Brazilian Churrasco An all day BBQ experience
Not many BBQ experiences can compete with a true Brazilian Churrasco. Especially if it’s a churrasco that takes place high in the mountains at the foot of the Brazilian Amazone with some fellow Churrascada chefs. Curious what is on the menu at this typical BBQ party that lasts all day? Read, watch and next time, host your own Churrasco in your backyard.
The second time’s the charm when it comes to this BBQ experience of a lifetime. It was during my first visit to the BBQ festival Churrascada that I learned that chef Diego Belda had a ranch style BBQ venue called Rancho Três Paineiras in the Brazilian mountains. Due to bad weather and little time available we could not make it there to learn more about traditional Brazilian BBQ and his style of outdoor cooking. But as soon as I found out we would return to São Paulo I started texting Diego to get the ball rolling. And so it happened. After cooking at Churrascada we left the busy city behind with our trusted tour guides Panhoca and Marcus and traveled deep into the mountains. Joined by the local BBQ hero Daniel Lee from Bark & Crust and Texas Pitmaster Wayne Mueller from Louie Mueller Barbecue we made the 4-hour journey along muddy unpaved roads and met up with Diego Belda and his crew for an unforgettable BBQ experience.
Let’s start with the basics, what is a Brazilian churrasco. According to our tour guides and host of that day it is both the act of cooking all day long on an open fire as well as a social gathering of family and friends loaded with BBQ food and drinks. This means you start early in the morning, prepping your meats, arranging the cooking area, chopping wood and starting fires to burn down some embers and cook all day long. In our case, this not only meant prepping early, but also drinking early. Integral part of a true churrasco is that you have ample coolers filled with ice and beers, bottles of wine all around you and the occasional caipirinha cocktail within hands reach just to mix things up. And an important detail that we learned is that you don’t wait for the first dish to be served to enjoy either one of those. Churrasco essentially means BBQ to Brazilians. Rodizio is often the first thing that comes to mind when the western world thinks about Brazilian BBQ but there is some distinction. Rodizio style BBQ refers to the restaurant style cooking where all meats are grilled on rotating skewers and diners are served carving style at their table till they can no longer muster the copious amounts of meat. This makes rodizio a type of churrasco but not all churrasco is rodizio, you savvy?
A TYPICAL CHURRASCO MENU
This day with Diego we enjoyed a typical churrasco menu that consists of a wide variety of dishes. Important is the balance between low and slow preparations – like the famed beef ribs that have to cook up to 10 hours – and hot & fast dishes that provide the crowds something to enjoy all day long whilst they wait for the main pieces and socialize. A true churrasco covers your lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and late-night snack making it a true all day BBQ event. On our menu this day where a full rack of beef ribs, a whole lamb, picanha’s (beef rump cap), local sausages, trout, duck breasts, baked beans, salads, breads, spreads and snacks. The beauty of the typical Brazilian churrasco is that as the beef ribs and whole lamb take their time to cook the churrasco chefs work on one dish after another. The one moment you enjoy the fire cooked trout that was tied together with fresh herbs and lardo, flash grilled lightly, fileted and mixed in with a fresh tomato salad, then after a few beers you are offered some bread with slices of sausage straight of the grill. You socialize a bit more, enjoy the view, sip on your caipirinha and a few slices of carved picanha steak seasoned only with salt and a lick of smoke are passed around on a cutting board. Yes, the amount of food is enormous during a churrasco, but a good host paces the time between dishes carefully preventing his guests from overeating to quick. After all, the beef ribs are served as dessert and worth the wait till the sun goes down.
CHURRASCO GEAR USED
During our outdoor cooking experience in the mountainous countryside, I noticed quite some similarities between the Argentinian Assado style used by the gauchos and the Brazilian churrasco. What they have in common is the basic setup. A large fire is built on the ground fueled by local hardwood (in our case very aromatic guava wood). All day long the large logs are burned down to embers that are then shoveled and raked around the fireplace intensifying heat in the right spots. Alongside the fireplace a large cross is placed where the lamb is tied to after it is cut open and spread. The beef ribs are placed in a special clamp allowing the ribs to stand up vertically and cook low and slow next to the glowing embers whilst being turned around every so often. For the faster preparations a simple elevated grill rack is placed over the embers for easy grilling or to place some pots to cook sauces and beans in. Between the assado cross and beef rack a metal wire was drawn to hang some duck breasts and sausages higher of the ground. Here they caught less heat and more smoke, infusing them with delicious flavors while slowly cooking to the right doneness. The Picanha steaks where skewerd on long metal double skewers that were simply stuck into the ground next to the fire. The big difference I noticed between the Argentinian Assado’s enjoyed during previous travels and this Brazilian feast was the diversity and versatility of the dishes cooked. Argentinians just eat meat, meat and meat, during this churrasco there was also a lot of meat, but this was used as an ingredient for simple dishes or snacks that were full of fresh produce and herbs. Whether this is the standard for a Brazilian churrasco or simply the culinary touch of Diego Belda and his crew I cannot say, what I do know is that we all thoroughly enjoyed it.