Asado is a term used both for a range of barbecue techniques and the social event of having or attending a barbecue in Argentina (where it is considered the national dish), Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
In these countries, asado is a traditional dish and also the standard word for “barbecue” (except in Brazil, where it is more commonly known as “churrasco”). An asado usually consists of beef alongside various other meats, which are cooked on a grill, called a parrilla, or an open fire.
In more formal events and restaurants, food is prepared by an assigned asador (barbecu-er) or parrillero (griller), the cook. In informal and relaxed settings, this is customarily done in a collective manner by volunteers.
Coal and fire
Usually the asador begins by igniting the charcoal. The charcoal is often made of native trees, avoiding pines and eucalyptus as they have strong-smelling resins. In more sophisticated asados the charcoal is of a specific tree or made on the coal of recently burned wood, which is also commonplace when having an asado in a campfire. In Uruguay, charcoal is not used, but instead direct embers or hot coals.
Cooking can be done al asador or a la parrilla. In the first case a fire is made on the ground or in a fire pit and surrounded by metal crosses (asadores) that hold the entire carcass of an animal splayed open to receive the heat from the fire. In the second case a fire is made and after the charcoal has formed, a grill with the meat is placed over it.
An asado may consist of embutidos, meats, or both. Generally in more elaborate versions the embutidos and meats are accompanied by red wine and salads.
In many asados, chorizos, morcillas (black pudding), chinchulines (cow chitterlings), mollejas (sweetbread), and other organs, often accompanied by Provoleta, would be served first while the cuts that require longer preparations are still on the grill. Sometimes these are served on a coal-heated brasero. Chorizos may be served with Marraqueta or baguette bread as Choripanes to serve as appetisers.
After appetisers, costillas or asado de tira (ribs) can be served. Next comes vacío (flank steak), matambre and possibly chicken and chivito (goatling). Dishes such as pamplona, pork, and Patagonian lamb are becoming more frequent, particularly in restaurants. An asado also includes bread, a simple mixed salad of, for instance, lettuce, tomato, and onions, or it could be accompanied with verdurajo (grilled vegetables), a mixture made of potatoes, corn, onion, and eggplant cooked on the grill and seasoned with olive oil and salt. Beer, wine, soda, and other beverages are common. Dessert is usually fresh fruit.
Another traditional form to mainly roast the meat, used in Patagonia, is with the whole animal (especially lamb and pork) in a wood stick nailed in the ground and exposed to the heat of live coals, called asado al palo.
The meat for an asado is not marinated, the only preparation being the application of salt before and/or during the cooking period. Also, the heat and distance from the coals are controlled to provide a slow cooking; it usually takes around two hours to cook asado. Further, grease from the meat is not encouraged to fall on the coals and create smoke which would adversely flavour the meat. In some asados the area directly under the meat is kept clear of coals.
The asado is usually placed in a tray to be immediately served, but it can also be placed on a brasero right on the table to keep the meat warm. Chimichurri, a sauce of chopped parsley, dried oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, onion, and paprika with olive oil, or Salsa Criolla, a sauce of tomato and onion in vinegar, are common accompaniments to an asado, where they are traditionally used on the offal, but not the steaks.
Food is often accompanied by salads, which in asado gatherings are traditionally made by women on site or brought to the asado from their homes while the men focus on the meats. Salad Olivier (ensalada rusa) is one of the most common salads served at asados.
In Chile, the local version cordero al palo (whole roast lamb) is usually accompanied with pebre, a local condiment made from pureed herbs, garlic, and hot peppers; in many ways similar to chimichurri. The dish is typical of southern Chile and is served hot accompanied by salads. A whole lamb is tied to a spit and is then roasted perpendicular on a wood fire. The preparation lasts around 5 hours since cooking must be constant and on a low heat.
This is not to be confused with asado in the Philippines, which is a dish cooked in a sweet, tomato-based stew usually accompanied by potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables. True to the “East-meets-West” nature of Philippine cuisine and culture in general, asado is also used as a filling in siopao (Chinese: 燒包; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: sio-pau), the local variant of bāozi (包子). There is also a version of asado that is of Filipino-Chinese origin: the term is used for dried, red-coloured sweetmeats that are otherwise known as char siu.
In Brazil, asado is called churrasco, although the cooking is usually faster. Grilled and salted meat in Brazil is generally called “carne asada” and is often cut into small strips and served on a plate or cutting board in the middle of the table for all to partake. Various grilled meats, pork, sausages and occasionally chicken are also passed around from table to table on a spit and a slice is offered to each person. This is called “rodizio” because each person partakes in turn. Charcoal is predominantly used instead of embers of wood, and Brazilians tend to cook the meat on skewers or grills. In some places, the meat is seasoned with salt and a bit of sugar.
In Mexico, there exists a similar tradition known as parrilladas or carne asadas, which incorporates various marinated cuts of meat, including steaks, chicken, and sausages (chorizo, longaniza, and moronga being especially popular). These are all grilled over wood charcoal. Vegetables are also placed over the grill, especially spring onions (cebollitas), nopales, and corn (elote).
Again in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, some alternatives are the asado al disco and asado al horno de barro, especially in the countryside. The recipe doesn’t change, only the way of cooking. In the asado al disco the worn-out disc of a plough is used. Being metallic and concave, three or four metallic legs are welded and with hot coal or lumber below it is easily transformed into an effective grill. Food is put in a spiral, in such a way that the fat naturally slips to the centre, preserving the meat for being fried. Chilli peppers and onions are usually put next to the edge, so that they gradually release their juices on the meat. The asado al horno de barro differs from tradition, as an horno (adobe oven) is used. These primitive ovens are a common view in Argentine estancias, and their primary function is to bake bread, but they are well suited for roasting meat. Pork suckling and, less commonly, lamb are served, as they are more unlikely to get dry. Though not technically a grill, it is a traditional way of cooking that still requires the great skills of an asador and the gathering of family and friends, which are the essence of an asado. Moreover, the smoky flavour and tenderness of these dishes are very appreciated.