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“What is an asado” is a question you might ask yourself while thinking about Argentine beef or planning an Argentina trip.
It was certainly very much on our minds when we traveled to Argentina to explore the local food specialties.
The pampas of Argentina, gauchos and the famous meats of an Argentinian asado were aspects of the food culture we wanted to explore.
If you are curious and looking to learn more about an Argentine asado, settle in for a while.
This meeting of fire, meat and friendship offers a window into the true spirit of the country.
Read on for an authentic asado experience in Argentina.
What Is An Asado?
The asado, also known as Argentina’s national dish, refers to both the dish itself and the preparation method.
The word asado translates to roasted or barbecue, but it is so much more than that in Argentina.
At its core, it represents Argentina’s rich culture and history and exquisite food.
It isn’t about the steak or the meat. It is about the companionship and the joy of getting together.
The asado tradition dates back to the 17the century when wild cattle roamed the free in pampas of Argentina.
At the time, gauchos who lived off the land ate a lot of meat from the one resource they had in abundance.
They slow-roasted the meat over open flames, slowly, keeping it tender, juicy and flavorful.
While the Argentine asado of today may look different from the gaucho diet, there are certain traditions that are still upheld.
The fire, grilling techniques, choice of meat, sides and beverages are all respected.
And, importantly, the company and people coming together is what makes the experience.
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How to Cook Asado Meat
Cooking the meat begins with the choice of wood used. The asador, who plays the role of the grill master chooses the wood which varies by region.
Charcoal from the quebracho tree is a popular choice. And, an Argentine asador will never start the fire using lighter fluid. If necessary, the asador may light a few pine cones first to start the fire.
As the fire heats up, the grill master will prepare the cast iron grill known as a parilla.
These Argentinian grills come in all shapes and sizes with an adjustable height to help regulate the temperatures.
What is Asado Meat?
In Argentina, high quality meat is accessible at almost every budget. The typical Argentine grill contains much more than steak.
First off the grill are the chorizo sausage followed by blood sausage known as morcilla. These can be served in bread and eaten as sandwiches.
Animal organs or offals known as achuras are part of the first round of meat. Sweetbread, tripe and kidneys are served along with provoleta or provolone cheese.
In a ritualistic manner, the asador moves to serve the meat. This may be red meat or beef, pork, chicken or lamb.
Along with sides passed around by helpers or sous chefs, the asador will cut up large chunks of meat.
The meat which is typically cooked with just salt is served with the most traditional condiment, chimichurri sauce.
The most traditional cuts of meat are tira de asado or beef ribs, vacio or flank steak, bife ancho or rib eye steak.
Popular pork pieces include morcilla blood sausage and chorizo sausages as well as costillas ribs.
At the end of the asado, someone will call out for “en aplauso para al asador”.
This round of applause is for the asador and their devotion to cooking over an open flame for hours on end.
Experiencing an Asado in the Pampas of Argentina
High on our priority list in Argentina was understanding “what is an asado.” Even before leaving for Argentina to explore the local food specialties, we looked for opportunities to experience an authentic asado.
The pampas of Argentina are the vast plains in the center of the country. The expansive geographical central pampas area covers the province of Buenos Aires, the south of Cordoba and Santa Fe.
The plains also extend to the hills in Tandil including the Córdoba hills. These lush and fertile flatlands, the plains provide succulent pastures for cattle raised on ranches.
Through contacts of friends of friends, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to experience an Argentina asado in Tandil.
Tandil, a cozy town in the Southern Pampas, is famous for cured meats and cheeses. The area is popular for outdoor activities and religious pilgrimages to Mount Calvary or “El Calvario.”
Traveling like locals we took the long-haul bus from Buenos Aires for a 5 to 6 hour trip to Tandil.
La Manga Estancia was our destination. Our first asado experience was with Santiago, the administrator of La Manga estancia.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you’re visiting Argentina and want an authentic asado experience at an Estancia consider a day trip. This day trip from Buenos Aires takes you to the towns of San Antonio de Areco and Estancia El Ombu de Areco in the Pampas. At El Ombu de Areco Estancia, you will have the opportunity to go horseback riding, learn about gauchos while feasting on an Argentina asado with the finest meats. Book your asado and estancia experience here.
Argentinian Asado and Birthday Celebration
The Argentinian asado we attended was a dual birthday celebration. Santiago’s youngest daughter was turning 12 years old, and it was also his mother’s 86th birthday celebration.
Attending the asado were relatives and friends of the family for a total of almost 30 people. We were honored to have been a part of the celebrations.
Preparations for the asado began mid-morning at about 9:30 am. The first order of business was getting the fire and meat prepared.
Eating commenced at about 12:30 pm with the asador bringing out the different cuts of meat in waves based on cooking time.
For this particular asado, a whole pig and 4 chickens were served. In addition, bread, potato and green salads accompanied the meats.
The meat kept coming continuously in waves and we enjoyed every single bite. The chicken was delicious and it tasted like chicken that is raised on a field and not with growth hormones.
The pork ribs were our favorite. Cooked over the fire with no seasonings or sauces, the meat practically just fell off the bone. Tender and a little fatty, these ribs were to die for.
Argentinian Drinks – A Shared Experience
In addition to the foods, Argentinian drinks featured prominently at the asado. The famous Argentinian Malbec wine accompanied the meals.
And, Argentina beer was a popular choice for before and after the asado. Later, as the afternoon wore on, yerba mate made an appearance.
Yerba mate is a traditional drink in both Argentina and Uruguay made from an infusion of yerba plant and hot water.
With everyone well-fed and relaxed, a small gourd of maté tea was shared and passed around from person to person.
Traditional Desserts To Close The Asado Experience
No asado in Argentina would be complete without postres or desserts. During our stay in Argentina we noticed the Argentinian love for all things sweet.
From breakfast pastries to sweet snacks made with dulce de leche and the famous alfajores, there is no shortage of sugary delights.
In keeping with the tradition of sweets, the postres or desserts made their way to the asdo tables at around 3:00pm.
Each aunt or family member brought their homemade specialty treat. So, in addition to birthday cakes, there were at least 10 other types of cakes and cookies.
The all time favorite dessert was rogel cake. A traditional cake made with layers of pancake filled with dulce de leche and meringue.
Absolutely heavenly, and as they say in Argentina “Muy Rico!”
Argentina Asado and Cultural Traditions
Eating at the asado was slow and unrushed. Each part of the meal was long and languid for both children and adults alike.
Everyone took their time and there was an open-ended invitation to enjoy more servings of whatever was left.
With everyone well-fed and relaxed, we explore the concept of the Argentinian gaucho or cowboy further.
Demystifying the Argentinian Gaucho
Gauchos lived in the Pampas of Argentina as horsemen from the mid-18th to 19th Centuries. They were nomadic horsemen who roamed the pampas herding cattle and horses.
They also played a key role in the fight for independence against the Spanish and are national symbols in Argentina.
The gauchos would cook meat next to a slow-burning fire on a cast iron grill with skewers called an asador. And they are inextricably linked to the asado.
To further explore the role of gauchos we asked our Argentine hosts and friends to give us their opinions.
We were surprised to learn that the gaucho no longer exists. In their opinion, changes brought about by the modern way of living led to their demise.
Even so, the gauchos did exist and are considered heroes in Argentina. And, their story is linked to the history of asados.
Argentina Asado and Folklore Music
Being with Santiago and his family helped us understand more intimately what is an asado. Besides the delicious traditional food, we enjoyed the cultural elements as well.
It was wonderful seeing family and friends catch up and reconnect. And, for both Claire and myself, being able to connect with everyone was fun and enriching.
As everyone relaxed, games were played, stories were told and mate was shared. In keeping with the customs of an asado, music took center stage.
Talented members of the family pulled out their guitars and began playing traditional music. In Tandil, they referred to the style of music as chacarera.
Whereas in different parts of Argentina, this music is referred to as gato, escondido or zamba.
The enjoyable musical experience was the grand finale of the asado experience. An event that started late in the morning and after which we emerged as Argentines.
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La Manga an Argentinian Estancia
One of the best ways to understand what is an asado is to sample rural Argentine life at an estancia.
Estancias are essentially cattle ranches and they play a significant role in the history, culture and economy of Argentina.
Since the 17th and 18th Centuries, these extensive farms in the Pampas have raised cattle and grains. Which have made Argentina one of the biggest meat and grain producers in the world.
Our visit was to a working estancia located about 20 kilometers outside of Tandil called La Manga.
La Manga, a family-owned estancia, was built in 1976. Originally, La Manga occupied over 4000 hectares and today, it sits on about 1000 hectares.
We stayed in one of the beautiful Spanish colonial style guest-houses surrounded by horses, fields and cows.
A peaceful, serene and magnificent experience.
Staying at an Argentinian Estancia
The pampas are one of the most enduring symbols of Argentina. The grasslands, horsemanship, cattle ranching, and farming are ingrained in the national psyche.
If your travels take you to Argentina, consider a pampas Argentina stay.
Estancia La Cinacina, located in San Antonio de Areco will offer you a taste of gaucho life. This former working farmhouse now transformed into a boutique hotel offers a break from city life beneath the vast skies of the pampas.
Spend time exploring the vast landscapes on horseback, biking, or walking. You can also stroll over to the nearby town center and visit museums, artisans, and sample traditional dishes.
With a swimming pool and children’s playground, Estancia La Cinacina offers a relaxing escape in the pampas of Argentina.
Experiencing an Argentina asado is a wonderful way to taste and experience Argentine culture.
As we reflect on our Tandil experience, we unequivocally agree that an asado goes beyond the food and is truly about shared moments.
If you can, find a way to get invited to share an asado with locals. If not, visiting an estancia will give you a taste.
An Argentinian asado is an experience to be cherished.
Have you experienced an Argentina asado or something similar? Please let us know in the comments below.
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This post is dedicated to all the wonderful people who made our Argentina asado experience possible.
You know who you are and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
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