The Uncanny Parrilla: Cooking Outdoors the Argentinean Way

I finally committed to constructing a parrilla (open grill) — the traditional barbecue of Argentina.  It’s really not accurate to call it a barbecue since “to barbecue” is rather sinful in Argentina.  For the Argentinean, the barbecue is way too fast, way too production oriented — the fast food of outdoor grilling. On a parrilla, we Argentinians cook an asado — a slow, carefully orchestrated, wood fired cooking of all sorts of meats.  In the US, we’re not accustomed to cooking the entire cow; Argentinians waste not and cook everything, including the ear, which I tried once.

parrilla

La Parrilla

I built this parrilla to coincide with a rock wall that runs along the back of my house.  I picked up on this model parrilla when I was in Mendoza with my family a few years back.  We stayed in an estancia in the Andes.  After our return from horseback riding, the estancia owner had prepared an asado for us.  The parrilla was made of stone and a large circle; the grill itself, the parrilla proper, sat in the middle.  I made a mental note of it.  This is perfect for the country.

My sisters-in-law complained mildly that it takes too long.  But this is the point — slow food.  The wood is burned to create coal; then you order the coal about so that you have different cooking heat levels across the parrilla. In the above picture, one can see buns, burgers and swordfish all cooking at the same time.  It’s only possible when heat is distributed.  The other fine result is that the food tastes great.  This is always immediately noticed — usually the first or second comment.  It’s because of the wood, in this case coming from my land. In fact, the only non-local item in this asado is the swordfish, brought to us from Harbor Fish by my sister-in-law who lives in Maine (it’s local to her).

Asado

Asado in Full

I made my parrilla following the advise of my family, emailing me directions from Buenos Aires.  They sent me some links and I followed some design options from Casa Original. My parrilla is approximately 7″ high, 32″ long and about 18″ wide.  It’s also a double decker, meaning that the deck on top is half the size and is also removable.  This allows for the moving of very slow cooking food to another level.  The parrilla was welded together, following my design, by Brown’s Welding, Bristol, Vermont.

Cooking

Cooking the Asado

Creating the fire is intuitive — all great makers of asados will tell you that.  You have to know something about how certain woods burn and taste.  You have to know something about adding or moving logs to create the energy wanted.  But the cooking is something else altogether.  Meat cooking is special.  At our house, the bible is Seven Fires, Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann, probably the premier “asado chef” in the world.  The book is to die for and I’m thankful Ginny, my wife’s first cousin’s wife — and Argentinean — gave it to me as a present..  Since we have our own cow and we’re trying to work with everything locally, right from our small farm, another gospel of meat, given to us by our large animal vet, Al, who, with his wife, Diane, produce the incredible and famed Animal Farm Butter, is The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

The parrilla and the subsequent asado blends two cultures — Vermont’s America and Argentine; it also is a great way to spend time with the family around the fire watching the meat cook slowly.  We’re looking forward to breads and vegetables, appetizers and even desserts.

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3 thoughts on “The Uncanny Parrilla: Cooking Outdoors the Argentinean Way

  1. Pingback: Guest Series Launched with Hector Vila’s Post on Building a Parrilla | Open View Gardens

    • Hello George, thanks for the interest. What I describe in this piece is exactly how I did it – no other plans. What I am about to do though is I’m going to re-do the “grille” section and make it about 2″ higher. I’m also going to raise the deck above and I’m contemplating a rotisserie, though I’m not sure how I’d go about that. I’ll seek out plans somewhere. I simply went to Brown’s Welding with a rough sketch and they put it into action. I’ll do the same this year – actually this coming Friday.

      If you have any questions, etc., I’d be glad to help. You can reach me at hvila@middlebury.edu or vilahector1@gmail.com ….

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