When we talk about Argentina, at least one thing’s for sure: they are one of the countries with the best meat in the world. Argentina’s great tradition in this area has historically made it the country with the highest consumption of meat per person per year—which is about 50 kilos! Yes, meat is the star dish of this South American country and, without a shadow of a doubt, the most typical way of cooking it is in an asado: the Argentine barbecue. In this article, explore what an Argentine asado is, how it is prepared and why it is so culturally important.
What is asado?
The asado is the cooking technique by which cuts of meat are exposed to the heat of the fire so that they cook slowly. This fire is made from charcoal or wood and, though the cooking technique may seem virtually the same as the classic barbecue, there are some differences between the two. The most important difference regards the typical cuts of meat of the Argentine asado:
- Tira de asado. It is a large piece of meat that includes bone. Its origin occurred within a meat processing company in the north of Buenos Aires, in 1882.
- Vacío. Although in Spanish the word literally means “empty”, this cut is what is known in English as “flank steak”: a cut of beef steak taken from the flank.
- Bife de chorizo. It is a cut of meat from the dorsal region of the cow. An American bbq equivalent could be the entrecôte.
- Achuras. This term encompasses the different viscera of the animal and includes chitterlings, kidneys, and gizzards, among others.
- Chorizo. In a good Argentine asado, a chorizo can’t be lacking. It’s a sausage made of 70% beef and 30% pork. It’s also known as chori, and can be eaten off a plate or in a sandwich. In this last case, it’s called choripán.
- Morcilla. It’s a sausage made out of pig blood, onion, and some spices. It has a deep black color, and you can either eat it hot or cold.
Characteristics of a good Argentine asado
Moreover, there are some other specific characteristics that define an Argentine barbecue (besides the cuts of meat):
- The parrilla must be adjustable. It’s convenient for the grill’s height to be adjustable to measure the temperature at which we want to cook the meat. Ideally, there should be a distance of about 20 centimetres between the embers and the meat.
- The meat is cooked for a long time. It’s necessary to cook the meat for about two hours. This will make the meat juicy on the inside, and well-cooked on the outside, without burning it.
- The asado is served with other side dishes. Of course, meat is the main dish at any asado (it’s the name of the food, but it’s also the name of the event itself). However, that doesn’t mean that it’s the only dish! The asados are usually accompanied by salads, such as the Russian salad (made with potatoes, eggs, and mayonnaise) or the classic lettuce and tomato salad.
- Many customs surround the Argentine bbq. In every asado there is an “asador”—the person doing the cooking. Fun fact: when everybody is at the table, it’s common to ask for a round of applause for the asador.
How to bbq Argentine-style?
You already know the typical Argentine cuts of meat in an asado, and the characteristics of this food. Now, you’re probably wondering how to make a top-notch Argentine bbq. Here is the real Argentine asado recipe!
Step 1. Prepare the grill or parrilla. As we have said, authentic Argentine barbecues are usually cooked for a long time. Therefore, you must prepare the fire well in advance of the arrival of your guests. You can use wood or charcoal: while the wood will give the meat a smoky flavour, charcoal allows for a more precise cooking temperature—the choice is up to you! Place the wood or charcoal strategically under the grill, forming something like a little mountain.
Step 2. Place the Argentine meat on the grill. Put all the cuts of meat at a height of approximately 20 centimetres from the embers. The amount of meat needed will depend on the number of guests. To give you an idea, in Argentina they usually estimate around half a kilo of meat per person. Don’t forget to include the achuras, chorizos, and morcillas!
Step 3. Serve the asado. In Argentina, it’s common for the cuts of meat that are ready to be served on wooden or metal trays along with sauces. The most typical sauces to put over the meat of an asado are the salsa criolla (which includes onion, bell pepper, and tomato marinated in vinegar and oil) and, of course, the chimichurri, a sauce made of parsley, oregano, garlic, vinegar, and oil.
Where to eat an asado?
The most important thing about an asado isn’t the food —although, it’s doubtlessly important—, but everything that happens around it. Indeed, for Argentines, the asado is a social event, and it’s commonly celebrated during the weekends with friends and family. Sometimes really huge asados are made, where the whole extended family is invited!
Of course, houses are not the only places to eat an Argentine bbq. The asado in Argentina is common to be eaten at steakhouses (which are called “parrillas”). In fact, there is an Argentine restaurant in Buenos Aires that has been chosen as one of the 15 best restaurants in the world, and (how could it be otherwise?) it’s a grill!
In the rest of the world, Argentine steakhouses are also super popular. Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is a particular case: you can find one on almost every street! Some say that this popularity has to do with the queen of the Netherlands, Máxima, who was born in Buenos Aires. Others say it’s simply because Argentine meat is great (and they’re not wrong).
In Australia, you can also find many places to taste Argentine meat. In Sydney there is Porteño, which refers to the people of Buenos Aires, in Adelaide check out SOSTA Argentinian Kitchen and in Melbourne, there is San Telmo, named after another neighbourhood in Buenos Aires… and we could go on and on!
There is no doubt: an asado perfectly sums up everything that Argentines like: good food and having a good time with friends and family. Now that you know how to make an Argentine grill, we invite you to put your grilling skills to the test and surprise your guests with some Argentinian meat and, of course, with real chimichurri on it. Buen provecho!