Summertime is synonymous with grilling season. But achieving that perfectly-cooked, well-seasoned, and full-of-flavor cut of meat time after time can prove to be a challenge. Before you host your next neighborhood cookout, take a few tips from the experts at Fogo de Chao and learn how to grill like a gaucho in your own backyard.
Tips and tricks – from our gaucho chefs to the home chef – to get that sensational sizzle with every cut, every time.
1. Feel the Heat: Always make sure your fire is hot. If using a gas rotisserie, turn on the fire about 20 minutes before you are ready to cook. If using a gas grill, turn it on about 15 minutes before cooking. If using charcoal, light about 45 minutes before you’re ready to cook and allow the coals to burn down. Whether gas or charcoal, your grill should always be hovering between 400 –500 degrees for best cooking results.
2. Meat Market: Pick the highest quality meat for grilling with a good amount of marbling. Generally, the more marbling in a meat, the more tender and juicy it will be when properly cooked. You’re also much less likely to overcook a well-marbled cut of meat.
- Pro Tip: In the United States, it’s typical for a butcher to trim the fat on given cuts of meat; in Brazil, the fat isn’t trimmed until after the meat is cooked in order to enhance
3. To Every Season: Don’t be afraid to be generous with the seasoning, but remember – just a little bit of sea salt can go a long way. If using skewers, most of the seasoning will fall off during cooking, so it is important to get a good amount on the meat surface before it’s cooked. If grilling without skewers, it’s okay to use slightly less seasoning.
- Pro Tip: Traditionally, Southern Brazilian gauchos season steak cuts, like picanha, with sea salt and nothing else, allowing the meat’s natural flavors to come through.
4. The More, The Marinade: When using a marinade, baste the meat with extra marinade during cooking to keep the meat moist and flavorful.
- Pro Tip: Try marinating lamb chops with a mint leaf- and white wine-based sauce (rather than serving it on the side) to really lock-in that perfectly-paired flavor.
5. Check the Temp: The ideal temperature of the fire varies by type of meat. A ribeye or filet mignon should first be cooked at high heat to sear the outside, then roasted at a lower temperature to cook through to the desired doneness. A large cut, like a whole chicken, should be cooked over low heat to break down the meat and add deeper flavor. And always remember, cooking meat all the way through to the proper temperature is critical – typically 145 degrees Fahrenheit for fresh beef, veal or lamb or 165 degrees for chicken.
- Pro Tip: Want to know if your meat is done without using a thermometer? Try the four-fingers test! Open the palm of one hand and touch the fleshy area between your thumb and base of your palm with the other – that’s what raw meat feels like. Well done? Press your thumb to your pinky and touch the same area with the opposite index finger. Repeat with your thumb and ring finger for medium, your thumb and middle finger for medium rare and your thumb and index finger for rare.
6. Carve it Up: If you truly want to grill like a gaucho, authentic churrasco-style grilling requires you cook the exterior of the meat to perfection on a skewer, then carve and serve it immediately when it hits the ideal temperature (e.g., medium, rare, etc.). Then, after you carve the prepared portion, re-season and put the remaining steak back on the fire to continue cooking until the next round of serving
- Pro Tip: For those of us without skewers or a team of gaucho chefs in our kitchen, resting your meat is key. After your meat is cooked to ideal doneness, set it aside and let it rest for 10 – 15 minutes. Resting the meat allows the juices to settle and stay inside when slicing. Remember, though, meat will continue to cook even after it’s been removed from the grill, so timing is everything to achieve that perfect medium rare – try pulling it off the fire two minutes earlier than usual.