How to make the best, most simple and traditional Argentine BBQ (asado)
One of the best ways to eat meat is in an Argentine barbeque asado. This traditional way of cooking meat is typical of Argentina, where every owner of a house has it special grill (parrilla). On Sundays, at noon you will see all around the neighbourhood the fume of all the asados that are being prepared. Just note that Argentina has the highest level of meat consumption per capita of the entire world (by far).
The asado is normally a male’s task. The tradition is transferred from fathers to sons. Women have nothing to do here, unless they prepare some salad. But I hope that with these instructions, also women will be able to do it. But let’s keep for the moment that is a male task. In this way, the man:
- selects the meat at the supermarket or in a selected and reliable butcher,
- calculates the quantity that will depend, off course, of the number of people invited,
- buys the log, wood or vegetable charcoal (he can also use mineral charcoal is available) to make the fire,
- makes the fire, obtaining the needed quantity of red hot charcoal,
- cooks the asado,
- serves it to the guests.
As you know, there is a saying about good practices of everything: “each teacher has his/her own little book”. What I am saying from now on is just one way to make a good Argentine asado. For me is the simplest and reliable way. Then you can add or withdraw whatever you prefer.
The best thing of the Argentine asado is that you don’t need too much hardware to do it. Basically you need:
- A place to make the fire.
- A rectangular grill with a base to put the red hot charcoal. The grill must not be “blind” like a plate. You must see the red hot charcoal from above the grill. The distances between the grill and the base can be variable in order to make the asado faster or not.
- A small square shovel with a handle of about 60 cm long to transport the red hot charcoal from the fire to the base below the grill.
- A stick of about 60 cm to accommodate and spread the red hot charcoal at the base of the grill.
- A long fork and a long knife, both with wooden handle.
- Everything must be cleaned by the man after the asado and when all the guests have gone.
What to buy:
To make a simple and standard good Argentine asado you need to have (minimum quantities):
- 1 pork/meat sausage (chorizo) per person.
- 1 blood sausage (morcilla) per person.
- Short ribs cut in strips of about 10 cm wide (asado de tira) and between 30 cm to 60 cm long.
- Flank steak (vacío).
- These last two together must add about a pound per person.
To prepare the meet:
Another simple thing. You just put cooking salt patting it to the meat before putting it at the grill. Put a good quantity: the meat will take whatever it needs and the rest it can be withdrawn later from the surface of the meat. Put salt on upper and lower sides. Put salt everywhere.
Don’t cut the meat. Just put it as long as has been delivered by the butcher. Only cut it if you don’t have enough space in the grill.
There is no need to prepare the sausages. The only advice if you prefer, is to puncture the pork/meat sausages (not the blood ones) in order to not have too much fat. During the grilling, the fat will go out from the sausage through the punctures. If you prefer more fat, leave the sausages without punctures.
EVERYTHING IS READY TO START.
Start the fire. The objective is to have enough amount of red hot charcoal during the whole cooking. So, you will must start the fire and then keep it in order to renew the charcoal below the grill.
- Select a place at the side of the grill to make the fire.
- Make a sort of ball with some sheets of newspaper.
- Put some small sticks of wood and a few of thicker pieces of wood or charcoal.
- Light the paper.
- Pay attention to hear the cracks. If there is fire and you hear cracks, you are doing ok.
- Add thick pieces of wood or charcoal when the fire becomes bigger.
- Keep the fire. You will need it during all the cooking. Keep it adding wood or charcoal all the time.
- Wait to have the first red hot charcoal pieces.
Clean the grill.
- Once you have the first red hot charcoal pieces, spread some (a few) of them in the base of the grill.
- Let the grill start heating.
- Use some sheets of newspaper to rub the grill and take out old grease, dirt and whatever is there because could transfer not good taste to the meet.
Start cooking. The cooking is made by the heat of the red hot charcoal, not by flames. So, if you see flames below the meat, extinguish them immediately (you may use a glass of water if necessary).
- Once you have the grill clean and hot, transfer read hot charcoal from the fire to the base of the grill. Try to make a sort of bed that covers the same surface that the meat and sausages will cover at the grill.
- First put the pork/meat sausages. These are the first to be served. Wait to put the blood sausages at the end, just a few minutes before serving the pork/meat sausages.
- A few minutes later put the ribs strips with the bones looking to the grill, and the flank steak. All these meat must have been already salted.
- Perhaps will be good to know what guests do prefer the meat well done or not. You can regulate this just putting the pieces of meat on the grill before or after so you will be able to serve all at the same time with different levels of cooking.
Important: check the heat at the height of the meat. There are several ways:
- Put your hand over the meat without touching it. You must feel strong heat without burning your hand. You should check this at every place of the grill where there is food. If you don’t feel it, add red hot charcoal from the fire.
- See if the red charcoal below the meat is still red. If it is starting to become white, add more red hot charcoal from the fire
- Because there is fat that is melting and falling on the red hot charcoal, you must see smoke. If you don’t see smoke, you need more red hot charcoal.
- Hear the whole grill with the food. You must hear sound of crushing and sound of food cooking. If not, add red hot charcoal.
- If you note that there is too much red hot charcoal, making the meat burn because an excess of heat, just increase the level of the grill. Check this with putting your hand over the meat.
Cooking the asado.
- Check the meat and the pork/meat sausages in order to not let them burn.
- Turn them time by time to make an even cooking.
- Be always alert to the level of heat.
- You should have a glass of good red wine while you are cooking your asado. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec are my preferred ones. Any other good beverage is welcome too: beer, scotch, martini, etc.
- When you see that everything is reaching its level of cooking, put the blood sausages on the grill. It should not take more than 10 minutes to have them done.
Serving the asado.
- The asado’s cook (asador) is who must serve the meat.
- The “asador” may eat at the table with the other guests, but he is also authorised to eat at the side of the grill if he prefers (with some exclusive selected guests) and also is authorised to keep for himself the best pieces.
- He must be alert to the guests and their meat needs.
- Salads, if they are, must be ready at this time. They are served by the women.
- He should put both types of sausages in a big plate and go guest by guest serving a couple: one meat/pork and one blood sausages (this is called in Argentina “matrimonio” = married couple). You may also make a sort of sandwich with the meat/pork sausage and bread (this is called “choripan”).
- When this first round is done and nobody likes to repeat any sausage, round 2 with the ribs strips starts. The “asador” must cut pieces of one or two bones per guest. And again, must serve guest by guest. Because some like meat more done than others, the clever “asador” asks to the guest to serve himself/herself from the plate in order to select the piece that best looks for him/her.
- Round 3 is the turn of the flank steak. The “asador” should have cut it into pieces to be served and goes then guest by guest with the same procedure as the former point.
- Keep serving until you or they are totally full.
- Keep chatting drinking wine, telling stories, and so on until everyone is ready for dessert. Isn’t this nice?
- Before everything is finished the well educated guests will ask for applauses to the “asador” (aplausos para el asador), who will thank very gracefully.
And that’s it. The whole thing (from starting the fire to serving the first sausages) should last around 2 hours. The fire will extinguish by itself as well as the remaining red hot charcoal. And you will need only to clean the rests of charcoal and wood after the guests left. The grill will be cleaned before the next asado.
Well, I hope these instructions are useful. I don’t know you, but I am really hungry now…