Brazilians are known for their love of meat grilled over wood and fire – which makes Brazilian-style Barbecue. It’s a great way to enjoy outdoor cooking fueled by Griller’s Gold natural hardwood pellets. So, what is Brazilian-style barbecue?
What is Brazilian Style barbeCue?
When defining Brazilian-style Barbecue there are actually two things to it – the food and the event.
The food is typically a range of meats and sausages grilled over charcoal or wood, accompanied by a number of fresh, cold sides such as green salads, mixed salads, etc. But it’s the event that makes it!
For Brazilians, it’s not typical to cook all of the food prior to dinner time, and then eat at one sitting—that’s more North American style. Instead, a Brazilian Barbecue is a leisurely, grazing affair.
The meats are typically cooked one at a time, sliced hot off the grill, and passed, and everyone takes a few bites for their plates. Then the next one comes out. And the next one. And the next one. AND the NEXT one … and so forth – until you’ve eaten enough protein for two weeks! And each thing is better than the next.
We were recently invited to join some Brazilians for a Barbecue afternoon/evening and it was a 4-hour affair where the food kept coming off the grill, each item more delicious than the next, the grill was right there next to the table on the patio so that the host didn’t leave the party to cook, the copious wines, beers, caipirinhas, and cachaça was flowing, the music was pumping, the dogs and kids were playing and it was an incredible night!
Planning your Own Brazilian Barbecue:
A Brazilian Barbecue is about simple food, simply prepared, enjoyed in an atmosphere of celebration of friends and family. It is definitely an event best enjoyed in the summertime where you can sit outside, the grill is part of the action, and everyone can relax.
In terms of the food – typical grilled Brazilian Barbecue foods are sausages, beef, lamb, chicken, and pork. They are also not shy of game meats, so if you’re a hunter, this is a fun way to prepare your bounty.
When planning one, think about the variety of what you want to serve, and know you don’t need a lot of each thing, but having a nice variety makes the party more fun.
If you drink alcohol, the traditional drink of Brazil is the Caipirinha (cap-ra-hin-ha) – it is a concoction of fresh lime juice, cane sugar and a Brazilian spirit called Cachaça (ca-cha-sa) that is made from sugar cane like rum is but tastes somewhat like a cross between tequila and white rum. And Brazilians also love their South American wines and of course, beer. Keep it flowing! Here’s a great Caipirinha recipe: https://www.laylita.com/recipes/classic-caipirinha-recipe/
The Brazilian barbecue Meats:
There are a few special cuts of meat that Brazilians favor, but you can also just cook the typical meats you can find at your grocery store. That said, the most common “specialty” cut of meat that Brazilians use in a Barbecue is called the beef picanha. (pi-can-ya).
It is a beef top sirloin cap steak with the fat cap left on. The fat cap melts as the steak cooks and delivers an out-of-this-world flavor. Raw, it looks like the photo below, and the traditional Brazilian way to cook it is to spear it on a sword-like skewer in thick slices shaped like a letter “C” – see the pictures below.
Any good butcher should be able to cut you a picanha and there are online purveyors that sell them as well, such as Wild Fork Foods. Our host cut the picanha into 1” thick steaks and grilled them like a typical strip steak.
As you would get from the butcher – it is typically about 2 lbs like this:
You can substitute New York Strip or Top Sirloin steak for Picanha if you cannot get it in your area. Look for steaks with a good fatty edge on them, and leave the fat on for grilling.
Additional beef cuts that are favorites in Brazil are Maminha and of course, filet mignon. Maminha is a bottom-round roast, lean like beef filet, but more “worked” so a more beefy flavor. Delicious cooked to medium-rare over open heat churrasco style, and they do cook beef filet as well. A good stand-in for maminha is a beef tri-tip roast.
Brazilians love their sausages and two typical sausages you’ll find in Brazilian Barbecue are Linguica and Calabresa. Both are simple beef/pork blend sausages with a thin natural casing. The sausages are simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and plenty of garlic, and are often smoked prior to cooking on the grill. Easy substitutions for this would be polish-style Kielbasa or a beef and pork blend, mild Italian sausage.
Pork, Lamb & seafood
Pork and lamb chops also star in Brazilian Barbecue. Again, a nice blend of meat and fat is always desirable. For lamb, get a rack of lamb and it is typically lightly marinated. Here’s a great recipe for it from the famous Brazilian Steakhouse Fogo de Chao. For pork, they use a variety of cuts, but typically either pork loin (again, look for a generous fat cap) or pork loin bone-in chops seasoned with just salt.
The most common seafood you’ll find in a Brazilian Barbecue is shrimp – and size matters here – go for nice big ones – 6-10 per pound size. For chicken, you’re most likely to see boneless chicken thighs, skin on, at a Brazilian Barbecue.
You only need to go to a Rodizo/Brazilian Steakhouse once to understand how Brazilians love their fresh cold sides with their meat dishes. You don’t usually find mounds of hot potatoes with Brazilian Barbecue.
Instead, nice fresh slaw, potato salads, pasta salads, and of course green salads are the stars here. You want things that are light and bright tasting to contrast with the salt, fat, and umami flavors of the grilled meats.
Here’s a few recipes:
Brazilian Potato Salad: https://braziliankitchenabroad.com/mayo-potato-salad/
Brazilian Pasta Salad: https://braziliankitchenabroad.com/brazilian-pasta-salad-with-mayo/
Chimichurri Salad: https://braziliankitchenabroad.com/chimichurri-salad/
Melon Salad with Wheat Berries: https://braziliankitchenabroad.com/wheat-berries-melon-salad/
The Seasoning and the Grilling:
Again, Brazilians love their grills. Most common at Brazilian Barbecues are open grills fired with lump or briquette charcoal, but pellet grills work great for this, as do gas grills.
If you’re using a pellet grill, fire it up with Griller’s Gold pellets – while most any flavor will work, the Griller’s Gold Charcoal pellets will give you the most authentic taste, as well as the Smokehouse Blend.
If cooking over charcoal, as each cut goes on the grill, scatter a handful of Griller’s Gold pellets of any flavor over your hot coals. They will give a burst of smoke that will really kiss the meats on the grill with a pop of wood smoke flavor.
If using a gas grill, consider the “cigar” method – take two pieces of foil stacked, and roll a “cigar” full of Griller’s Gold pellets. Twist the ends and crimp the seam to seal, then poke it in several spots with a knife to let the smoke out.
Cooking Brazilian Barbecue will typically use medium-high heat, so for a pellet grill, preheat it to the highest temperature your grill will go (450~500F is typical) for at least 20 minutes to make sure your grids are good and hot.
Well, this couldn’t be more simple! Salt! And plenty of it.
Brazilians typically only use coarse salt like large grain kosher salt on their barbecue meats – they salt the meats about 10 minutes before putting them on the grill. Some Brazilians will also say a good grind of freshly-ground pepper too, but our friend insisted that authentic Brazilian Barbecue is only seasoned with salt.
The kicker ingredient at Brazilian Barbecues (and in a lot of Brazilian food) is farofa. Farofa is a granular powdered condiment, the consistency of coarse corn meal, and it is made from toasted yucca (also known as cassava) root with additional seasonings like salt, pepper, cayenne, and other flavors in it. It is served as a table condiment and the Brazilians like to dip their meats in it or sprinkle it over their meats on the plate.
Again, as noted, a Brazilian Barbecue is an event – it is a gathering of friends and family around a table, where you sit, eat, drink, tell stories and laugh for hours.
The meats are cooked one at a time in a quantity where each person gets a few bites. The “parade” of barbecue meats often starts with sausages – a few are cooked on the grill until cooked through and nicely browned, then sliced into coins and passed among the guests. The guests often eat this first course with some cheeses and other appetizers, and of course, the sausage pieces are dipped in the Farofa.
From there, it is, however you’d like to pace your meal. Our host started with picanha, in a small quantity so we each got only a couple of small slices, then after a bit of time (and more beer, wine, and Caprahina), out came a fat pork chop that was sliced up.
After that was a Maminha roast that had been slow-cooked over the coals (with Griller’s Gold hickory pellets tossed on the fire) and sliced thin, then more sausage, more picanha, more pork, and … more and more.
Again, each cut came out after an enjoyable pause and wasn’t served in huge quantities. You do eat a lot though! But over a long time.
Our hosts served a delicious Brazilian Flan for dessert, along with a plate of fresh fruit, a delicious cognac, and espresso.
Wrapping it up:
While a Brazilian Barbecue is a long evening of eating and drinking featuring copious quantities of meats, it is really about taking the time to truly share an enjoyable time with family and friends. The concept can be of course extended beyond Brazilian-style food – it is truly a “grazing” meal. Give it a try! Until next time … Grill On!