse cuts in Argentina. Grilling in Argentina goes beyond hamburgers and hot dogs. When we were invited to asados, we were quite surprised to see the variety of offal or organ meats that made up about half of the meats on the grill.
Offal or achuras in Argentina are quite popular. You will find chinchulines (cow intestines), morcillas (blood sausages), mollejas (sweetbread) and a variety of other organ meats. These are delicious Argentine indulgences and can add to your grilling experience.
When preparing for your barbecue this Summer, be creative and ask your local butcher for non-ordinary cuts and pieces of meat. If you don’t have a local butcher, visit the meat section of the ethnic food stores near you. This is a great alternative and the vendors will be happy to help you find tasty innards for your grill.
3- Observe The Grilling Ritual
Preparing the meat and grilling is not a haphazard affair in Argentina. There is a ritual and process that is observed and respected. It starts with designating a grill master, called the asador. Traditionally male, many asadors learned their techniques from their fathers and grandfathers. It is an honored role. The asador takes charge of the grilling process from start to finish.
The process starts with getting the coals ready. Slow cooking is key.
When it is time to cook, the most common appetizer served is chorizo. This is a pork/beef sausage that easily becomes a choripán sandwich when eaten with bread.
Following the chorizo, the offals are served and finally the various cuts of meat.
Once the meat is served and everybody has tucked away a considerable amount, someone calls out for ‘un aplauso para el asador’, a round of applause for the asador. Everyone claps to show their appreciation for the asador who has been cooking in 90+ temperatures for several hours.
4- Grill Using Wood
Gas grilling would be an offense in Argentina. In Argentina, grilling is done with wood.
When it is time to prepare their barbecue, Argentinians starts with a fire made of wood.
You will notice on every barbecue, a little corner or nook that is built in for the wood to burn. Once the coals become hot, they are placed underneath the meat for cooking purposes.
When the meat is cooked over a wood fire, the flavors are enhanced. This gives the meat a smoky taste that is not overpowering. The next time you grill, think about using wood fire and be prepared to taste the difference.
5- Don’t Let The Flames Touch The Food
The grills in Argentina look different than the grills in the U.S. One of the most striking differences is that the grills in Argentina have a wheel crank, that raise or lower the grill.
If you look closely at the grills, you will notice a second difference. In Argentina, the grills are V-shaped. This helps capture and contain the fat drippings and oils. Instead of the fat dripping into the fire and causing flare ups, the fat slides through the V-shaped grills and slides into a slot. This fat can be reused for basting the meat and it also makes the cleaning process much easier.
Fire is the enemy in Argentinian grilling. Contact with direct flames leads to burning, or ‘over carbonization’ which results in burnt and bitter flavors. This is not great for the meat or for your health.
6- Crust The Meat
The most important step while cooking the meat is the first contact between the food and the grill. You want to keep the meat in contact with the grill so it creates a thin brown crust.
According to Francis Mallmann, the crust keeps the meat moist by preventing the juice from escaping as the meat cooks.
When observing the asador, you will not see them flipping around the meat. It is this idea described by Francis Mallmann that “you must respect the first contact between food and the cooking surface”. See more in this Francis Mallmann video on YouTube. Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, by Francis Mallmann
The art is to cook the meat with the right amount of grilling so that you have a nice crust without burning the meat. It takes practice but it is worth the effort to get the most juicy flavors out of the meat.
To learn more about this technique and other precious grilling tips, read the book by expert in grilling with fire, Francis Mallmann himself:
One tip to remember is to remove the meat from the fridge before cooking so it reaches room temperature. If the meat is too cold when put on the grill, it may be tough to eat.
7 – Grill Slow At Low Temperatures
In Argentina, the meat is cooked long and slow. For large groups, the asador cooks a variety of different cuts of meat over long periods of time.
With meat that is lean from the grass fed cows, one would expect it to dry out. But instead, what is surprising is that the meat is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The asador moves the hot coal under the meat and adjusts the grill to regulate the temperatures for maximum juiciness.
This cooking technique on lower heat for long periods, transforms even the leanest of grass-fed meat into tender and delicious beauties. The wait is long and the aromas can be painfully delicious.
8- The Simpler The Sauce, The Better
When you start with good products and the meat is cooked long and slow, you will find that you will rarely need to add any condiments to your meat. Some salt and bay leaves would be fine.
In Argentina, the most popular sauce for Argentinian grilling is chimichurri. This sauce is made of parsley, garlic, oregano, red pepper, vinegar and olive oil. The chimichurri can be put on top of the meat as a final touch before eating.
By keeping the condiments and sauces simple, you put the meat front and center. The taste of the meat isn’t masked by thick and strong flavored sauces.
For your next barbecue, consider using only salt and herbs. If you choose to make chimichurri sauce, it is best is to prepare it a day or two before the barbecue. The sauce ages with time and becomes much more flavorful.
9 – Argentinian Grilling Is A Day Long Affair
In Argentina, the barbecue or asado is a detailed and lengthy affair. We are not talking about the experience at a restaurant where your waiter brings your food. What we are talking about is the traditional experience with locals in their homes.
If you visit Argentina and you get an invitation to an asado, do not miss the opportunity. The asado is such an important part of the culture that the local TV hosts won’t tell you if it will rain or shine on Sunday. They’ll tell you if you’ll be able to eat an asado outdoors or not.
Eating at the asado typically starts between 2pm – 3pm and guest can remain seated well past 6pm eating several rounds of dishes.
At our first asado in the pampas, we enjoyed a very laid back atmosphere and slow eating pace. The meats that included chicken and pork, were brought out in waves. Fresh green salads and potatoes were constantly passed around. The food was washed down with a never-ending supply of beer and malbec wines for the adults.
Desserts was another long drawn out affair. We enjoyed different types of sweets, including variations of the famous dulce de leche. All of this was accompanied with mate (traditional drink) and coffee. The night ended past midnight with folklore music and traditional dances.
As you gear up to grill this season, add the spirit of Dolce Far Niente to your event. This Italian expression “the sweetness of doing nothing” is a common phrase in Argentina. Plan for nothing else on your Summer grilling days. Simply kick back, enjoy good food, good company and be in the moment.
This Summer, what better way to celebrate the season than with amazing barbecues! Surprise yourself and your guests with these 9 Argentinian grilling tips. Try new and different cuts of meats. Adopt some of the Argentinian grilling techniques and make your Summer grilling experience even more memorable. Remember to:
- Start with good ingredients
- There is more than beef on the grill
- Grilling ritual
- Grill using wood
- Don’t let the flames touch the food
- Grill low and slow
- Crust the meat
- The simpler the sauce, the better
- Argentinian grilling is a day long affair
Share with us your favorite food to grill in the comments below!
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