I tasted my first churrasco, or Brazilian BBQ, across the street from the Sao Paolo bus station. As my buddy and I slouched in front of an endless parade of sword-skewered meat, the whole scene felt both so wrong and so right. Arguably, making like Jabba wasn’t the healthiest way to recover from a 10-hour ride from Florianapolis. On the other hand, after that meal I was so bloated with meat that our next leg, a 20-hour ride to Porto Seguro, seemed about the only thing I was capable of doing. The meal cost about what both bus tickets were combined, but it was worth it. Sanity is priceless.
Since then I’ve watched the march of the churrascarias, as the gaucho-style grilled meat has charmed hearts and bellies across North America. And while the array of lower price-point decoys like salad, sides, and desert can be quite impressive and distracting, the meat is why we go.
There are many styles of churrasco, and they all involve a mix of garlic, salt, and oil. And there are many ways for these ingredients to be combined with meat. I like to salt the meat directly, setting it aside and then treating it with freshly crushed garlic oil before—and during—cooking.
Use coarse salt, ideally sea salt. Sprinkle the meat on both sides, about a 1/2 teaspoon per steak. Don’t rub in the salt, just let it fall on the meat, and leave it at room temperature while you do the following:
Chop a head of garlic and then mash it with a mortar and pestle—or run it all through a garlic press, or whatever you have to do to thoroughly mash the garlic. Mix the garlic with a half-cup of olive oil. (I pour the oil into the mortar and crush it together, but I’ve got a stone mortar that’s so big they wouldn’t let me carry it on the plane home from Bangkok, so I can do that.)
Right around the time you get your fire going, brush, pour, or otherwise apply the garlic oil to the salted meat. When the grill is ready, add the meat. Baste lightly if you wish, but not so much the oil drips onto the coals and flares up, burning your meat.