Just a typical Argentine asado

A transplanted porteños has a few friends over for a barbecue.

– Mary Bailey –

Buenos Aires is a glorious city — great architecure, beautiful people (porteños, people of the port), hip bars and cafes. During a recent visit with friends, we enjoyed amazing steak at La Cabrera, topnotch contemporary cuisine at the Faena; chorizo, lomita, empanadas at the San Telmo market, dulce de leche and many glasses of champaña and Malbec.

What we didn’t have, however, was asado, Argentinian barbecue. We didn’t even go to a restaurant that specialized in asado. Now, I’m glad we didn’t because, as we are going to discover, asado is best practiced among friends, unless of course Frances Mallmann is cooking. More on him later.

On the flight home I met Adrian Baranchuk and his family, returning from Christmas holidays with the relatives. Adrian is an associate professor of medicine at Queen’s University and a connoisseur of asado.

We talked for several hours about what cut to use where; the preparation of offal; the proper height of the parrilla grill; why Argentinians eat their beef well done.

“Would you be interested in walking me through an asado step by step, maybe sharing some recipes?” I asked. Yes, he would. In fact, he was having a large contingent at his home for an asado following a conference he was organizing in June.

“There will be over 20 people and I will prepare a true asado,” he said.

Over the next couple of months I started to discover how seriously Argentine people take their barbecue. In Laura Catena’s book, Vino Argentino An insider’s guide to the wines and wine country of Argentina, Dr. Catena (of Catena Zapata, one of the country’s most innovative wineries) writes several pages about asado, half of which are devoted to how to set up the grill.

The asado is all about wood — hardwood — and cooking over it. There are seven ways to do this, according to Frances Mallmann, Argentina’s Joel Robuchon. Chef Mallman describes them early in his book, Seven fires, grilling the Argentine way: the parrilla (the grate that goes over the fire); the chapa (a flat piece of cast iron, or to describe any cooking done on a flat surface over a fire); the infiernillo (two fires with a cooking level in between used for large groups — the large rotating thing often seen in restaurants that specialize in grilling); the horno de barro (a wood fired oven); the caldero (a big iron pot); rescoldo (cooking in embers and coals); and the asador method (cooking a whole animal in front of, or beside a fire, generally lamb, a reminder of Basque heritage).

Clearly, firing up the Fiesta isn’t really what it’s about.

Back to the good doctor and his get-together.

“I have an open bodega — go into my cellar, pick the wine you want, we drink it, then someone else goes back for another,” Adrian says. “This isn’t an asado thing, it’s my thing. I have nice wine from all over the world and this is my chance to share it.”

“That night was mostly Malbec, I kissed them goodbye. One of the standouts was a 2003 Rutini. Someone brought a Tannat from Uruguay — it was good.“

This guy knows how to throw a party.

“First we served picada (platters of cold cuts, cheeses, hot peppers, pate, chips) for everyone to enjoy, as it was lunchtime and people were hungry.”

Adrian explains the cuts of meat that every parallada (mixed grill) must have: beef kidneys, beef sweetbreads, tira de asado (beef ribs cut across the bone, also called Miami ribs), chinchulin (tripe).

“It cannot be a parallada without chorizo and morcilla,” says Adrian.

“Then we have pork ribs, flank, then pork tenderloin, and I did a chicken because someone wanted chicken. We find here that people like their meat less well done so I cooked the flank to medium rare only. Another departure from tradition, for practical reasons I used a gas grill. My friends from Argentina said they couldn’t tell.”

How to make asado: Adrian’s directions for preparing the organ meats and the order of service

“Beef kidney: the whole piece spends the night in white vinegar with the connection facing down.

“Beef sweetbreads: the whole piece in lemon and salt the night before. Make sure you are buying salivary glands not thymus; it tastes better. Not expensive if you can find them; about two pounds for $5.

“Chinchulin: small bowel. They are crispy on the outside chewy on the inside. A parallada has to have chinchulin. You must boil in milk for about 10 minutes to soften external layer. Add salt and pepper, cool milk, drain.

“Put the whole thing on the fire or cut in 10 cm pieces. Buy from a good butcher, someone you trust, $5 for 10 pounds. Tripa gorda is what we call the large bowel. It’s not as popular or sophisticated — it has lots of fat, and becomes very chewy.

“The sweetbreads go to the barbecue first. They need an hour and a half cooking at a low temperature. Cook the piece whole, then cut into ½ cm slices, place on higher heat for a few seconds, splash with lemon and serve burning hot. Organs should be eaten hot. In restaurants they are served on mini braziers, over coals.

“Kidneys: Wash the kidneys with cold water to remove all the vinegar. Cook low and slow, they will change colour to a brown grey when done. Cut in two halves to remove all the extra tissue. Then cut in ½ cm slice and barbecue until crisp. Serve in a white wine butter and lemon juice.

“An Argentinian eater will expect chorizo and morcilla sillia (blood sausage). Cut in slices on a toasted baguette, it becomes a choripan, the national sandwich. In Canada, Maple Leaf brand is quite good, but a bit too lean.

Sweetbreads are still cooking.

“Tira de asado: until the Pig ‘n Olive (a Kingston Ont. specialty butcher) opened, I had to go to Toronto to get typical Argentine cuts, the Latin community is larger there. The ribs are cut across the bone, and the meat is more tender and flavourful. Cook bone side down, on an upper rack, then 30 minutes on a lower rack to crisp up. Season with sea salt only. My theory on why they are called Miami ribs: the Argentine actor Jorge Porcel opened restaurants in Miami; he was the first ambassador of Argentine cuisine.

“Pork back ribs: sea salt only, cook until tender but still red, then five minutes on other side to keep them juicy and tender.

Sweetbreads are ready.

“Flank: grill a whole beef flank medium rare, then cut in long thin slices across the grain.

“Pork tenderloin: cook it slow from both sides, sea salt only. I always serve it last. Whatever comes after the pork will not seem as tender and tasty.”

The asado menu




Sausage: chorizo and morcilla sillia

Organ meats: kidney and sweetbreads

Beef ribs

Pork ribs

Flank steak

Pork tenderloin


Toasted baguette

Lettuce and tomato salad with white onions, the salad of Argentina.

A potato and egg salad made with salt, lemon and olive oil is typical.

Typical for dessert would have been flan, or dulce de leche crepes (el panquehe) but we served ice cream and fruit.


“Nobody waits, we eat when the food comes off the grill.”

– Adrian Baranchuk