By Martin Kocandrle, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – North of the equator barbecuing tends to be regulated to the warmer months, but in Brazil it is possible to enjoy a barbecue or “churrasco” twelve months a year. With this full time attention, Brazilian’s have created a churrasco style of barbecuing that it borders on artisanship.
Brazilian churrasco originated in the south of the country around Rio Grande do Sul, with cowboys or “gauchos”. As one of the first South American countries to begin raising cattle, the culture of churrasco has been around as long cattle rustling. Originally gauchos would dig fire pits and lay skewered meat cuts across the fire.
These pits have slowly evolved to find their way into people’s backyards in the form of open brick retainers. Churrasco refers to a specific way of cooking the meat. It can be placed on a grill, but traditional churrasco involves skewering the specific cut of meat and placing it over a coal fire.
The cuts of meat are often adorned and embellished, such as chicken or turkey breast wrapped in bacon along with pork tenderloin, steak and chicken thighs. If you are adventurous you can try the coração de frango (chicken heart), which looks like barbecued mussels, but is actually quite tender.
The spices used for churrasco are quite simple, so the flavor of the meat is not lost in a mélange of barbecue sauce and preservatives. The typical churrasco spice is a mixture of sea salt, garlic and lime applied to a certain cut and left to marinate overnight. Some red meats are spiced solely with sea salt rubbed into the sides, after cooking and mixing with the natural juices inside.
Once this savory style of cooking was discovered it did not take long for it to be transferred into restaurants, and in Rio there is no shortage of “churrascarias”. It is common to visit a churrascaria and be offered the option of a flat rate “rodizio” which is essentially an all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue meat extravaganza.
At a churrascaria rodizio, waiters approach with sizzling skewers until they are waved off in submission. Many churrascarias also offer salad and sushi bars, which range in grandeur commensurate with the price.
However churrascos are not only limited to restaurants, they are a common social event throughout Rio de Janeiro. Families and friends typically have a churrasco on weekends and are frequently seen taking place on the street during a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
On holidays, neighborhood churrascos pop up all over the city, creating a festive and buoyant mood. With such a delicious composition it is no surprise that churrasco has made its way from the fields of the gaucho’s to restaurants and the homes of people throughout Brazil.