Brasilian barbecue

Brasilian barbecue

David Ponté, Lizzy Barber & Jamie Barber
16 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
Martin Poole

The Brasilian love of grilled meat is legendary, and barbecue is at the heart of what we do at Cabana – particularly the foot-long metal skewers of fresh beef, pork, lamb or chicken, cooked to order on custom-made grills. They’re inspired by Brasilian churrascarias, vast barbecue restaurants where you usually pay one price to eat as much meat as you can, and where you’ll see everything from top cap of rump to chicken hearts.

Traditionally, meat is cooked very simply, but we have used typical Brasilian elements to create a wider range of flavours. Alongside the skewer recipes (which we have adapted for regular home grills), here’s a selection of meat, fish and vegetables to slap on the coals when barbecue weather hits.

Cabana’s barbecuing dos and don’ts


–Soak wooden skewers in cold water for at least 30 minutes before you use them, to prevent them scorching. If using metal skewers, wipe them with a piece of kitchen towel dipped in vegetable oil to stop food from sticking to them.

–Place bundles of fresh, hard-stemmed herbs and whole garlic cloves on the coals to add flavour to your food. Aromatic wood chips also work well.

–Make sure meat is cooked properly: check it is piping hot all the way through and that chicken or pork juices are running clear.

–Leave time to get the meat up to room temperature before placing it on the grill. This will ensure that it cooks at an even rate.

–Be patient with charcoal. It takes 30 minutes to reach cooking temperature and should be white when you start to cook on it.


–Leave meat in the middle of the barbecue for the entire cooking time. Place foods near the hot coals to sear the exterior at the beginning, then move further away to prevent the outside from burning before the inside is cooked.

–Leave all the preparation for your side dishes until you’ve started barbecuing, or you’ll be faced with a mad rush.

–Poke the meat with anything sharp while it cooks, or the juices will escape; invest in a pair of tongs and put the meat on a side plate to check it.

–Let individual pieces of food touch on the grill. Keeping the meat separated will help it cook on all sides.

–And finally, be frustrated if the weather lets you down. Just heat up your grill oven, mix yourself a caipirinha and say tudo bem: everything’s good.

Brasilian beef cuts

There are several different types of restaurant in Brasil, all serving a range of cuts of meat. In por kilo restaurants, you pay for your food according to how much it weighs. Churrascarias are steak and barbecue houses; rodizios are restaurants in which waiters serve the food in a well-coordinated ballet of skewers. If you visit a rodizio or a churrascaria, the sheer number of cuts of beef can be overwhelming – the Brasilians take their meat very seriously. Normally they use only rock salt to bring out the flavour of the meat and lock in the moisture. At Cabana we tend to pare it down to the more familiar cuts and marinate them in a variety of sauces to add more complexity. We have a great appreciation for the variety of cuts available, though, and we’re slowly introducing some of them in dishes such as the picanha burger, which makes use of Brasil’s favourite cut of meat.

Here are five beef cuts you should definitely try if you’re ever in Brasil:

–Picanha: The cap of rump, the king of steaks in Brasil. A thick layer of fat, especially when the piece is folded on a skewer, adds to its distinctive flavour.

–Cupim: A rich, fatty hump that needs to be slow-cooked to release its flavour. You need a cow with a hump, such as the Zebu, a variety that was introduced to Brasil from India over 100 years ago. Cupim means ‘termite’, probably because the hump looks like a termite mound.

–Alcatra: The lean rump or top sirloin, from below the picanha.

–Fraldinha: The flank or skirt may not seem like a choice cut, but it’s extremely juicy and tasty. Fraldinha means ‘little shirt-tail’, or, less appealingly, ‘nappy’.

–Maminha: The tri-tip, a triangular cut from the bottom of the sirloin, which is very lean, and perfect on a grill.

The finger test: how to tell when your steak is done

Let’s be honest, one of the biggest hassles of cooking steak is making sure that everyone gets their preference for how they like it cooked. Here’s David’s easy and foolproof method for testing the doneness of steaks, which should save time, money (no need to buy a meat thermometer) and the steak itself (no need to ruin it by making holes in it to check it).

To use this method, gently press your finger into the steak while it’s cooking and compare it with the feel of your palm as described below. You’ll be whipping up even the most complicated steak orders in no time!

Rare: Lightly touch together the tips of your thumb and first (index) finger. Don’t apply any pressure. Use your right index finger to press the fleshy area at the base of your thumb. This is how a rare steak should feel.

Medium rare: Next, lightly touch the tip of your thumb to your middle finger and feel the base of your thumb. This is medium rare.

Medium: Then, lightly touch your thumb to your ring finger and feel the base of your thumb – this is what a medium steak feels like.

Well done: Finally, lightly touch your thumb and little finger together and feel the base of your thumb. This is how a well-done steak will feel.

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