In Food + Drink

How To Grill Like An Argentinian In Five Simple Steps

Spicy, smoky, succulent and delicious; Argentinian barbeque is in a league of its own. More than just a way of cooking, it’s a source of national pride, a ritual gathering adored by all.

At its core, the Argentinian-style of barbeque is about quality cuts of meat cooked low and slow over charcoal, understanding and controlling the intensity of the heat, and not interfering with the meats too often. And yet, it goes much deeper than that too.

To better understand Argentinian barbeque, there are a few essential words to learn.

Argentinian barbeque

Image: Barrio / supplied

There’s asado [a-sah-doh], a term which describes both the social gathering of a barbeque, as well as the way that it is cooked. Asador [a-sah-door], which refers to the ‘grill master’ who is tasked with lighting the charcoals and preparing the meats, and parrilla [pa-ree-ya], which translates to both grill and steakhouse, depending on the context.

Argentina’s love affair with asado stems from the time of the gauchos, skilled horsemen and cattle wranglers who roamed the fertile lowlands during the 18th and early 19th centuries. These nomads cooked their meals on makeshift grills, precursors to the parrilla grills now widely found in homes, neighbourhoods and restaurants across the country.

Walking through the streets of Buenos Aires a couple of hours before dinner time, you’d be hard-pressed to go one block without smelling the fragrant, smoky aroma of a barbeque.

Argentinian chef Francisco Smoje, owner of popular Barrio eatery and bar in Byron Bay, had a love of barbequing instilled from a very early age. Though he moved to Australia as a chef 23 years ago, he retains a deep-rooted connection to this much-revered cooking style.

Argentinian barbeque

Image: Barrio / supplied

Barrio is not an Argentinian restaurant per se, instead taking culinary inspiration from all of Smoje’s global travels and experiences. And yet, it still has an undercurrent of Argentinian flair. This is most evident in its impressive charcoal-fired asado grill setup, which is proudly on display to diners and bar patrons thanks to the restaurant’s open kitchen.

Chargrilled pork belly, a grilled beef rib with chimichurri, and charcoal chicken are just a few of the mouth-watering dishes at Barrio which take full advantage of the asado-style grill.

“Asado is not a particular cut of meat as many people think, but rather the way that you cook something over coals,” Smoje says. “Most barbeques in Argentina can be wound up and down, which allows you to easily control the intensity of the heat.”

Argentinian barbeque

Image: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

“The quality of charcoal is essential too. It took me a little time to find the right coals to use here at Barrio, something you can light and still be having power from two hours later.”

Though Smoje has had a lifetime of experience at the grill, he believes it’s never too late to pick up the Argentinian style.

If you want to become an asador, these are Smoje’s tips on how to do it:

Choose your preferred grill

Argentinians take their barbequing very seriously, and everyone has their preferred setup.

The basic varieties, however, include a parrilla hotplate, which features v-shaped grooves that drain the fat away from the coals, and a chulengo, which is essentially a 44-gallon drum cut in half. However, Smoje believes the lack of apparatus should not be a limitation.

Understand your coals

Argentinian barbeque

Image: Danny de Jong / Unsplash

The traits of a good asador are knowing your coals, understanding the hotspots of your grill, and being able to successfully control the intensity of heat. Argentinian barbeques often have a lever or pulley system which raises and lowers the hotplate to help with this, but you can achieve a similar result by pushing more or less coals to one side of the hotplate.

Cook low and slow

Flame grilling may look good on television commercials, but that’s not the Argentinian way. In fact, flames are the enemy of the Argentinian barbeque. Instead, let your flames die all the way down and cook your meats over hot coals for a long period of time. This low and slow approach helps break down the connective tissues, making the meat more tender.

Put down the tongs

Argentinian barbeque

Image: Aral Tasher / Unsplash

Smoje says there’s a tendency for Australians to want to touch and turn meat constantly, but the Argentinian approach is to simply let the coals do their thing – don’t rush. Indirect heat means the meats are less likely to burn, so you’re safer to leave them alone.

Grow your confidence

Rather than trying to cook a whole lamb on day one, Smoje recommends starting with simpler meats such as a whole chicken. Then, once your confidence and understanding of your grill has grown, you can progress on to larger or smaller cuts of meat.

Above all, Smoje says the most important thing is to just have a go.

“These days it’s very easy to be inspired – you have all the information and stimulation at your fingertips. Just get the ball rolling, don’t be shy, and the rest will fall into place.”

(Lead images: Barrio / supplied & James Sutton / Unsplash)

Published 15 August, 2019