I get it, everyone’s supposed to go ga-ga over the steak when you travel in Argentina, right? It’s the food the country is known for. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some pretty amazing beef there, no doubt. And, when I go out for steak here in Bogota, it’s often to an Argentinean steakhouse.
Photo Credit: Diego3336
But after living and traveling in Argentina for over 6 months in 2007, I came to realize a couple of things about the myth that Argentinean steak is ¨the best.¨
- The range of Argentinean cuisine isn’t very broad. Steak, pizza, milanesa and pasta. These four dishes probably account for what the vast majority of Argentines are eating today. As a result, steak gains a prominent place in a small menu of options.
- You can get fabulous steaks in Argentina. But, I found that the “average” middle-of-the-road steak in Argentina could be beat in Chile or Brazil. Sure, for the right price, you can get any level of quality. I prefer to base my judgements on something more accessible to the average person.
But, there’s more to the story…The deck is stacked…
I grew up in a house with a national champion BBQer. In 1982, my dad won the National Pork Cookoff Championship sponsored by the National Pork Board. While pork may have won that day, his grilling “chops” extend to steak, chicken, turkey, goat. You name it, dad can make BBQ out of it. So, he sort of ruined me for eating steak and other grilled meats out in restaurants.
Of course, having all that meat basted with his award-winning sauce doesn’t hurt. Here’s a summary of why I find dad’s grilled meats superior, why my palate is ruined for other qualified meat suitors meat and why I’m a steak snob.
Low Heat-Long Grill Times
BBQing days are marked by an early start. 6AM, maybe even 5AM, depending on when the BBQ is to be served. The fire is lit using large chunks of mesquite wood harvested from the area. Ones the flames die down, the fire-red and orange coals are spread below a huge pit. As the burn away, they are topped off with more embers throughout the day. Those hot embers produce a warm, constant heat that slowly roasts your meat of choice. It’s what locks in the moisture, the smoky flavor and keeps the meat tender.
You can’t have a BBQ in the south without sauce. Dad’s is a vinegar, tomato-based sauce with just a touch of sugar, not enough to make it sweet like sauces from the Carolinas. Rather, it’s just enough to balance out the tang from the vinegar and tomatoes. After the meat’s been on the pit for a couple of hours, it’s time to baste it. And, of course, there’s always a pourable gravy server filled with extra sauce on the table to top it off once you’re served.
You can’t make good BBQ without a good cut of meat. Growing up in a small town, fresh meat was never a problem. This is the single biggest problem eating steak out, you are never sure where you’re meat comes from. Back home, you often know the farmer and ranch your meat came from.
It’s Always an Event
There’s just something about a BBQ. People go friggin’ nuts. It almost doesn’t even matter how often you eat BBQ or grilled meats. There’s something about cooking meat on a pit that drives people crazy. A typical BBQ back in Texas is usually served potluck. So, people will bring over every kind of salad and side dish you can imagine, including my least favorite: golden glow jello salad. Honestly, who the hell decided that putting carrots in orange jello was a good idea? And yet people keep making it. It’s like the fruitcake of Texas BBQs. Anyway, I digress. There’s always a pastry chef in the crowd who will bring pies, cakes, cookies…´cuz who doesn’t need some sugar after all that meat and side dishes?
So, sorry Argentina. I love you. But you just can’t compete for my palate with your steaks. Now your ice cream, coffee, medialunas, empanadas and malbec on the other hand…
Today my dad turns 70. This post is dedicated to him. Happy birthday dad. See you soon!