Guide to Brazilian Barbecue

Brazilian barbecue on skewers over rice

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More than 400 years ago cattle ranching was introduced to the Rio Grande do Sul region of Brazil. Cowboys, called Gauchos, herded these cattle, and like the cowboys of Texas, created a new style of cooking. They called it Churrasco, which is Brazilian barbecue. Though this style of barbecue wasn't based on smoke like that of the Southern United States, it has all the traditions and elements of an American barbecue. Churrasco started in the 16th and 17th centuries and spread throughout all of Brazil in the 1940s as the Gauchos spread across the country.

Origin of Churrasco

Originally, the standard formula for Brazilian-style barbecue was to coat meats in coarse salt. The meat would then sit for about 30 minutes to absorb the salt and then was placed over the fire. Later a salt-water baste was used to keep meats moist during the cooking. The beef was typically never seasoned. Poultry and lamb, however, are spiced with a rich marinade the night before cooking. Meats are places on long sword-like skewers and cooked over an open fire. Nowadays with the growing popularity of this style of grilling, you can even buy a churrasco grill.

Churrasco is much more than a way of cooking in the Rio Grande do Sul—it's a way of life. The barbecue capital of Brazil is the city of Nova Brescia which has a statue of a man cooking barbecue in the central plaza. In the 1940s this city had a population of about 150,000. Since then the population has dropped to about 30,000 due to the mass exodus of people leaving to open barbecue restaurants across Brazil.

Brazilian Barbecue Today

The popularity of Brazilian barbecue has to lead to the founding of hundreds of restaurants, popping up all over the world. On the menu, you will usually find prime rib, linguica (a Portuguese-style sausage), lamb kebabs, chicken legs, fish and a whole host of other dishes.

All meats are cooked on long skewers placed on racks over the fire with fattier items placed on top so that the juices will drip down and flavor the other cuts. When the meats are cooked, waiters carry the skewers around, table to table, carving off pieces onto your plate. Without moving from your table, you can experience virtually unlimited dishes until your stomach fails you and it's time to lumber home. This is truly a great dining experience.

Brazilian Barbecue at Home

You can experience this at home as well. Kebabs are one of the easiest things to grill. And since the tradition is to place only one kind of meat on each skewer, the problem of different cooking times is then eliminated. The next time you have an army over, try a Brazilian barbecue.