Ranch–style grilling is traditional to the Argentinian countryside, whose grasslands of free–roaming cattle are famous for some of the best–tasting beef in the world. With a few modifications, you can create an asado Argentino grill party in your own backyard. The main difference is cooking over a wood fire instead of a charcoal fire — a fun challenge for weekend grillers. We recruited an expert butcher from Avedano's Holly Park Market in San Francisco (www.avedanos.com) to give us tips on the most popular cuts of beef for Argentine–style grilling. We also offer recipes for simple, authentic salsas to serve with them, and show you how to set up a festive, ranch–style outdoor table. Get inspired by the Argentinian country lifestyle where grilling beef is a way of life — and reinvigorate the American barbecue with fresh recipes, new energy and international flair.
Grass–fed beef is king in Argentina, so make sure to have plenty of it on hand, ideally from a knowledgeable butcher. Chris Arentz of Avedano's Holly Park Market gives five popular Argentinian beef cuts: top sirloin cap, flank steak, skirt steak, short ribs and sweetbreads, (see Recipes for cooking tips). Arentz explains that, in general, Argentinian grilling favors a longer grilling time over a lower temperature, as opposed to the faster American style. That may be because grass–fed beef is leaner with less intermuscular fat, making it cook faster. Grass–fed beef also needs to be salted 1–2 hours beforehand, unlike American beef which can be salted just before cooking.
As the beef is being prepared, the grill master can ready his grill. True fans of asado Argentino can research specialty Argentinian grills online at www.norcalovenworks.com. Authentic ones are massive enough to cook whole sides of meat, have adjustable heights for temperature control and sloped cooking surfaces to drain fat. Or you can simply fit an adjustable cast–iron grill on a standing bracket, the kind that's used for campfires, into a standard charcoal grill. Since smokiness is a defining characteristic, charcoal or wood fuel is a must. Avoid anything that might interfere with the fine, pure taste of grilled meat, such as propane or lighter fuel, grease fires, even overseasoning.
We keep the setup simple with a large outdoor table layered casually with multi–colored napkins and patterned dishware, with a big, bright dahlia set into the curled napkin of each guest's bowl. Candlelight emanates from an overhead chandelier. Meat comes straight from the grill on grand platters and fruit–filled sangria is self–served from glass dispensers into hearty glasses. In this relaxed atmosphere, guests can participate in grilling and then help themselves to the meats of their labor.