With the World Cup 2014 well under way in the South American country of Brazil, I thought it was time we revived the ‘Barbecues Around the World’ series as we haven’t had an instalment here on the blog in a while. While we all bite our nails following our country through the world’s greatest football tournament, it’s a good excuse to get together, get the grill out and enjoy the game with a beer and burger in each hand. But since the tournament is being held in a country that has a climate that lends itself well to a lot of outdoor grilling – like when I covered South Africa – why not ditch the normal burger and sausages and try something a little more Latin?
Let’s take a look at what the country of ‘order and progress’ has to offer to the barbecue world.
A Traditional History
Brazil has a long relationship with barbecues, so much so that the municipality of Nova Bréscia is known as the ‘barbecue capital of Brazil’ and even has a statue of a man cooking on a barbecue in the centre of the city. The history of this relationship dates back to around 400 years ago, developing from a long tradition of livestock production in Southern Brazil. Like in Texas, the cattle ranchers of the region started to experiment with different ways of cooking the meat from the cattle they bred, eventually developing a technique of barbecue cooking known as Churrasco. They would cook the meat immediately after butchering the cow, cooking it on skewers over a wood burning fire. The meat would be slow-cooked, allowing it to baste in its own juices and giving it a flavoursome kick.
From there the people would eventually spread out from towns like Novo Brescia, taking with them their barbecue techniques and spreading the delights of the barbecue across the country, so much so that barbecue restaurants began popping up everywhere; including around the world, with countries like Portugal and the United States playing host to churrascaria restaurants.
The technique that would spread as fast as the wildfire that annually threatens Brazil’s delicate ecosystem is all about using skewers. It can be used with a variety of different meats, such as pork, chicken and sausage. These are cooked on a purpose-built ‘churrasqueira’, which is a barbecue grill that normally has supports for spits or skewers built into it. However, some Brazilian ‘churrasqueiras’ do away with the grill, simply cooking the meat on skewers above the embers. Alternatively, the meat can be cooked on large metal or wood skewers that rest on a support, or simply stuck into the ground and the meat roasted using the embers of charcoal or wood. If you head to a Brazilian barbecue restaurant you’ll be treated to waiters carrying skewers of grilled meat around the restaurant, slicing the meat onto your plate as requested.
If placing the meat on skewers over a rack, fattier items are normally placed on the top so that the juices will drip down and flavour the cuts below. If you’re already adept at cooking kebabs you’ll have probably already noticed this, and you’re not going to have many problems with cooking with the Churrasco style as it’s pretty similar.
Popular Brazilian Barbecue Foods
The most popular cut of grilled meat in Brazil is Picanha. This is a cut of beef that’s seldom seen outside of the country, as elsewhere it is often cut into the rump, the round and the loin instead. If you want to get hold of it outside Brazil then the best match would be the rump cap. The best way to cook it is to put it on a spit over charcoal, as seen in the following video.
The second most popular cut of meat in Brazil is baby beef (“bebe beefey”). Due to it being a delicacy it’s the most expensive of the cuts used for churrasco, but it’s tenderness, leannes and tastiness is worth the cost. It comes from the tenderloin section of a cow.
Brazilians have also adapted the traditional Portuguese dish of Alcatra, which is a top sirloin cut. This is usually served in a way similar to pot roast, but in Brazil it tends to be cooked on the grill as another style of sirloin. Seasoned well it has a smoky flavour and tender bite that’s well worth trying.
In Rio de Janeiro any variation of grilled bovine fillet is a popular barbecue dish, accompanied by rice and beans and a toasted manioc flour mixture that’s known as farofa that can be used for stuffing poultry.
One type of kebab that is cooked using the churrasco style is Churrasquinhos, which contains small bacon pieces inserted between cuts of beef. There is also Churrasco de Frango, which is slow-roasted chicken that can be grilled on a rotisserie.
Here are some more foods that Brazilians love to eat.
So, why not try a Brazilian barbecue during the next World Cup game? Let’s just hope your team wins!