Barbecue Lessons from Chile

Pablo is a friend of ours that is spending some time in Chile this year. He graciously offered to send us a primer on grilling in Chile and here it is...(by the way if anyone else out there wants to send us some information on grilling around the world, we'd be happy to hear about it). Content warning: the word "thymus" is used in the following article - you've been warned. 


BBQ lessons from Chile - courtesy of Pablo

I was born in Chile, have lived in Canada most of my life, but I'm back in Chile for a few months. I love barbecuing, and I've learned that there are some differences between Canadian BBQs and Chilean grills, or "parrillas" (pah-REEH-yahs):   

  1. No gas. Ever. A parrilla is an almost sacred space, to be honoured with charcoal or wood. Gas is an abomination. It's slower, but the whole point is to linger and enjoy the experience.
  2. Open fires. Even charcoal BBQs in Canada are often closed with a lid. A parrilla here means an open fire.
  3. A lot more charcoal. An open fire loses more heat, so it needs more fuel to get to the right temperature. Trained on closed-lid BBQs in Canada, this was my big "aha!" realization.
  4. No briquettes. Another abomination. Chileans use only good quality hardwood charcoal. Or they use real wood.
  5. Two fires. Another aha! moment. Good Chilean "parrilleros" actually manage two fires. They pile most of the charcoal or wood to one side: the hot fire makes the coals, which the parrillero moves to the other side to cook the meat over. Clever.
  6. "Al palo". The custom in the south of Chile, where I'm living, is to cook meats on a long skewer (or "palo"). In October I cooked a Canadian Thanksgiving turkey al palo, possibly a world first. (Another realization: use a cross-stick, to keep the turkey in place.)
  7. Hamburgers and hotdogs. Are for fast food joints, not the parrilla. Chileans honour the parrilla only with real meat, including beef, pork, chicken, or lamb. The closest they come to hot dogs is chorizo sausages, which are cooked as appetizers and served with bread, to make a "choripan". But don't even think of asking for ketchup or relish.
  8. Salt. Chileans are definitely minimalists when it comes to seasonings. The secret? Top-quality meats over slow coals, seasoned with sea salt. BBQ sauce is unheard of.
  9. No guts. Argentineans and Uruguayans eat more parts of the cow than North Americans, including the guts, kidneys and "sweetbreads" (or thymus), which are actually tasty when well prepared. But Chileans are more conservative and stick to the same parts as North Americans. (With seafood, though, it's a different story. Ever tried sea urchin?)


Mostly, I've learned that the process in Chile—from tending the fire to cooking the meat—is at least as important as the final product. Lubricated with good conversation and plenty of wine, a "parrillada" is a special occasion to linger a few hours with family and friends. The results are delicious. 



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