What are Brazilian Skewers
This is a fun question because I had this same question over 20 years ago when I attended my first Brazilian Churrascaria. I saw waiters serving meat on Brazilian Skewers, but I didn’t know what to call them so I referred to them as swords. Little did I know at the time that Brazilian skewers were going to greatly shape my future interests.
Brazilian Skewers, also known as Espetos (ih-speh-toes) Brasileiros, are tools of Brazilian Barbeque which often secure and rotate large cuts of seasoned meat over an open flame. These skewers are also used in the rodizio style serving method of meat in the round at Churrascaria restaurant.
Using Brazilian Skewers to participate in the Churrasco style of BBQ is a wildly rewarding and satisfying experience, especially when you are hosting friends and family to a meal. I’m going to share with you the knowledge of how to pick, use, and even decided where to Buy Brazilian Skewers.
In traditional Brazilian style BBQ, (Brazilian Churrasco) Large cuts of meat are prepared and slowly cooked over open coals by rotisserie and held in place by 28” long Skewers, known in Portuguese by the word Espeto.
The contemporary art of Churrasco using skewers as the cooking tool is accredited to the Brazilian cowboys called gauchos (gow-chohs) from Rio Grande Do Sul. These Cowboys would gather around in groups and dig a pit to build a large fire. Once the fire had died down into glowing embers, they would place large cuts of meat on their skewers and season them with thick salt for flavor.
Since then, skewers have changed shape and even styles depending on the needs of the user. Brazilian style skewers range from 17” to 28” inches and come in various configurations.
How to select the right skewer for your needs
Step 1: Understand your grilling firebox first
Knowing what skewers you should use to achieve that perfect churrasco style rests heavily upon what kind of grill you are going to be using.
For instance, if you have a professional-grade Churrasqueira ( Shoe-hoss-keir-ra), then you would want to select the style skewer that fits that model. If the firebox requires a 28” skewer then be sure to use that kind.
Some fireboxes come with a specific Rotisserie requiring the skewers have the sprockets welded to them. However, it is safe to assume if you have a professional grill you have the professional skewers and just need replacements.
So what about the rest of us who may not have a professional Brazilian BBQ?
In this case, my recommendation would be to measure the width of your cooking area. Most Weber Grills and half-cut barrels, for instance, measure 22.5 inches wide. This being the case the 28-inch skewers would be a good solution to use in this instance with some modification to the grill or the barrel. The extra length is in the handle. Simply remove the top grilling grate and place the meat directly over the coals.
Working with the professional-grade Brazilian Skewers might be more cumbersome than you want to deal with. Sometimes I will construct a temporary Churrazseira out of Brick and use my smaller, more manageable skewers.
Step 2: Know what kind of meat you want to grill
This may seem like a given but trust me when I say this is important to take into consideration.
Before I started in the world of Churrasco I didn’t know how to begin. I trusted that just because it says Brazilian Skewers that they would be the perfect size for what I needed them for. But when I bought my first skewers, I bought a simple and cheap flat-bladed skewer set.
This created a challenge for two reasons. First, my cooking area was much wider than my skewers would allow. This required that the handles of my skewers were super close to the heated area and that made them hard to handle without gloves. The other challenge I was facing was, I would have to keep my meat selections to Chicken, Garlic Sirloin, or even Bacon-Wrapped Sirloin. But I really wanted Picanha.
Picanha is a lump of heavier meat, often times weighing in as much as 2-4 LBS per roast depending on how you prepare it. So when I placed my sliced picanha on these 23-inch flat Skewer I discovered they had a tendency to bend and even to slip while I maneuvered them around.
Step 3: Know the Quality Grade of Brazilian Skewer.
My preference is to always use a V or a U shape skewer when grilling churrasco meats. But there are several varieties of these types of skewers as well. Some skewers come with Wooden Grips, while others are stainless steel, Some are just the skewer without any kind of handle!. Some come with a Rotisserie ring to make turning the skewers easy, while others don’t have them. Some come as double wire skewers while others come with the regular blade with two supporting wires attached.
Needless to say, there are a wide variety of skewers to choose from!
When I first started I only purchased large skewers. I immediately assumed when the shop was offering large, medium, and small skewers they meant the length. This wasn’t the case. They all measured in at 28” but the width of the skewer changed with the description. Turns out, what they were describing was the size of the piece of meat the skewer was able to support!
Every time my spouse and I would visit a Churrascaria, we would order the Churrasco chicken hearts. We loved the flavor and texture, and when you squeeze fresh lime over them just before eating they are truly divine! However, I always had the hardest time making them on my home grill with the large skewers.
The next time I was in a Churrascaria and order them, heart, I noticed for the first time they were on a skewer that had a smaller width than the Picanha! I had just discovered for the first time the different size of skewers professional Brazilian BBQ restaurants were using!
It was almost embarrassing to admit this in this blog post but I figure by sharing my journey you won’t make these same mistakes! Once I discovered small skewers, I was able to enjoy my Chicken hearts without fear they would tighten up and fall off!
How to use Brazilian Skewers
Pairing the right meat cuts to the proper size skewers truly sets the professionals from the amateurs but is a process that can be learned quickly. Below are some Traditional Churrasco Meats and the Skewer that should be paired to it.
– Preparing Garlic sirloin requires the meat to be cut into 1-2 inch squared then seasoned appropriately. Because the total weight of one skewer may only be a half-pound, I would most certainly use a V-shaped small width skewer 28” long. My Grill has a 19” cook area which is perfect for the 28” skewer. Please be careful when skewering these smaller slices that you leave enough room between your fingers to allow the skewer to pass by without catching your fingers!
– This is about the same weight requirement as the garlic sirloin but carried a little more weight due to the addition of bacon. V-shaped small width skewer 28” long would be my skewer of choice. Be careful when skewering to not catch your fingers in the process. The bacon makes the meat extra slippery.
Coxa de Frango (Co-sha-djee-Fran-go) – Chicken Thigh
I always try to fit 6-8 Thighs onto a skewer depending on the size of the chicken. Remember we’re not just looking for the skewer’s stability above the fire but we don’t want any bending to prevent the meat from sliding off the skewer into the fire. This requires a little more stability from the skewer so I would always go with V-shaped Medium or Large skewers 28” long. Take care when skewering to spare your hands.
One Picanha roast when trimmed and mounted properly may weigh as much as 3 Lbs. In this case, I need my skewer to stay strong while resting horizontally over the hot coals as well as when I maneuver it through the grill cooking area. I would only recommend using the V-shaped large 28” skewer. In rare cases, it might be appropriate to switch to the large trident skewer but this would be an extremely rare case.
In this case, I always start with the Picanha Fat side up on the cutting board. I skewer through the Fat until it hits the cutting board. I then double the meat over and push the skewer through till I make contact with the cutting board again! Then ensuring my fingers are out of the way I push the skewer through completely avoiding my fingers.
Brazilian Grilled Pineapple
This one is hard because there are two factors at play. The first is, you need a skewer that has the durability to hold a whole pineapple which could very easily weigh as much as a picanha. The other factor that needs to be taken into consideration is how ripe the pineapple is. When the pineapple is fully ripe the core has a tendency to withstand the skewering process. When the pineapple is a little under-ripe the core may split when skewering.
This isn’t a tragedy because we would simply skewer the pineapple from the side. You just simply don’t get the same visual effect and caramelizing effect if the slice breaks while skewering. I lay the top third of the pineapple on the cutting board and push the skewer through the core. Then I do the same with the middle and bottom thirds. Then with everything on the skewer, I place my hand on the bottom ensuring my fingers are out of the way and push the skewer through. If you’d like to learn more about the details regarding how to cook Brazilian Grilled Pineapple Check out this article!
Where To Buy Brazilian Skewer For BBQ?
I’m a big believer in supporting local businesses and promoting community purchases so my first suggestion would be to try and find a Specialty Brazilian store in your area who might have all of these skewers, but I recognize that Brazilian BBQ is a growing industry and simply hasn’t reached the far ends of the country in terms of local representation.
For this purpose, I recommend looking into some options on Amazon for which I have a list of my recommended products on this page here.