Get in the mood to celebrate the 2016 Rio Olympics by eating Brazilian-style barbecue, otherwise known as
The special grilling method involves a variety of meats cooked over a churrasqueira, or barbecue grill. Hearty chunks of top sirloin, filet mignon, and other cuts of meat are stacked on metal skewers and roasted by the embers of a charcoal or wooden flame.
Churrasco originated in the southern region of Brazil in the 1800s, originally the cuisine of gauchos — South American cowboys. Today, it is a way of life, and deeply ingrained in Brazilian culture.
Originating on small farms in Southern Brazil, churrasco was developed by Brazilian cowboys.
These men were famous for their generosity and hospitality, and brought their communities together on special occasions by cooking a giant meal of churrasco.
While the men would butcher, skewer, and season large cuts of meat, the women and children would prepare side dishes made from their gardens’ bounty.
The essence of churrasco-style grilling is to showcase the flavour of the meat as it is. This is why Brazilian gauchos purposely found ways to roast meat without smoking it, as this alters its natural taste.
The most common method of making churrasco is to slowly roast skewers of meat over an open-flamed charcoal bed, until the outer layers form a well-crusted sear. Once the outer layer is fully cooked, the gauchos would carry the skewers around to serve their family and friends.
To this day, churrasco is most commonly served by cutting meat directly off skewers table side, and in an all-you-can-eat fashion.
Brazilian steakhouses serving churrasco in this manner are called Rodízio-style churrascarias. Popularised when churrasco made its way to major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, they soon hit
After diners pay an apreço fixo, or fixed price, waiters will continually come around the table with large skewers of various meats, cutting off chunks with massive knives.
churrascarias have colour cards that indicate whether a customer is ready to be served. Flipped green, the customer wants more meat; flipped red, they’re stuffed.
Meats are generally seasoned with only a generous helping of salt before being grilled. Originally, churrasco was only beef: this meat was something the gauchos came across in spades.
Today, while still primarily red meat, churrasco incorporates fish and poultry. Generally, the most important thing is that the meat be high quality, and intensely marbled if red meat, as fat plays a basting role in the slow roasting process.
In modern churrascarias, steakhouses will offer a wide range of options, however, Brazilians typically will gravitate towards the traditional cuts of beef. The most popular cuts are:
- Picanha: The most prized cut in all churrascarias, Picanha is top sirloin that is folded into a signature C-shape, grilled with a garlic or sea salt crust.
- Fraldinha: Served long and flat, this bottom sirloin has strong marbling and is cut against the grain to maximise tenderness.
- Filet mignon: The most delicate and tender section of beef, filet mignon is either grilled plain, wrapped in bacon, or crusted in Parmesan.
- Chuleta: Whole cuts of ribeye steak that are skewered and grilled.
Brazil’s national cocktail is the caipirinha, made with the country’s distilled alcohol
cachaça, sugar and lime. The acidity pairs well with the fatty and rich cuts of meat.
Another acidic addition to churrasco is a vinaigrette sauce called molho campanha. The condiment is usually made with water, red and green peppers, onions, and tomato. A tiny amount sprinkled on top the beef is supposed to enhance its flavour.
Depending on personal taste, diners will also sprinkle on farofa, a crunchy, toasted yuca flour, onto the meat for an additional Brazilian flair.
Rice and beans, fried plantains, pão de queijo (cheese bread), and fried polenta are just some of the many traditional small plates that accompany churrasco.
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