Introduction: Brazilian BBQ Churrasco Beef
Rio Grande do Sul is the birthplace of the churrasco, a barbecue tradition centered on beef at its best. There are plenty of churrascarias around where I live in the US, but doing it yourself and taking your churrasco outside is immensely gratifying. You only need a few simple things:
Beef (I'll talk about picking out beef next)
Food-grade ice cream salt or extra-coarse salt
A really big skewer
Hardwood natural lump charcoal
A BBQ, firepit, or other safe, legal place to burn said charcoal.
A meat thermometer (optional, but so helpful!)
Step 1: Select the Beef
Thankfully, you don't need an expensive cut of meat for delicious churrasco. Look for some marbling of fat throughout the meat, and a nice layer of fat on one side. I also like to find cylindrical-shaped cuts, as these cook a bit quicker and more evenly than rounder cuts. You want about a half pound to a pound of meat per person.
Step 2: Salt the Beef
Ice cream salt is generally used for cooling down ice, allowing for old-fashioned ice cream making. I just learned that not all of it is actually labeled for consumption, though it's considered safe for food contact (such as chilling down a watermelon in salted water). Read all the fine print and seek out food-grade ice cream salt, or baring that, use the very coarse salt intended to refill salt grinder. Liberally press this all over the meat. These chunks will partially melt and do their magic when the meat cooks. It's essential! Use the chunkiest salt you can find!
Step 3: Beef Meets Skewer
You need a hefty skewer to hold up a huge chunk of beef -- something akin to a small sword (except without the sharp edges). My method for obtaining awesome skewers was marrying someone who had lived in Rio Grande del Sul. I've never seen skewers this big in any store in the United States, and I don't know how available they are elsewhere in the world outside of Brazil. There are internet suppliers of churrasco skewers, or you might be able to re-purpose a rotisserie skewer or other grilling equipment to this end.
Step 4: Cooking the Beef
Get some hardwood lump charcoal going. Avoid propane. Avoid chemically-bound briquettes. Really, the only flavors here are beef, salt, and smoke, so you want the smoke to be tasty, too.
The thickness of your beef will determine how far away it needs to be from the coals. You don't want the outside to be burnt while the inside is still raw. Here, you can see the park BBQ just wasn't deep enough, so we improvised and used horizontal distance to keep the beef cooking slowly enough. In the past, in fire rings, we've also used bricks and rocks to prop up skewers a little higher. If the outside is turning golden in the first ten minutes, get the beef further away.
Once you're set up, feel free to fiddle, turning the meat over regularly so it all cooks evenly. We cooked this two pound roast about eight inches away from the coals, for about forty-five minutes until medium-rare.
You can try just prodding at the meat to feel for doneness, but I like to bring a probe thermometer and check two or three of the thickest places around the roast. I've found it's much more accurate, especially when I'm hungry. You can cut into the beef to check it, but this lets juices run out and toughens the meat.
Rare is 125F, medium rare is 130F, and medium is 140F, and medium well is 150F. If you have a group with varying preferences, the ends are going to be somewhat more well-done than the center.
Step 5: Rest and Eat
Here it is -- all delicious and ready to go. If you are patient, you can wrap this in aluminum foil, cover with a towel, and allow the meat to rest for ten minutes. If you are not, slice and eat!
Another traditional part of a churrasco is whole grilled pineapple -- pineapple supposedly helps you digest all that meaty goodness. I hope to have an instructable up on that process soon.