The basics of cooking Brazilian Churrasco are pretty simple.
Select the meat you want to cook and season it, then add some kind of heat source and cook until you reach your desired doneness. Choose whether or not you like to use a grilling surface like traditional American grills or you can use Brazilian Skewers as your vehicle for cooking.
As a Brazilian Grill Master, I LOVE using my skewers whenever possible. There is just something special about the visceral experience that comes with handling the Brazilian Skewers (Brazilian Espetos)
That all being said, I’d like to share my with you my 10 tips for making the perfect Brazilian Churrasco with Brazilian Skewers. Having a Brazilian Churrasqueira may be difficult to come by, but, if you find yourself lacking one, you can click through here to check out an entry-level Churrasqueira
As with diving deeper into any technique or skill, it takes a bit of time and practice to master. This guide will give you a head start to making the best Brazilian Churrasco from home. Even if an aspect of your churrasco doesn’t land exactly the way you want, just remember the principle of try, try, again.
Tip 1: Select A Churrasco Beef With Lots of Marbling
The beef grading system relies on several different factors including, animal age, meat color, texture, and marbling. Based on these factors the inspector can grade the meat into 8 different classifications. US Canner, Cutter, and Utility, US Commercial, US Standard, US Select, US Choice, and US Prime.
To make Churrasco, it will be very uncommon that you will need to make any decisions in the Canner through Commercial categories. These options can be used and are probably more economical but your churrasco quality will suffer. However, Standard, Choice, and Prime are pretty common selection at any butcher shop or meat section of a grocery store.
US Select is a lower commercial grade qualification for meat. It is usually a much leaner cut and lacks juiciness and marbling.
US Choice is a high-quality grading that is amongst the most popular in general meat distribution. The major differentiating factor between this quality of cut and Prime is the fat content and marbling.
US Prime is the highest grade, superior in intramuscular fat and marbling. The nature of this classification makes it much more rare of a cut but very desirable.
When picking the cuts you’d like to use for Churrasco be sure to select only cuts that have lots of marbling. Cuts like picanha you’ll want to keep the fat cap intact even if you have to cut it down to ¼-½ inch.
The higher-grade the meat the more expensive it is going to be. Due to the nature of cuts like Picanha they are naturally more tender and juicy than other muscles so even if you go with a lower grade, there is a pretty good chance the Picanha Sirloin Cap will still be juicy and tender.
I prefer to use Picanha that comes from Choice or Prime, but it might be good to try out which is best for you.
Tip 2: Use Traditional Cuts Like Picanha Whenever Possible
One of the most popular and coveted cuts of beef you’ll find in and Churrasqueria is Picanha. It is best identified by its Triangular Shape and included a fat cap. In many places in the world, it is known as the top sirloin cap or coulette.
It is pretty uncommon to find this cut ready-made in any US-based butcher or meat processor. I had to work with my local butcher for a bit to get the cut exactly how I like it when I was living in Louisville Ky. Once I moved back to American Fork Ut I found a butcher that was super proficient in isolating this cut and making it to the traditional specifications.
If you are unsure how to ask your butcher for this cut many times you can get this cut by asking your local butcher/meat cutter for the Top Sirloin Cap with the fat included on the top.
There are several muscles in the Top Sirloin Roast, the one you’re looking for is the cap muscle. The fat cap is important in the cooking process because as it renders, it will help liquefy the salt and season the meat. During the cooking process, the meat juices become excited are start moving internally, these salty juices make their way inside and perfectly season the meat.
Tip 3: Use A Good Quality Charcoal
This may seem like a given.
However, I have personally found there is a significant difference between using gas and charcoal.
There has been a great deal of debate regarding whether it is better to use gas or charcoal for grilling. Many of those in the gas camp believe there is no discernible difference or they prefer the convenience of gas over that of charcoal. These are valid reasons to stick with gas if you prefer, but I would personally pick charcoal any day.
The process of how charcoal changes the flavor profile is super interesting.
The charcoal starts as just a heat source. There may be some flavor exchange on the wood itself but it is minimal at best.
Once the flame is gone and the gray is covering the coals the grill is primed and ready to cook.
By introducing the meat to the heat, the fat will begin to render and start dripping onto the coals. This will create a bit of smoke and that smoke will now take on the flavor of the drippings and will rise back up to the meat. It’s like a symphonic exchange of sights, sounds, and flavors.
The heat makes drippings. The drippings fall and turn to smoke, the smoke rises back up and adds a bit more flavor to the meat.
This isn’t enough smoke to create a bark, like placing the meat into a real smoker. However, it is just enough to change the flavor of the meat to a nice light smokey flavor.
This is the major flavor difference I found between the two and this is exactly what you want when you are making Churrasco.
Not all charcoals are the same.
I highly suggest staying away from off-brand charcoal briquettes completely. I’ve tried them over and over again and I’ve found they are harder to get started and don’t last nearly as long.
Kingsford is my favorite to use in preformed briquettes, but of all charcoal, you can buy, my recommendation is lump charcoal. It isn’t so processed, and it seems to me like it burns hotter. I don’t know if it’s scientifically true but It seems like it.
The hotter it burns the better the sear and the more lively the dance between flavor and smoke and ultimately creates a better experience.
Tip 4: Offer A Variety of Meats at Your Churrasco
Although Picanha is the undisputed champion as a Churrasco Meat in Brazil, cooking in the churrasco style enhances the flavor of many different types of meat. Be sure to explore other meats like chicken and pork.
It’s traditional to use only Sal Grosso or thick salt on the red meats but when it comes to Chicken and Pork you can use whatever seasonings, rubs, and marinades you’d like.
For instance one of my favorite chicken meats are the thighs. The dark meat is fantastic for grilling and you can use just about any rub or marinade you enjoy.
I ‘ve never been a fan of using BBQ sauce after the cooking process. I don’t like masking the flavors of the meat like the sauce does. But a nice flavor-enhancing rub makes for great Brazilian bbq.
Tip 5: Salt Is Traditional But Not Your Only Option
Red meat has a natural and full flavor on its own and generally only needs a little enhancement. Salt is the customary seasoning of choice at any Churrasco. The type of salt is important. It is customary to use a salt called Sal Grosso or Thick Salt.
Important note: Whenever possible don’t use regular fine table salt. When using Sal Grosso the useful salt becomes part of the process and the excess tends to fall into the flames.
Don’t rub the salt into the grains of the meat. Use the salt liberally and cover the outside of the meat but don’t push it in. This will give the fat a chance to render and start the liquefication process. The salted drippings will circulate on the outside of the meat and any excess will drip into the flames.
If you find that after the fat has turned a beautiful golden brown and you’re ready to start serving the meat that there are still thick crystals remaining then it’s okay to use your knife to tap the outside of the meat and shake the salt off.
However, it’s customary to use an optional Chimichurri sauce as well for the red meat. You can make Chimichurri sauce, separate half to serve with the meat then use the other half to marinate the meat.
Whenever I make other meats I like to use some rubs and other marinades. For instance, when I make my town famous chicken thighs I make a rub that contains Salt, Pepper, Garlic, Paprika, and Ground Bay Leaves. I keep the quantities close to the chest but you get the idea.
Just pick your favorite rubs or marinades and go to town. Often you’ll want to marinate the meats overnight to maximize the flavor.
Tip 6: Never Let The Flames Touch The Churrasco Meat
The ideal time to start grilling the meat is when the charcoal is mostly grey and the flames have ceased. There is a high probability that once the fat starts to drip it may trigger flames to start back up, this is okay but please be sure to keep the meat from touching the flame.
At the beginning of my Churrasco career, I would allow the flames to touch the meat and many times a little more that I would like to admit. Many of my patrons would just simply be happy to have BBQ at all, but I found that the meat I would allow to touch the flames often was accompanied by a predominate bitter flavor. This used to be a quality that I enjoyed when I was young but I found that this was a mistake that I was making over and over again.
There is nothing wrong with having a sear and a crust on the meat but if you want to maintain it’s pure flavor then make sure the meat doesn’t touch the flame.
A great way of making sure this happens is keeping the meat a minimum of 12 inches from the heat source.
Tip 7: Recognize the different heating zones
You may have noticed that there are different “Shelves” to a Brazilian Churasqueira. These are different heat zones that serve different purposes. The zone closest to the heat box I like to call my searing zone. Anything in this zone needs to be carefully monitored. Like we discussed before because this is closest to the flames it is also the most likely to be flame-licked and ultimately charred or burned.
I like to start any cut that I’m cooking in the churrasco style on the bottom level. This gives the meat the quick sear and this gives it the beautiful golden color I’ve come to associate with great Churrasco. Once I have an early sear I move the meat up to the second level.
The second level is a good 10-12 inches above the sear zone. I consider this my Indirect heating zone. So similar to setting up a traditional grill and placing the coals to one side you have a sear zone and an indirect heat zone. The Indirect heat zone can be a good 75-150 degrees less than the searing zone depending on how hot you get your coals.
On my traditional grill, I always start my Chicken Breast on the direct heat until I get that beautiful golden sear. Then I move the chicken over to the indirect heat with the lid on simulating the same tyle of cooking as if the chicken was in the over.
The Churrasqueira works the same way except there is no lid. Placing the Skewers into the sear zone will give you the nice sear, moving them up will bake the meat as if you are cooking with indirect heat.
My own personal Churrasqueira has a third level that I use as a warming zone. When I’m only looking to keep the eat warm and minimal cooking I move it to the top level.
Tip 8: Serve Churrasco Beef In Layers
At a traditional Churrasco, it is customary to get a good solid sear on the outside of your Picanha and then place it in the indirect heat zone to allow the meat to cook a little deeper, but this doesn’t mean you will need to keep it on there till it is fully cooked to serve.
At a traditional churrasco, you can serve the outermost layer to the patron’s liking and then repeat the cooking process as you go along. So, for instance, you may:
Salt the Picanha and place in the sear zone.
After getting a decent sear, move the meat up to the indirect heat zone for a while to complete that golden brown look on the outside.
Take the Picanha to the table to serve it to your guests slicing the outermost layer. This will be the most cooked cut from that serving, As you cut more layers off, it will go to medium, medium rare and ultimately rare. This depends on how long you keep it in the indirect heating zone.
Once you’ve served as much as you can to the guest’s liking come back to the Churrasqueira and re-salt the beef. Then repeat the process. Place the meat in the sear zone then move to the Indirect heat zone, Slice to serve and repeat.
Tip 9: Keep The Churrasco Meat Rotating
Not all grills for churrasco come equipped with a rotisserie to keep the meat in motion. This is fine provided the cook keeps flipping the meat on the skewers. 1-2 minutes per side until you get the desired doneness.
If you have a rotisserie, the process remains the same, it only makes the cooking process a little easier. Place your meat for Churrasco on the sear level and let them rotate. The fat will render and start liquefying the salt. Those juices will fully cover and season the meat.
Remove the meat from the bottom layer to the middle (indirect heat) layer. This will help cook the inside a bit before serving. Once the meat has cooked in a bit, you can take it to the table and serve your guests. Slicing out the furthermost layer for those who like their meat more well done and continuing inward getting rarer.
Then take the meat and re-salt it. Then start the process over again till the meat can be fully served from the skewer.
Whether you have a rotisserie or not, the secret here is to keep the meat moving.
Tip 10: Rest Your Large Cuts of Meat
When your large cut of meat is cooked to the desired texture and look, you should move it to the coolest part of the grill and keep it there to stay warm. The internal juices move around during the cooking process and need time to rest. The resting period slows the juices down and will not run onto the plate once cut.
This process is called resting. It is better to rest the meat before serving because as soon as you cut the meat, the internal juices will start flowing, but instead of staying inside the sear, it will start draining out of the meat. This makes the process later more crucial as if you’re not careful the meat will end up drier.
This tip isn’t only for Churrasco, it is true for any cuts of meat you cook using any method of cooking.
These are my tips regarding the 10 things you can do to make the perfect Brazilian Churrasco. There are more tips I would like to share regarding Side but we’ll save this post for another time.