10 Grilling Traditions Around the World
Meat-plus-fire from Southeast Asia to South America
The time to break out your slightly rusty, charcoal-laced grill has come. And while Americans are busy firing up their swank, larger-than-life cookers and grilling up organic bison burgers and flame-kissed baby back ribs, other cultures heat up their own version of a barbecue.
In fact, all year round you can find Japanese chefs using the teppanyaki grill, a large electric grill with a smooth surface commonly found in restaurants — allowing chefs to cook food in front of guests. Japan also has the ancient hibachi grill, which features a box filled with burning charcoal and a metal grate on top. The culinary innovative Japanese also like to dip meats in tare — a sweet, soy-based sauce — run a stick through the protein, and cook the goods on a grill. Both the dish and the grill are called yakitori, and the latter utilizes a ceramic basin to help cook the food evenly. These grills come in all sizes including a portable version used by street venders to prepare the Japanese version of a kebab.
Speaking of kebabs, in Thailand and Indonesia, meat is also grilled on a stick. For this, the Thai and Indonesians regularly use a satay grill, which, with its metal rods or checkered-metal top, resembles the yakitori style. In Thailand, you can also find a small tabletop charcoal cooker used to make thinly sliced meat and vegetables, a tool that also gets used to make the famous Korean barbecue. The cool thing about this style of grill is that while you cook, the meat and juices drip down into the second chamber, making the meat low in fat and giving you a rich broth to make into a soup or a savory sauce. Aside from the unique grill used to make Korean barbecue, this dish is famous for the deep, rich heat of the meat that comes from hours of marinating and massaging spices into the protein.
Argentina and Uruguay are also known for barbecue. Called asado, both for the event and the technique, this style uses an iron cross to cook whole animals. (See our asado journal from American pitmaster Drew Robinson.) Called al asador, the carcass of the animal gets stretched out, allowing the entire piece of meat to get cooked and smoked over a fire. The countries are also known for parallada, a collection of grilled meats including chicken, juicy sausages, ribs, pieces of beef and offal, all cooked on a wire brazier grill over coal made from native trees.
Go almost anywhere in South and Central America and you can get churrasco, which parallels parallada in that it’s an array of different meats, though mainly beef, roasted on embers. To cook this way, you skewer the meat and place it above a low, open fire. In the States, most people recognize the churrasco from the all-you-can-eat Brazilian rodizio that typically feature waiters walking around with various cuts of meat including filet mignon wrapped in bacon, pork ribs, sausage, chicken hearts and short ribs. Another interesting barbecuing technique used in this hemisphere is found in Colombia. Here, they make lomo al trapo, or beef tenderloin, which gets prepared by wrapping the meat with a pound of salt and some oregano in cloth and roasting it in a bed of hot coals.
In India they do a lot of grilling, and commonly use a brick oven shaped like a cube called a chula. This device has a hole cut in the front so you can feed the fire. They also use the tandoor, a typically large ceramic pot that gets buried in the ground up to its neck. Unlike many types of grills, the food in this one is cooked inside the device using hot coals, though some people do place a grate over the top for surface grilling.
Possibly one of the greatest grilling experiences that doesn’t really use a grill is the traditional Hawaiian luau feast. Here they make kalua pig, where the ka means “the” and lua means “hole.” It gets this name because the pig is placed in an imu, otherwise known as a pit in the sand that gets transformed into an oven by lighting a fire over rocks. After many hours, the fire gets stamped out with plants and water that help create a steam chamber that houses the pig, which in turn gets buried in the sand. Hours later you have a succulent feast to chow on while enjoying the islands' glorious sunsets.
One of the best things about barbecue and grilling is that you can do it anywhere and with various tools no matter where you live. The basic principals are the same: fire, heat, meat and time.
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