Argentinian-style barbecue has become known internationally as one of the world's great grilling traditions. And it didn't do it by emulating American BBQ. Argentinean cookouts — called Asados in Spanish — earned their reputation for tender cuts of flavorful meat through a time-honed cooking technique perfected on its grassy pampas. Though they differ slightly from other grilling cultures, they're not hard to learn. Follow these tips to grill like an Argentinian, and ready your chimichurri — you're in for an amazing meal.
1. Skip the marinade
Argentina's asado prowess didn't come about by accident. Hailing from one of the top beef-producing nations on the planet, Argentinian grillmasters have their pick of quality meats, usually opting for grass-fed cattle, grazed in the temperate and fertile pampas region. So they don't bother seasoning what tastes so great on its own unless it's with salmuera — a simple saltwater brine they can brush onto the meat as it cooks to keep it juicy.
2. Choose interesting meats
Argentinian steak cuts differ slightly from what you'll find at American butcher shops, so it may tough to find cuts of meat to grill like an Argentinian exactly. But more important is to open up to the idea of variety. Asados usually involve a variety of steaks, plus sausages, off cuts, organ meats, and whatever else sounds good. That way, every bit on your plate won't be the same, making for a more invigorating meal.
3. Cook with wood
Forget about the propane versus briquettes debate. For Argentinian barbecue, the answer is strictly wood charcoal — nothing with coal or other additives. There's more than one reason for this purist approach. Besides the cleaner, superior flavor, wood burns at a more optimal temperature for the style of grilling ahead, which we'll come back to….
4. Don't cook over flames
Compared to charcoal briquettes, it can be tougher to get a wood fire burning, but don't rush to throw meat on the grill right away once you do. Let the wood burn until the flames die down, and it ashes over before you start cooking. The idea will be to push the hot wood coals to one side or the other as needed to even out temperatures and cook using indirect heat.
5. Respect the sear
Once your meat is on the grill, resist the urge to move it around. Once the meat makes contact with the hot metal, it begins to sear, and that sear will develop into a beautiful, charry crust. That's what you want from Argentinian barbecue — a flavorful crust outside, tender meat inside.
6. Cook slow and low
Most of the aforementioned tips will prepare you for the most important part of mastering Argentinian asado — cooking slow and low. This cooking technique requires an open schedule and plenty of patience. The low, indirect heat will slowly bring a steak to cooking temperature, while you may periodically add salmuera to keep it from drying out. Leaving the steak on one side for most of the cook to develop a crust, only flipping late to add a final sear on the other side. For larger cuts, a proper cook can take hours, while thinner meats and sausages may be added later in the day.
An Argentinian steakhouse in Little Italy
For authentic Argentinean dishes in San Diego, including steaks and other cuts of meats, visit Puerto la Boca, home of the best chimichurri sauce in town!