Asado de Independencia July 03, 2012

A friend called me about a week and a half ago and asked, in a rather impromptu manner, whether I would join him in throwing an asado in Sacramento for the 4th of July.   Normally, this would produce an automatic “yes” from me.  What better way to expand the role of the asado than to combine it with the greatest of American grilling holidays,  July 4th?  This year, however, happens to be one of those pesky years where the holiday falls right in the middle of the week on a Wednesday.  Procuring supplies and getting the word out for a party in the middle of the week, not to mention travel to Sacramento, is much more difficult without a full weekend to execute.  Despite that, I was dying to fire up the parrilla once again, so he and I began to plan for an “Asado de Independencia”.

Building a Brasero

Adding to the complicated planning was the fact that I had yet to have my custom-made brasero (and accompanying stand) fabricated.  Immediately after getting off the phone with Joe, I got back in touch with John C. Rogers, an Oakland-based blacksmith and metal worker.  John’s shop, located in Phoenix Iron Works, sits conveniently near my home in Oakland’s marina district.  He and I had spoken a month earlier, but had not initiated plans to have him fabricate the brasero.  With the asado looming, I got in touch and asked if he could build it within a week.  He said, “No problem” and he got started as soon as I met him to review the specs.

As many of you know, I whole-heartedly advocate the use of braseros.  The more I used my parrilla with a fire pit as the ember source, the more I realized it’s massively inefficient.  Not to mention that it’s messier, more dangerous, and more grueling work.  A fire pit is still an indispensable component of gaucho-style grilling, but the cheap portable fire pits I have been using are not the best tool to accompany a portable parrilla.  Therefore, the decision to spend the time and money designing and fabricating a customized brasero was an easy one.

I had John build a 12″ x 14″ iron basket composed of several metal bars about 2 1/4″ apart and 4″ legs.  The iron fire basket sits inside a 3-walled sheet metal box about 30″ high with 30″ walls surrounding the brasero.  This design creates several key advantages for grilling with my parrilla:

First, it’s a much quicker way to get the first large batch of coals ready to begin grilling.  With that size brasero, I can get almost a full box of wood lit and burning at one time and can do so faster because of the chimney effect from stacking the wood.  With a grill that measures 40″ x 20″, I need a healthy dose of hardwood embers to get the grill hot and the brasero will deliver with efficiency and volume.

Second, with the brasero stand set at 30″ high, it now sits roughly even with the bottom of the parrilla ember box.  Instead of bending in my back to scoop coals from a fire pit, I now have an even level to scoop coals.  I simply run a shovel under the 4″ clearance from the bottom of the brasero and then quickly and neatly transfer the coals over a few inches into the parrilla.  No more spilling glowing hot embers on the deck or the patio.

Third, by encapsulating the brasero in a high-walled stand, the design prevents wind gusts from foiling my plans to light the kindling or kicking around ash when the fire is going.  It also hides flames quite well.  Because asado involves an open flame, people can tend to get nervous in the neighborhood if they see a live fire in the backyard or a public park.  The sturdy but slender frame allows me to start and maintain my fire throughout the grilling session without calling too much attention to myself.

Finally, clean up of unused coals and ashes is much easier with a three-sided box than with a bowl-shaped fire pit.  I can scrape the remainders into a corner and remove with a dust pan in a matter of seconds.

I believe this newly designed brasero will dramatically change my grilling experience. I also like that the brasero can be used with hardwood charcoal just as easily and effectively.  This gives an asador the option to use it for large, hardwood grilling sessions or for quicker, shorter barbecues where you only need a small portion of hardwood charcoal to get the job done.  My prediction is that this will become an indispensable feature of all my grilling adventures well into the future.