Okay, so you’ve decided to start making Brazilian Churrasco from home or you are a Brazilian Churrasco Master looking to expand your repertoire of culinary creations! And either way, Good for you! Diving into the world of Brazilian BBQ is so much easier than people think.
If you’re just beginning your journey into the world of homemade Churrasco using Brazilian Espetos (skewers), there are a few things you’re going to need to get started.
First, you will need to get some Brazilian Skewers. Not all skewers are created equal and to know which skewer will be right for you, it’s first important to know what is your cooking tool. Have you started grilling in a brick Churrasqeuira or have you cut a barrel in half? Do you have a professional Churrasqueira, or are you simply modifying your Weber Grill?
No matter what you choose as your cooking source, your skewers will be selected based on the size and shape of your cook box, and the weight of the meat you are picking.
I have a favorite brand and size of Skewer that I use in most Churrasco situations and you can find my personal reviews of those products here on the Tools For Churrasco page. You can read my exact comments and thoughts on these skewers and you can check the current price.
Anyway once you’ve selected your Churraquiera and your Brazilian Espetos, you are ready to explore my 13 must-try Churrasco Meats!
How to Cook Churrasco de Picanha (Pea-CON-ya) Top Sirloin
In matters of Brazilian Churrasco, picanha is the undisputed champion and the most desirable Brazilian cut of meat. It is almost unheard of to have any kind of Brazilian Barbecue without Picanha being on the menu. It is tender, juicy, and has one of the richest beef flavors outside of Ribeye.
Some of the characteristics of a great picanha include its triangle shape, the quarter-inch to half-inch fat layer on the top, and it’s distinctive marbling. If the fat cap is much more than this, it is important to trim it down. This fat layer is crucial for intermingling with the salt seasoning, but we’ll cover that in a moment.
Take the Picanha and cut it into three strips. There has been somewhat of a debate if you should cut the meat across the grain, or along the grain. I tend to cut the picanha along the grain into three parts. You can at this time trim them to be more rectangular, but it is not required. Then use the trimmed picanha for something else like Bacon Wrapped Picanha or Garlic Picanha.
Once you have the pieces cut, starting with the largest of the picanha, fold it in half in preparation of skewering it into its signature “C” shape. Staying near the middle of the Meat pierce the fat and push through till the Brazilian skewer reaches the other side.
Word of caution. Take care not to catch your hand in this process. This is a real possibility. The skewer is perfect for going through meat, and your hand is made of meat. Please be careful.
Repeat this process with the other two pieces of Picanha remembering to center your skewer the best you can. This will make handling the meat on the skewer so much easier when cooking in the Churrasqeuira.
Now you have the picanha on your skewers, Be sure to get some Sal Grosso (Thick Salt) and apply liberally to all sides of the picanha yes even the fat layer, no matter what others may say. You can find Sal Grosso here on Amazon, but if you’re not sure if you want to be that authentic, the next best readily available salt would be Kosher Salt.
Put it over your Churrasqueira or general fire source and make sure it’s no less than 10 inches from the heat. When I’m not using a rotisserie-style Churrasquiera I like to cook about 1 minute per side. The heat begins to absorb into the meat then when you flip the meat, it starts cooking on the bottom side while continuing to internalize the heat on the top side. By flipping every minute you cook effectively from both sides.
The fat layer begins to render and begins liquefying the salt. As the salty juices flow around the picanha it seasons the meat to perfection. This along with the natural beef flavor is all you need to make the perfect Picanha.
Once the fat turns brown slice thin layers off the outside of the meat till you get back down to the raw layer. Re-salt the meat, and start the cooking process again.
Alcatra (Al-KAH-tra) Center Sirloin Roast
Directly underneath the Picanha in the sirloin roast is the cut of beef called Alcatra. Alcatra runs the length of the sirloin roast, and the flavor is up there with Ribeye and Picanha. The internal marbling is outstanding and will render nicely ad you cook.
Similar to other beef processes the only seasoning you need is a good thick salt. Whether you choose to go with Sal Grosso or Kosher is up to you. A great way to add a little bit more flavor into this cut is to put whole garlic teeth into the meat.
Lay the Alcatra on the cutting board and take a large Brazilian Skewer and push it longways through the Beef cut, staying as close to the middle as you can. It’s crucial to use the large Brazilian Skewers for this as the middle and small may not have the strength to hold the weight of the alcatra.
Once the Alcatra is centered, secured and lying on its side, take a small knife (about the width of your index finger) and enter the tip directly into the top left side and cut an X into the meat. Do this to the center-right as well, and the bottom left. After you make these X looking cuts, insert peeled garlic cloves into the meat.
Now take your alcatra and put oil on the outside of the meat. Unlike Picnaha that has an outer fat layer that helps liquefy the salt, Alcatra’s fat mostly comes from its internal marbling. So whatever oil you prefer will work best. You can use a general canola or vegetable oil, but I like to use flavorless Coconut oil.
Put the Alcatra meat onto the grill at least 10 inches from the coals and turn frequently. Keep the meat to a middle temp area of the Churrasqueira and allow time for the internal marbling to render properly.
In true Churrasco style allow the outside to cook and get a beautiful sear then slice the alcatra thinly incorporating the garlic into the slices. The applied heat will remove the bite from the garlic but between the salt, garlic, and its natural beef flavor, Alcatra is a fan favorite at any Churrasco.
Carne de Alho (Car-ne Dje ahl-yo) Garlic Sirloin
Picanha comes from the top sirloin cap and just below is a center cut called Alcatra. If you’re not cooking the alcatra whole on a Brazilian skewer then you can use it to create Carne de Alho.
You don’t need to use an isolated center cut to make Garlic sirloin you can use top sirloin roast cut in the traditional American Style as well. When I go to my butcher in town, I ask them to separate the Picanha from the top sirloin, then I have then cut the rest of the roast into 1.5-inch steaks.
From there I cut the steaks into 1.5-inch cubes. The size doesn’t matter exactly, Just remember the smaller they are, the easier it is for them to cook quickly and if you’re not careful while watching your Churrasco it may burn.
When I’m in a pinch I add kosher or flake salt and garlic powder. But if you have the time it’s worth it to make a quick marinade.
Garlic Sirloin Marinade
- 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
- 1 head of pressed garlic (peel and crush)
- 1 squeezed lime (optional)
Put all of the ingredients into a ziptop bag and then add the sirloin cubes. Make sure the marinade is covering all of the cubes. Then squeeze out as much air from the bag as you can then close the top. Store the whole bag in a medium bowl for 2-4 hours. More if you like. (but I’m impatient)
Once the marinade is finished working it’s magic take out the sirloin and start skewering it onto small or medium skewers. Fill the skewer to 80% capacity and apply it to the Churrasqueira. Keep cooking the meat till it’s to your liking but I always suggest a medium-rare to medium most of my clients prefer the texture and flavor that comes from this doneness.
Medalhão com Bacon – (medal-yaow-n Kome Bay-con) Bacon Wrapped Center-Cut Sirloin
Use the same cuts of sirloin as we discussed in the previous section. You can use the center-cut sirloin, or any top sirloin roast cut you can get from the butcher. Trim any super obvious connective tissue from the roasts and break it down in 1.5-inch cubes.
I don’t add any salt or seasoning to it at this point, because the bacon comes with its own saltiness and smokey flavor. There is a general rule in BBQ to use thick-cut bacon in everything (actually I think it was a self-imposed rule LOL). When I first started making bacon-wrapped Sirloin, I tried using thick bacon and it was miserable. The bacon burned before the sirloin was ready.
Now, I use regular cut bacon or thin bacon and it is the exact right size for seasoning. I remove the bacon from the packaging and cut the bacon in half. Wrap the half-cut bacon over the 1.5-inch sirloin pieces and set aside to be ready for skewering.
Take small to medium Brazilian skewers and start skewering the meat. I like to start where the two ends of the bacon meat to ensure one end of the bacon doesn’t come undone during cooking.
Place directly over the coals and start a good sear on the bacon. The fat that renders from the bacon will drum up some flames to just be aware of your heat control.
Once you have a good sear move it up to the next heat level to give the sirloin time to cook. You’re looking to get a nice Medium rare. Once ready serve using the back of your knife to slide the meat from the Skewer to the plate.
Peru com Bacon(Peh-ROO Kome Bay-con) Turkey wrapped in Bacon
Bacon-Wrapped Turkey is a staple at Brazilian Churrascarias throughout the United States. The lean nature of turkey breast makes it perfect to pair with bacon. The bacon provides a steady fat layer that adds to the flavor and seasoning of the turkey breast.
You can add more salt if you’d like. Some people do. I enjoy having the bacon season the turkey breast. No matter your preference of seasoning the preparation procedure is very similar to the bacon-wrapped sirloin.
Take the raw Turkey breast and break those down into inch cubes. Take the thin slices bacon and cut the stack in half. Wrap each of the turkey pieces with the half strip of bacon and push the skewer through the turkey, making sure each end of the bacon is skewered as well so it doesn’t become loose during the cooking process.
Unlike Sirloin however you want to make sure you’re cooking the turkey till the internal temperature reaches about 165 internal degrees.
If you’d like the extra flavor you can introduce salt, pepper, maple syrup, and sometimes I like to add a little red pepper flake.
Coxa de Frango (ko-sha dje Fran-go) BBQ Chicken Thigh
One of my personal favorites in the poultry category is Coxa de Frango. I always buy the type of chicken thigh that includes the skin and thigh bone. When cooked properly the skin takes on a golden brown appearance and crispy texture.
Before skewering the Chicken Thigh I lay out each one and cut off any excess skin. Most prepackaged chicken that comes from the supermarket will tuck this extra skin under for a pleasing presentation. Now I lay it flat and trim the edges of the skin to just beyond where the meat ends.
I never used to cut it off but I found that as the extra skin hangs below the skewer close to the fire it and it burns, so it’s better just to get rid of it before starting.
Get a large bowl and add the trimmed thighs. Use your favorite rub and mix the thighs till they are evenly coated on all sides. You can choose to skewer and cook right away or let them sit in the rub for extra flavor.
When the coals are ready, you can take the medium to large skewers and fold the chicken thigh in half using the internal bone as the pivot point. Then skewer the thigh with the metal as close to the center as possible. Many times my skewer often will touch the bone as it passes through, on the side where the two ends of the thigh touch.
Place the thighs in the highest heat level till you start seeing the skin turn a light golden brown, then move them up a level with lower heat while the insides bake to perfection.
I will check the internal temperature to make sure it reaches the recommended 165 degrees then I will serve directly to a diner’s plate. This provides a lot of meat for one person to eat so sometimes I will slice the cooked chicken thigh down the center along the length of the bone and remove it from the thigh. This leaves two pieces prepared from the same thigh.
Coração de Frango (Cor-ah-Sow-N dje Frahn-go) BBQ Chicken Hearts
Chicken hearts are a wonderful addition to any BBQ. Not very popular here in the United States, Chicken hearts are very common in Brazil. I remember one time going to a pizza place and ordering Chicken heart pizza. It was delicious.
Preparing Churrasco Chicken Hearts is relatively simple. You can use a small width Brazilian Espeto to skewer the chicken hearts and apply directly to the flames. Keep an eye on them as they may tend to burn, being a lump of small meat by nature.
On their own they are a little bland but if you squeeze a little lime juice on them before serving changes the dynamics of the flavor.
Marinading the hearts are a wonderful way to introduce an acid to the meat before cooking. Take 2-3 garlic cloves and crush them with salt till it makes a paste. Squeeze the lime juice into the paste and add a little olive oil to even out the acid. Marinade the hearts for an hour or two before cooking.
Legumes (Lay-goom-es) Grilled Vegetables
Brazilian Grilled Vegetables aren’t so specific that there is a set group of vegetables used. In this case, it’s more important to select the veggies you want to eat, then apply the churrasco technique.
I like to use veggies like Zucchini, Regular or pearl onions, Cherry tomatoes, Cauliflower, Red and Green Peppers, Whole mushrooms, and Corn on the cob.
Slice the zucchini into 3/4 inch slices, peel the pearl onions or slice the onions into square inch triangles, use cherry or grape tomatoes, Cube the cauliflower, Cut the Peppers into inch triangles or squares, leave the mushrooms whole, and slice the corn on the cob into one-inch sections.
Place all of the veggies carefully into a ziptop bag and 1 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup of Olive oil, salt, and pepper. Leave to marinate for an hour or so.
Then carefully skewer the vegetables on to a small width skewer. And place over the coals. I like to keep mine on a medium heat turning frequently till they begin to soften. Then right before serving, I will place it in the high sear area of the grill to get slightly charred.
Abacaxi (Ah-bah-kuh-SHEE) Brazilian Grilled Pineapple
Brazilian Grilled pineapple is a must at any Brazilian Churrasco. Aside from bringing a sweet end to a Churrasco experience, pineapple contains a digestive enzyme called bromelain which is known for assisting the digestion and breakdown of protein.
Cut the top and the bottom off the pineapple and trim the sides off as well. Then turn the pineapple sideways and slice it into three equal parts.
It’s at this point that I take the pieces put them into a ziptop bag and about a 1/2 cup of Brown sugar. You can use light or dark, but my personal preference is dark. Both work great as the purpose of the sugar is to help cut past the acidic nature of pineapple.
I enjoy the caramelization of the pineapple after it’s been set on the coals for a while.
Keep the pineapple on the middle heat setting but remember to turn it frequently. Once the pineapple hast a nice brown caramelization on the outside, it is done. The longer you can keep it on the coals the better. As the heat penetrates the pineapple, it becomes more tender.
This delicious treat can be served at any point during the meal, but I enjoy serving it last, almost like a Brazilian Churrasco Dessert. You can check out this post that goes into greater detail about Brazilian Grilled Pineapple.
Any one of these recipes will provide you with the tools you need for a successful Churrasco experience. True mastery comes from practice and persistence. I hope you enjoy your Churrasco Journey!