Brazilian BBQ: Combining the Spirit of Tailgating and Churrasco
April 16, 2020
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years while traveling around, it’s that no 2 things seem to bring people together like sports and good food. Individually, these two things are enough to get people excited but when you put them together something special occurs. When you combine the passion, community, and spirit that sports bring out in people with the feeling of love, joy, and happiness that food brings out, it’s an experience that’s second to none. One thing I enjoy about tailgating is just walking up and down the rows in the parking lot, taking in all the sights and smells as I go. The one unmistakable smell that stands out above the rest is that of barbecued food. It’s great to see all the different grilling styles and setups that fans put together, from the simple 2 burner grill to the custom made smoker. One style of grilling that is flying a little under the tailgating radar is that of the Brazilian BBQ, known as Churrasco. The first time I experienced this was my first trip to Brazil with my then girlfriend, now wife. We went there to visit her family and to attend her friend’s wedding. She took me to the groom’s bachelor party, where they were grilling meats, chicken hearts, sausages, garlic bread, and drinking lots of beer, doesn’t that sound great?! With that brief introduction out of the way, let’s dive in and learn some more about Brazilian BBQ.
What is Churrasco?
Churrasco (pronounced shoe-hah-skow) is the Portuguese term for grilled meat, but it’s much more than just the meat itself. It involves the gathering of people, mostly families & friends, to be together and enjoy some great barbecued meats, cheeses, breads, and more. Its roots go all the way back to the 1700s as European colonization was taking place in Brazil. It was the go-to meal for many Brazilian cowboys, known as gauchos. These cattle ranchers would spend weeks and months out on the range and after long days of tending to their cattle they would typically live and thrive on the food that they had readily available, which was beef. This usually became a large community effort, as the men took care of preparing and cooking the meats while the women and children would find other foods to make sides. This type of diet became a staple for the cattle herders as it was quite nutritious and was easy to make for larger groups of people.
The process for churrasco was pretty straightforward: dig a hole in the ground, light a fire, wait until the fire turned to embers, then begin slow roasting the meat. Seasoning the beef consisted of nothing more than just coarse salt, lots and lots of coarse salt. This style of barbecuing is still popular and ingrained in the cultural roots of Brazilian residents today. Techniques and technology may have evolved over time, but the spirit of those gauchos from years past is ever present as you travel and eat throughout Brazil. One way you can experience this cuisine is to visit a Churrascaria.
Common foods found in a Brazilian Steakhouse
As time went on, Churrascarias began opening up all over Brazil in the mid-20th century. Churrascarias are restaurants that feature many types of grilled meats and other Brazilian delicacies. In the beginning, these places really only offered red meats but as time went on chicken, lamb, and fish were added proteins to the menu. In a modern day Churrascaria, a rodizio style service is offered which allows you to eat as much as you want for one flat price. Typically, a server will bring you one of many cuts of meat on a large skewer or knife and they’ll cut some meat off onto your plate. On your table there will be some sort of card/marker with a green and red side. Diners will flip to the green side to indicate that they’d like the food to keep coming and flip it to red once they can eat no more. In addition to the scores and scores of great meats, some other common side dishes you’ll find are:
Feijoada: Bean stew with a variety of meats
Pão de queijo: Cheese bread
Farofa: Toasted yucca flour
Full salad bar
The crown jewel for any Brazilian steakhouse will always be the steak itself. Only the highest quality beef is used for a wide variety of cuts. Some of the more common cuts of beef used are:
Picanha: top cap sirloin, or tri tip (my favorite)
Paleta: chuck or brisket
Filé Mignon: part of the tenderloin
Patinho: flank, bottom sirloin, and rear shank
Fraldinha: short loin, bottom sirloin, and flank
Linguiça: mild smoked and cured smoked sausage
Brazilian steakhouses began opening in America in the mid-1990s and are now quite common in many of the larger metro areas. Some of them may be family owned and operated and others are restaurant chains, and they are well-known for their customer service. A couple successful chains are Rodizio Grill with 20+ locations through the U.S. and Fogo de Chão with restaurants throughout the U.S., Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Middle East, and of course Brazil. With the success of the Brazilian steakhouse concept in the American market, there has been a push for entrepreneurs to carve out a smaller niche of their own. One company, BarbeSkewer, makes it easier for customers have their own Brazilian BBQ at home or in the tailgate lot by packaging pre-made meat skewers and shipping them to consumers all over the U.S. They really take out a lot the work so all you need to do is grill them and serve.
Bringing some culture to your tailgate
I had an experience during the summer of 2018 during a visit to Goiânia (central Brazil) that made me realize how Churrasco can carry over to live sporting events. My wife, her brother & cousins, and I went to a futebol (aka Soccer) match (Goáis vs. Criciúma EC) and right outside the stadium there were many local residents lined up offering skewers of grilled meats, cheeses, and other foods. All sorts of people were gathering around, eating & drinking, and adding to the game day atmosphere that surrounded the stadium. I purchased a skewer full of Picanha and rolled it in farofa. It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it, the meat was delicious. The video below is an example of what I experienced.
It wasn’t the traditional notion of tailgating that I knew, but that’s the familiar feeling I experienced. The combination of sports and food was unmistakable. Being involved in a large gathering of people, a community of sorts, who are having this great shared experience outside of a stadium? To me, that shares much of what I associate with tailgating. So if you’re looking to spice things up a bit, what better way to bring a little culture to your next tailgate than to provide your guests with a Brazilian style feast?!
A quick trip to your local butcher shop should be able to provide at least one, if not many, of the common cuts of beef and chicken for you. Preparing the beef is simple since the only kind of seasoning you need is coarse salt and the majority of the meat will be grilled on some type of skewer. Depending on the rules of your tailgate you may not be able to use a charcoal grill, but the grilling can still be done with a propane grill which is convenient. The next time you’re looking to change up your game day menu, consider impressing your guests with a Churrasco-style spread.
Need some inspiration? Check out some of these recipes to get you started:
BONUS: In addition to the food, making your guests a batch of Caipirinha would go over well. Check out our recipe video for this traditional Brazilian drink!
The Wrap Up
One of the things I’ve enjoyed from traveling and learning about other cultures is being able to find the similarities that can bring us all together. Being in an unfamiliar place is exciting but can also bring a sense of uneasiness. However, the feeling I got from going to a futebol game and being around the stadium felt familiar and even though everything looked and seemed different, the spirit of what I love about going to live sporting and tailgating events were well represented that night. If you’ve made it this far in the article, thanks for sticking around! I’d like to hear from you now, what has been your most unique tailgating or sporting event experience? Have you attended a game in a different country? What kind of food do you associate with tailgating? Feel free to leave your comments below 🙂