Everyone that has come to Brazil knows how delicious Brazilian food is. Few things are as satisfying as a big plate of rice, beans and farofa complete with a large steak. Among a wide array of dishes and foods, the gaucho-style barbecue known locally as “churrasco” stands out as a reference when it comes to meat.
The gauchos are the inhabitants of grasslands known as pampas, which are found mostly in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil. They are known for being excellent horsemen, and they are often hired to herd cattle through the year. Playing a role akin to cowboys in the United States, the gauchos have become a folk symbol in Argentina and Uruguay. In Brazil, the gauchos are concentrated in the south of the country. Nevertheless, their legendary way of making meat has spread like wildfire through Brazil, becoming a staple of the national cuisine.
In Brazil, the gaucho barbecue emerged in the 17th century in communities catholicized by Jesuit monks. The meat would be spiced with coarse salt and fat before being placed in the ground with stakes around a fire. Over a period of several hours, the meat was roasted by the embers. This process that enhances the taste and texture of the meat, quickly became a staple in the state of Santa Catarina, in the South of Brazil.
In the beginning, the meat of choice for the gaucho barbecue was the rib, which acquired a texture that makes it so tender that it almost dissolves in your mouth as you eat it. As the method gained popularity and spread to other regions as well, people started experimenting with different cuts of meat, condiments and ingredients to enhance the process. A cut that has become widely popular for example is the picanha, a juicy cut from the rear of the steer that has generous amounts of fat. Another popular cut in Brazil is the flank steak, known locally as fraldinha. Yet, these are just a few among an incredible array of meat cuts to make any mouth water.
As the gaucho barbecue developed and became popular through the country, a new concept emerged: The “rodízio”. In a rodízio steakhouse, a costumer will pay a fixed price for an all-you-can eat buffet of gaucho barbecue. In most rodízios, costumers will be greeted with a table where they can get salad, vegetables and other side-dishes to eat with their meat. The different cuts of meat however, are served at the table in skewers by waiters. On a single rodízio, one might experience more than 10 different cuts of meat, providing one with a real tour through the flavors offered of gaucho barbecue.
The rodízio is considered the epitome of gaucho barbecue, which considered by many to be the holy grail of all barbecues. If you are a meat lover and find yourself in Brazil, you should not miss the opportunity of going to a rodízio steakhouse. Although they are usually a bit pricey, it is a remarkable experience. If you don’t live in Brazil, you can still find one in some countries such as the United States and Canada, where they are starting to become popular. Either way, one thing is guaranteed: you are in for a hell of a ride!