In the 13.5 months we’ve been in Argentina, we’ve been to a lot of asados (barbeques). They’re such a key part of Argentinian/Paraguayan culture (especially rural culture) that it would be impossible to avoid them. Every Sunday, the entire neighborhood smells strongly of burning charcoal and roasting meat.
Although we’ve previously hosted little asados just for one or two of our American guests, we hadn’t hosted our own asado yet. We decided to kick off 2015 by changing that. Here’s some helpful, handy tips for hosting your own asado, Argentinian-style.
Buy your meat first. The recommendation is essentially two pounds of meat per person, so buy a LOT. We tend to follow the Argentinian standard for what types of meat to buy:
(Yes, I know all of our photos do a lovely job of showing how cluttered our kitchen is, and how terrible we are at putting away dishes.)
Salchicha–Sausages that are often in a coil and are one of the first meats to come off the grill. Makes for a good picada (or appetizer/finger food)
Chorizo–No, Americans, it’s not what you think. These are just the fat sausage links–and they are not nearly as spicy as their counterparts in American supermarket. Most often served on a roll cut in half for choripan (a mix of chorizo and pan, or bread).
Morcilla–Blood sausage. Definitely an acquired taste–but we’ve found it’s better if you spread it on bread.
Costilla–Beef ribs. Seasoned with just a little salt.
Vacio–One of the last cuts to come off of the grill, we let this flank cut slowly roast for hours to bring out the best flavors.
Ojo de bife–the prized cut of meat. We got this as a special addition to our asado, and it got rave reviews.
Argentinians are also fond of the “sweet meats,” or things like chincurines (small intestine) and other organs. We’re not big organ eaters, so we tend to skip these.
All meats can ONLY be salted, per Argentinian standard. The addition of any other seasonings will automatically tag you as muy extranjero (very much the foreigner).
When you make your fire, buy a couple bags of carbon (charcoal) at the local supermercado. They’re incredibly cheap, and this is real charcoal–no briquettes here. T uses an electric fire starter we picked up at Easy in Buenos Aires (Argentinian Home Depot–you can find them all over town, but our preferred one is in Palermo). You can also use good, old fashioned matches, but it’s all a matter of personal preference.
The key to the fire is to get it good and hot, and then throw the meat onto the grill. However, Argentinian customs indicate no fire should ever touch the meet–completely contrary to US standard. This tends to be where one of your adept (and always male) Argentinian guests will hop up and fix your grill and fire for you.
In terms of those guests… invite however many people you feel comfortable with! Argentinians (at least where we are) are used to sharing cups, plates, and utensils, even with strangers, at parties–so no need to really have a cup, plate, and utensils for every single person. We still try to anyway because we are muy estadounidenses and clearly have germ issues that Argentinians and Paraguayans don’t care about. Grab as many chairs as you can, and drag the dining room table to your back patio, and you’re set.
The only other important thing to have is LOTS of cutting boards. The meat comes off fast and furious, and it can be difficult sometimes to find enough space for everything. In that vein, bring out a couple rolls of paper towels, and be prepared for things to get messy. We got a tablecloth to just toss in the washing machine after the party so we didn’t trash the table with all of the grease and meat juice.
Common drinks at an asado are beer (of course–buy some Quilmes or Brahma for local options, or spring for the slightly more exotic Heineken), wine (always red, and preferably an Argentinian Malbec), Coca Cola, Sprite, and Coke and Fernet. (Fernet is an digestive liquor from Italy that is heavily used in Argentina. It’s very bitter, and one of those things we just haven’t become accustomed to. However, be aware if someone randomly hands you a glass of Coke at a party, it probably has Fernet in it too.) We try to add in some bubbly water and regular water (because, again, we’re Americans).
Asados, at least in our neck of the woods, tend to start around 8 or 9pm. Typical with Argentinian and Paraguayans, if you say it starts at 8, they’ll show up at 8:30. (However, we have a group of coworkers that are very much aware of US customs, so they’ll show up on time for us… but not for anyone else.) They’ll last as long as the meat and beer hold out, and by 1am or 2am, they’re ready to go to open up the club. (Yes, the clubs down here don’t OPEN until 1am or 2am–and going to the club at 1am is like the person in the States who is sitting in the club at 8pm.)
Our first asado was deemed a rousing success. We invited all of our coworkers and their significant others and friends, and although we got a lot of help from a few friends (one of whom is a caterer, so this is his life) we think we pulled it off pretty well. We managed to make it to the 1am end time–but didn’t make it out to the club, since we were beat by then. Someday we’ll go full Argentinian and party all night until 7am like they do!
One last note–give your leftovers to the neighborhood dogs and cats. If you don’t, they’ll just rip through your garbage bags for it anyway, and they’ll love you for setting out some tasty scraps.