The Beauty of Brazilian BBQ
Robert R. Fragnito | Chief Operating Officer
The rare intolerable cold of this year’s Southern California winter inspired the family to seek warmth and a good meal at a Brazilian churrascaria, or steakhouse. I was in the company of some professional meat eaters to say the least, and the challenge ahead was daunting.
The menu consisted of over sixteen different cuts of carefully seasoned meats. The portion size, rodízio, a continuous all-you-can-eat spicket of meat that could only be turned off by a double-sided paper disk resting strategically at the corner of our plates. Red means stop, flip over to green—keep it coming!
As if the buffet and salad bar wasn’t enough, and it was, we were hurled into a culinary whirlwind of delightful flavors of citrus, garlic, honey, sea salt, and that classic charbroiled meat taste. Filet mignon here, top sirloin there, and yes—ribs. All served by hospitable waiters dressed as gaúchos, or cowboys passing from table to table slicing meat from tall metal skewers.
Did I mention pão de queijo? Every table needs bread, even with an all-you-can-eat salad bar, buffet, and sixteen cuts of meat. It seems churrascarias enjoy tempting guests with the most delicious cheese rolls on the face of the planet! The table also featured a fried banana and Brazilian vinaigrette which resembles pico de gallo salsa as sides.
The beauty of Brazilian BBQ is not only in its pageantry or flavor, but it is a glimpse into a dynamic combination of many cultures forming the rich exotic tapestry that is Brazil. The cuisine is influenced by both native and immigrant cultures. A quick scan of our buffet table showcased a mixture of African, Amerindian, German, Italian, and Portuguese dishes.
Churrasco is a tradition dating back to Europeans who immigrated to southern Brazil in the early 1800s. The gaúchos were skilled horsemen who quickly became masters of cattle ranching. The tradition of the churrasco began as a multifamily meal where gaúchos served guests cuts of meat on skewers.
Brazilian BBQ offers a very specific and simple style of cooking. The early gaúchos slow cooked their meat over embers of fire to ensure the meat’s natural juices produced a succulent flavor. To this day, meats are still roasted over embers without the use of metallic grills. Red meat is primarily seasoned with sea salt while poultry and pork are seasoned with parmesan cheese or garlic.
Then there’s the citrus, garlic, honey marinated pork ribs. A simplistic blend of common flavors that transport you to rib heaven. Every cut of meat was delicious, but these ribs were the highlight of my evening. I must confess, I helped myself to three rounds.
We celebrated my sister’s birthday that night at Agora Churrascaria in Irvine and I give it top marks! Fogo de Chao is another popular destination for Brazilian BBQ eaters in Los Angeles and San Diego. To compare the two, I would say Fogo features a better buffet/salad bar, but Agora’s cuts win the contest.
Dining at a Brazilian steakhouse is a beautiful and fun experience for the whole family. I would caution foodies to prepare a ritual fast before heading to a Brazilian steakhouse, and on that note, let us be thankful that red means stop. Bom apetite!