The mouthwatering smell of smoke mixed with charcoal lingering in the humid air could only signify one thing — a barbecue. And with Independence Day approaching, it reminds the rest of the country of what it’s like to be an American.
We Miami locals, however, know grilling is more of an international affair.
It’s true, barbecues serve as a representation of American culture, but here in Miami, they also represent Brazilian, Argentine, Haitian, Uruguayan, Cuban, Korean, Jamaican… Well, you get the picture.
With all these nationalities boasting their own grilling styles, it’s easy to get confused. What’s the difference? How can grilling a steak in Little Argentina differ so greatly from roasting a pig in Little Havana? It can, and we set out to find out the complexities between cultures of the much-beloved barbecue.
Before anything, it’s imperative to know and understand where the tradition actually came from. While difficult to prove, it’s thought that the term originated from the Spanish word “barbacoa,” which was used by Spanish settlers upon landing in the Caribbean to describe the natives’ style of cooking meat slowly over a slab of wood. That’s not to say the style itself was born in the Caribbean. However it’s likely the term “barbecue” did. South American “asado” can be traced back to the mid-1500’s, and Korean barbecue dates all the way back to 37 BC. It’s safe to say barbecue tradition has been around for thousands of years, giving each culture plenty of time to perfect it and make it its own. Here’s a little around the world tour of just a few of our favorite Miami barbecue styles, and where to find them.
There are many types of American barbecue besides hot dogs and hamburgers, but most can be divided into four distinct regions. Kansas cooks ribs with a dry rub. Tennessee-style means pulled pork, with a shoulder grilled for up to 16 hours until the meat falls off the bone in delicate shreds. Texas famously serves up beef, brisket style. And North Carolina leans toward pork, opting to smoke the entire pig. Most American styles rely on some kind of sauce to heighten the flavor, with each favorite BBQ sauce boasting it’s own unique blend of seasonings. Socially, American barbecues grew in popularity as a form of feasting during festivals and church gatherings, and it’s since expanded to general summertime events that bring together family and friends. “The sauce enhances the complete barbecue experience,” says Torris Cooper, owner of Coop’s Pit BBQ and creator of homemade, all natural sauces that have been in hit in Miami since 1999.
South American Asado
The simplicity of South American asado might just be one of its main draws. Good beef and salt grilled over direct heat is all you need to start one of these famous Latin Sunday barbecues. Each chef has a personal opinion on the exact way the meat should be cooked. However, using hot coals and wood has remained standard since the days of the gauchos. The combination of mouthwatering meat paired with chimichurri sauce, sausage, robust Malbec wines and extended family and friends always makes for a fabulous end to the weekend. Extremely popular in the Rio de la Plata region, Argentines and Uruguayans have brought the tradition to Miami for all of us to enjoy.
For Cubans, barbecue centers around the pig, which is roasted in its entirety over charcoal in a wooden box called La Caja China. Traditionally, everyone in the neighborhood would gather to tend to the hog, which can take up to eight houre to cook, making this kind of barbecue an all-day affair. Known as puerco asado, the succulent pork is usually served with a garlic-based mojo sauce. This is meat originally stuffed into the famous Cuban sandwiches that are a Miami staple.
If you’ve had jerk chicken, you’re probably already addicted to its complex, seemingly opposing but perfectly complementing flavors. The steps for barbecuing jerk chicken are very precise. First, it’s marinated for hours. Seasonings vary by chef, but every recipe contains allspice berries, which look a little like peppercorns. Once the flavor has seeped into every pore, the chicken is slow roasted over green pimento wood for no less than two hours. The placement of the wood is essential, and the fire is frequently stoked to ensure a high heat to sear in that delectable taste. Chefs tend to be secretive about the ingredients in their home-made marinades, so while complementing them on their delicious dish, don’t be surprised if they’re not exactly forthcoming about the recipe.
Brazilian churrasco was, too, inspired by its “cowboys,” or gauchos. Originally, huge pits were dug into the ground, filled with wood and coals to start a fire over which meat would be roasted on wooden skewers. Today, the style is similar, and the tradition of standing around and picking at the meat while chatting with friends is more common than sitting together at a table. The skewers are roasted until the top portion is browned, and then removed from the heat for eating. Skewers are presented to the diners, who then accept or decline the offer with a simple nod. More than 20 kinds of cuts might be presented, with the most classic being Picanha. Brazilian barbecues, like most South American asados, can last from early in the afternoon until well into the night.
Of course there are so many more styles to try, including those from Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and South Africa. Try them all at The Dutch at the W Hotel, which is holding their Fourth Annual Bourbon, Beer & ‘Cue event every Wednesday only for the month of July. Each week let’s you sample a different delicious style.
Let us know your favorite barbecue style and where you go to enjoy it!