Top 7 reasons why Argentine asado is the best barbecue in the world January 18, 2013

Barbecue is a method of cooking loved by many cultures around the world. There are numerous global variations: East Asian barbecuing like Japanese robata grilling and Korean barbecue; Pacific Island barbecue as found in the Philippines and Hawaii, Middle Eastern kabob grilling, and the familiar regional variants in America from Kansas City to Texas to Memphis to the Carolinas.  But for my money, nothing will ever beat an Argentine asado.

It has been said that the word “barbecue”, taken from the Spanish word barbacoa, means “sacred fire pit.” In my mind, no other barbecue culture encapsulates this idea better than the one found in Argentina. An asado epitomizes the sacred concept of meal-as-ritual. Every aspect of the asado has meaning, purpose, and dedication. The result is an unparalleled barbecue experience that reflects the time, effort, and love put into it.

Here are my “Top 7 Reasons why Argentine Asado is the Best Barbecue in the World”:

1) A fierce dedication to putting the best ingredients on the grill.  We all know that beef from Argentina is considered some of the best in the world, but it’s not just the beef that’s excellent.  Most of the pork, chicken, and (occasionally) fish that I’ve had at asados reflect the highest standard of ingredients.  Organic and all-natural are almost always used.  If you use run-of-the-mill, supermarket meat at an asado, an Argentine will call you out for besmirching the parrilla with inferior quality food.  Sorry, but you just won’t see any frozen hamburgers or pre-packaged hot dogs at an asado.

2) Multiple courses which feature a variety of different cuts of meat.  A typical asado at home might feature three courses: picadas, achuras, and carne.  Picadas consist of a spread of cured meats and cheese.  The achuras come next and feature a variety of sausages and organ meats.  Chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), mollejas (sweetbreads), riñones (kidneys), and chiculines (small intestines) are quite common.  The last course, carne, brings out heavy-hitter dishes consisting of large cuts of meat like like bife de chorizo (NY strip), vacio (flank steak), entraña (skirt steak), lechon (pork), pollo (chicken), or tira de asado (beef ribs).  An asado is a complete barbecue feast from top to bottom.

3) A cooking method that imparts subtle smoke that enhances, rather than overpowers, the meat. While I like American barbecue, I don’t love it because it is too heavily smoked for my tastes.  Argentine grilling uses natural hardwoods that impart of whiff of smoke that still preserve the true flavor of the meat.  In my opinion, most American barbecue features such a heavy dose of smoke that it overpowers the flavor of the meat.

4) Adventurous use of many different grilling methods.  In addition to standard grilling on a parrilla, larger Argentine barbecues will feature whole-grilled animals which are cooked on an asador (cross-like spit).  Similarly, infiernillos are multi-layered platforms that cook food from both the top and bottom!  For vegetables, cheeses, and other side dishes, cast-iron chapas/planchas are used to get a terrific sear on the food.  The variety of equipment and cooking methods sets Argentine barbecue apart from other cultures’ grilling methods.

5) Condiments and sauces that are simple and complimentary.  Chimichurrisalsa criolla, olive oil, and sea salt.  These are about as involved as you will get with asado condiments.  The result are sauces that gently enhance the meat, but take a backseat to the star of the show.  American barbecue sauces are quite tasty and Korean barbecue gochujang is some of my favorite, but they are often thick sauces with very bold flavors.  Conversely, asado condiments’ mild taste allows them to do their job: compliment the meat without taking control of your palate.

6) It’s “green”: natural hardwood fuels create a carbon neutral barbecue experience.  Did you know that grilling with hardwood coals is carbon neutral?  That’s right. Whether a piece of wood burns in your parrilla or decomposes on the forest floor, an identical amount of carbon is released into the atmosphere.  The same cannot be said of gas grilling and charcoal briquettes (which are processed with non-natural chemicals).  Argentine asado is all about going back to the basics of our prehistoric ancestors: fire, smoke, and meat…and it does so in an environmentally friendly way.

7) Aplauso para el asador! (Applause for the Grill Master!)  One of my favorite parts of an asado is giving a round of applause to the asador at the end of the meal.  Often times, it is well-deserved.  Ever spent five hours standing over coals and smoke in 90+ degree weather?  It’s hard!  Clapping for the grill master at the end of the meal is a small but touching way for the guests to show their appreciation for the person responsible for feeding them a delicious meal.  Simple gestures like these make the Argentine barbecue experience the best in the world.


CC Image by dr_pablogonzalez on Flickr