Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Churrascaria Mystique: About the Brazilian Barbecue

In an earlier post, I mentioned the concept of the Brazilian Churrascaria that I discovered when I lived in Florida. This was a very popular topic and many of you indicated that you were having trouble finding authentic recipes. Fortunately, I have a very dear friend who grew up in Brazil, and she has shared with me some of her family's favorite Churrasco recipes. But first, a little history.

The Brazilian barbecue, also known as Churrasco, was developed by the "Gauchos" (known to us as cowboys) in the Rio Grande do Sul region of Brazil hundreds of years ago. When cattle ranching was introduced to the area, the Gauchos were tasked with herding the cattle, and thus was born a new type of barbecue.

Beef, or more specifically sirloin, was the traditional meat used for this barbecue, although pork, poultry, lamb and other cuts of beef also found their way into this unique style of cooking. The beef was typically not seasoned, although the other meats in the churrasco were soaked in rich marinades overnight. Now, when I say "not seasoned", I mean seasoned in any sauces. The maet for a traditional Brazilian Churrasco was generally seasoned with mashed garlic, coated with sea salt and kept moist by basting with a mixture of sea salt and water.
A large fire was built, and the Gauchos would place their meats on long, sword-like skewers with the fattier meats and sausages on top so that as the meats cooked, the dripping fat would season the meats on the skewer beneath it. The Gauchos would simply take their skewers and drive the tips into the ground with the skewers leaning towards the open fire. As the outer layers of the meat would cook, they would slice it off with their knives and eat it, leaving the rest of the meats to continue cooking.

A Brazilian Churrasco is no quick affair. These events would generally begin at lunchtime and go straight through the day. This is mainly because it is all about slow cooking -- no meats were ever directly over the flames. As the outer layers of the meat were done, they would slice it off and consume it slowly, waiting for the next layer to be cooked.

Now, onto the recipes!


Chef Mom

A Traditional Gaucho Churrasco

Serves 10

10 lbs of quality meat cuts (beef, lamb, ribs, etc.)
1/2 cup salt
6 cloves garlic, mashed
3 cups water

Meat would never be placed over an open flame in a true Gaucho churrasco. It would cook near the flame for several hours. You can emulate this at home by using a rotisserie, or by heaping your coals or turning on your gas grill burners in such a way as to place the meat on a portion of the grill that does not have direct heat.

Be sure that your coals are bright before cooking the meat. Place the meat on the grill avoiding the open flame. If you skewer the meat cuts, they will be easier to turn and cut.

When the meat begins to brown, dissolve the salt in the hot water with the garlic and baste the meat with it. As the outer layers of the meat begin to cook, slice them off for serving while leaving the rest of the meat to cook, continuing to base with the salt water mixture to keep the meats juicy and fresh.

Depending on the size of the meat cuts, this could take anywhere from one to four hours.

In the south of Brazil, they cook the meat approximately three feet surrounding the fire with the skewers placed on the floor around the open flames. This way takes about 6 hours to cook. As the meat cooks, the outer layers are sliced off and consumed slowly. By doing that, a barbecue could start at lunch and end at dinner.

Minas Churrasco (from the state of Minas Gerais, west of Rio de Janeiro)

2 lbs beef tenderloin
juice of one lemon
3 tbs salt
1 clove mashed garlic

Marinate the beef overnight in the lemon juice, salt and garlic. Grill using indirect heat for approximately one hour, turning frequently.

Churrasquinhos (courtesy of Derrick Riches)

These "kebabs" are a traditional Brazilian dish. The bacon pieces that sit between the beef tenderloin pieces keeps the whole kebab flavorful and juicy.

1 lb beef tenderloin
1/2 lb bacon
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs minced onion
salt and pepper

Cut the beef into 1" square pieces. Marinate in the oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and minced onion for about one hour. Cut the bacon into squares and thread onto skewers, alternating the bacon and beef. Grill over high heat until brown. Serve hot.


  1. Yum-yum!! We lived in Brazil for a couple of years as children, and one of my enduring memories is stopping somewhere and eating at a Churrascaria. I can still smell it 30 years later!

    Thanks for the great recipes!

  2. I'm so jealous! I learned to love Brazilian (and Venezuelan) food when I lived in Miami. The only thing that stops me from visiting there is that I'm afraid I'd weigh 500 lbs before I got home! Thanks, and I'm glad you're enjoying the recipes!

  3. Churrascarias rule. I love them. My favourite cut is Picanha though. Picanha is the top of the rump, which is really delicious and very soft. I like it much more Fillet Steak. Check out some of my Brazilian recipe videos at www.CucaBrazuca.com