Celebrate National Barbecue Month with Brazilian Churrasco

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Apr 25, 2016 / 0 comments

For Evandro Caregnato, grilling isn’t just something he does—it’s part of who he is. Born in southern Brazil, Caregnato grew up watching his father, Davino, prepare skewers of marinated meat, peppered with fresh herbs, before being placed over an open fire. 

Called churrasco in Brazil, this cooking method is passed down in families, not culinary schools. It’s a casual style that begs families and friends to come together to sample different skewered meats and inventive sides while they talk and laugh with one another. 

Today, Caregnato shares Brazil’s unique cooking style with others through his line of Texas de Brazil restaurants and his recently released cookbook, Churrasco: Grilling the Brazilian Way (Gibbs Smith, 2016). There are now 43 locations nationwide—by the end of the year plans are to have a total of 50.
Celebrate National Barbecue Month with Brazilian Churrasco

Since May is National Barbecue Month, Wandering Educators asked Caregnato to offer some of his thoughts on Brazilian grilling and what makes churrasco cuisine unique. 
Q: You mention that as an eight-year-old boy you were a picky eater, and didn’t eat meat, until one day your dad enticed you to try churrasco. What made the skewers so memorable? 

A: The answer is very simple—it was really tasty! The beef had some specks of fat that was perfectly golden, salty, and savory. I really didn’t want to try it, but my dad was being very persuasive - once I realized how good it was, I couldn’t stop asking for more!

Q: Can you explain exactly what a churrasco means? 
A: In Brazil, churrasco means grilled meats over open fire, using long skewers and observing a few traditional rules.

Q: And how does “churrasco” relate to gaucho cuisine? 
A: Churrasco is more than a food, it is probably the most important thing in the Gaucho culture.

Q: You grew up in Southern Brazil, what are some of your favorite dishes from that region? 
A: Besides churrasco, I love a dish that is called “Matambre,” it is a very old and rustic dish made rolling a flat piece of usually tough meat stuffed with vegetables and more meat. The roll is braised slowly for many hours until the meat turns very tender and a thick and savory sauce is formed.

Q: How does Texas de Brazil capture the essence of the churrasco tradition? 
A: We keep it authentic and traditional, we didn’t try to improve it or adapt it to the American palate.

Q: What’s the best way to introduce children to churrasco cuisine? 
A: My son is 9 years old and we grill churrasco outdoors very often, he loves to help me start the fire and turn the skewers by hand, observing how the meat changes color as it cooks - for him it is like camping out! When the meats are getting ready, I carve thin slices of the meat and he samples it right there, next to the fire, grabbing the samples with his bare fingers—in my opinion this is the best way to introduce children to cooking, and it builds a strong bond between father and children.

Share churrasco-style food with your family by making these bacon-wrapped chicken skewers. Caregnato notes, “There is a reason why Texas de Brazil and most churrascarias in the United States and Brazil don’t serve plain chicken breast: when cooked alone, the white meat may dry out and lack the flavor to compete with more savory cuts like picanha or lamb chops. So churrascarias wrap chicken breasts with bacon—this helps the poultry retain its juiciness and adds a smoky flavor.”

Recipe: Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Breasts (Peito de Frango com Toicinho) from Churrasco: Grilling the Brazilian Way

Recipe: Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Breasts
Peito de Frango com Toicinho

Serves 6 to 8

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup red wine
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
½ tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 16 cubes
1 ½ tbsp. kosher salt
16 thin slices bacon (preferably applewood-smoked)
16 fresh sage leaves
Freshly cracked black pepper

Create a marinade by combining lemon juice and wine in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in the oil with a wire whisk. Mix in the thyme, rosemary, and cumin. Season the chicken with salt, place it in the marinade, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or as long as overnight.

Prepare the grill by burning lump charcoal.

Lay the bacon slices flat on a clean surface, and put a cube of marinated chicken on top of each slice. Place a sage leaf on top of each chicken cube, and wrap the chicken with the bacon. Sprinkle with cracked pepper. Slide 8 bacon-wrapped chicken cubes onto each skewer, making sure the pieces of chicken are placed slightly apart so that the bacon will cook evenly. Place the skewers on the grill and cook, turning the skewers frequently, until bacon is crispy and charred and the chicken is cooked through but not dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate and serve. 

Churrasco by Evandro Caregnato, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith


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Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at MyKidsEatSquid.com.