Brazilian-Style Grilling

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waterfalls in Brazil

Where it all Began

In the year 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed the area for the Portuguese Empire. Brazil is the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world. Officially, today it is called The Federative Republic of Brazil. It is the largest country in both Latin and South America covering 3.2 million miles and has a population of 208 million people. The capital of Brazil is Brasilia and the most populated city is Sao Paulo. The official language is Portuguese.

Cultural Changes due to Immigration

It is one of the most multicultural countries in the world due to a century of immigration. It has immigrants from Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Jews, Angola and many more. This had a tremendous impact on the way Brazil developed as a nation. Having so many diverse cultures, it has been difficult to govern them all effectively. This led to many decades of military rule.

One thing all of the immigrants had in common was their love of beef. The “gauchos”(cowboy) learned from a tribe called the Tupe-Guarani was to use a stick as a skewer to cook their meat over an open flame. The gauchos would put their meat on the horses neck to season it for the evening meal. The Brazilians still love their meat a little salty to this day. Churrasco was born in Brazil and is a favorite way to grill meat to this day.

The Development of the Churrasco

brazilian cut of beef
meat used for churassco

When the Portuguese first started colonizing Brazil, near the pampas(grasslands), they observed the semi-nomadic tribes of that are using sticks to cook their meat next to the campfire. They realized how much more efficient this manner of cooking was. The gauchos needed to be able to carry their food with them since they were following large herds of cattle across the grasslands and this was a quick, easy solution for them. They taught this manner of cooking to the cooks for the large ranches. It made it easier to feed large numbers of people this way and was thought of as a way to entertain for special occasions.

Churrasco is Popular Choice of Miners

open flame
open hot fire

Another thing that brought about the popularity of churrasco was finding gold in Brazil in 1690. The miners adopted this manner of cooking since they would be far from home while they mined. Brazil had one of the largest finds of gold in the Americas. The bandeirantes(explorers) often of mixed heritage would organize into small groups and go into the interior of Brazil looking for gold and indigenous people to enslave for work in the mines and for selling later for a profit. They too adopted the same manner of cooking for its efficiency and the delicious taste of finely cooked meat.

The method of the churrasco was catching on quickly and in a short time was the preferred method of cooking a large amount of meat. Simply put, they observed and learned from people native to the area a better way to cook meat. There was rarely any waste because of the manner in which it was cut. There was little waste because there was little fat to throw away and the hides were used as leather in various forms.

Brazil The Home of the Churrasco

sausages on skewer
sausages grilled on skewers

Just exactly what is churrasco? Churrasco is the art of cooking meat on a skewer. The skewers look to be the size of small swords and can handle large weights of meat. The meat traditionally has one seasoning on it when it is cooked and that is the equivalent of north american rock salt used to make ice cream with. The reason such a coarse salt is used is to have it act as another cooking surface.

Most Preferred Grilling Method

The most common method of cooking the picanha is to form it into a C and push it onto a large skewer, season with coarse salt(rock salt) and place it on the grill. You need to have a very hot grill.

One of the favorite meats to use in the churrasco is the picanha. The picanha is a triangular piece of meat cut from the rump of the beef. In the United States it is known as the “rump cut” or top sirloin. You must be sure to get a piece that has a good fatcap on it to enhance the flavor of the meat. The best results come when you make several crisscross cuts on the fatback. This enables the juices from the fatback the opportunity to tenderize the meat that is cooking on the inside. Everyone has a different desired doneness to their meat ( rare, medium-rare, medium, medium-well and well-done). As the picanha is cooked, the server will come to your table and slice it off for you to put on your plate. The remainder will be returned to the grill to be re seasoned and re grilled. This manner of grilling makes it possible for everyone to get the doneness they desire and to avoid wasting any of the picanha. Another method of grilling the picanha is to sear both sides, cut into steaks and finish grilling.

The Different Cuts Beef Brazilian

cuts of beef chart
showing the different cuts of beef

The above chart  illustrates the cuts of beef that are popular in Brazil while the cuts on the right illustrate the most popular cuts in the United States. I have found that the best way to get the best results for various recipes is to start with the right cut of meat or meats.

Speaking Butcher

Picture of Jerry McCoy
Flavors from around the world are tasty

You may have to take a copy of the butchers chart with you to your specialty shop in order to get the right cut of meat for your celebration. At first, I had difficulty finding the right cut of meat in our local grocery store market. I looked at the specialty shops without any luck and decided that I must not be communicating properly since I did not grow up speaking butcher. I decided to take a butchers chart with me that showed Brazilian cuts and that solved my problem on the cut. I had read all of the descriptions on how to grill the picanha and so I set off to try to duplicate what they did in Brazil. What a flavorful treat it was. The Brazilians certainly know how to do picanha. It is absolutely delicious. I hope this YouTube video will help you enjoy the deliciousness of the picanha.

17 thoughts on “Brazilian-Style Grilling”

  1. Great article Jerry! I see that brazilian grilling is very different than our. I am coming from serbia and the process of grilling is really different. I must say that I would like to try churrasko, it looks so delicious and I will surely try to make it here with my friends. Thanks for such amazing topic about Brazil.

    • Grilling is different in every country. It can be a challenge to know how to grill for a specific country unless you have either lived there or been able to find a you tube video. The videos are good but they don’t always tell some of the secrets used to make it taste as if it were done at home. Even in one country there can be extreme differences such as Mexico which has seven different regions the grilling from region to region is quite different. I have learned so much about grilling from my research that I have to chose what to write about. There is one thing though that I have found the tastes from around the world are very tasty and unique. I try all of the major recipes that I can so I can tell you how good they are.I have been grilling for over 40 years and wanted to see the differences from around the world. That is how my website came to be. Thanks for reading and commenting. There will be more to come so come back often to see what has changed and comment on.

    • I will be doing an article on Serbia in the future. How is grilling in Serbia different from Brazil? Is it the spices? Is it in the way the food is prepared? I am eager to learn as much about grilling as I can. I have been grilling for more than 40 years and I still get excited at learning a new way of doing things, especially when the taste is awesome.
      The history of churrasco is fascinating all own its own. I could have written book about what I learned because there is so much there. I just concentrated on the churrasco and how it developed.
      When you go to the butcher be sure to take a chart with you to get the proper cut of meat. You will be amazed by the tenderness and the flavor of the picanha. There is none like it that I have found.
      Thanks for reading and comment. Come back often to see what has changed and if there is something you wish to share that my other readers would enjoy.

  2. Nice article on Brazilian style grilling. I love to grill at least a few times a week, even in the cold winter months. 

    I have a a Weber charcoal grill, and I use natural hard wood. Hickory is my wood of choice, and I pretty much only grill beef. Burgers, steaks, and all beef hot dogs are a regular meal around my house.

    I look forward to tryiing this style, but do you have any recipes? What about Brazilian sides? How about beverages (adult and non adult.)

    What kind of a set up do Brazilians use? I’d love to hear more.

    • The one I have tried is the picanha. I do not have a rotisserie like they were using so I used a rack for smoking turkeys where it is v-shaped and turned it by hand every 15 minutes to get an even cooking time on each side. Use a meat thermometer after about 1 1/2 hours to check to see if it is at your preferred doneness, 120F-Rare, 130F-Medium, and 140F-Well-done. As for sides they grill most of their vegetables and it varies from place to place. I would go with my favorites. They gave some recipes for drinks but I was concentrating more on the meat. I will get you some recipes and send them to you adult and other.
      I will be doing this for every country so check back often to see if there is one that catches your eye. Please comment on it if you see another that catches your interest. I will have those drink recipes for you later today.
      They use a grill that generally has 6 or more rotisseries on it but you can adapt your grill to cook like they do in Brazil if you are cooking for 10 or less. Place your meat on the slow end of the grill and rotate it every 15 minutes for even cooking.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Brazilian style grilling – Seriously I have never heard about this type of grilling in this much of a detail. It has a unique style. I love how  you explained where it begun and stuff. If I’m doing something new I really wanted to know how it begun. And now I know how Brazilian Style grillian started . And also thanks for explanation of churassco. I have heard this before but had no idea what was it. Now I know. Thanks for all the great information.

    • I am glad you found my article to be interesting. I love to find out how other countries grill and the history and traditions behind their version of grilling. I have found that all countries grill but they are all different. Grilling is the oldest form of cooking there is and I want to try them all. I try the major recipes like the picanha for every country to see how it tastes and to find out how easy or difficult it may be to do.
      I will be doing the same on all countries and your country will be one that I do. Check back often and see if I have done an article on your country and how close I am to the history that you are aware of and please comment on what I have written. If you find that I am wrong then let me know and I will update my site with the correction.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Brazilian-style grilling and it’s interesting history. I can certainly see why they started using skewers to make their travels easier and their food more accessible. 

    I will say, though, that the thought of hanging the beef around the horse’s neck is not at all appealing!  

    It’s good to learn about the traditions of other countries and the traditions around food are varied while at the same time the same, if you know what I mean. Thanks for this lesson on grilling!

    Cheryl K

    • It does have a fascinating history. The gauchos took what the Indians were doing and improved it. The reason for putting the meat on the horse was for the meat to absorb the salt from the sweat. I know that today no one would want to do that but this was 400 years ago and salt was not as readily available as it is today. I would be afraid of getting horse hair in my food but I suppose if I had enough of them I could always make a paint brush and paint the beautiful vistas that I saw.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I will be doing this on every country. Check back and see if I have done your native country and I will be happy to include any tips you have for your area.

  5. Hi Jerry,  I loved reading your article, because I LOVE history and food.

    You know it’s funny because I’ve had the same experience with butchers myself and I never thought to get a meat chart to help me explain what kind of meat I was looking for. It’s funny how we over look things like that.  Thanks for helping me with the chart.

    I also love the fact that you can grill meat with just rock salt and have a great tasting dinner.  I can’t wait to try the recipe for myself.



    • I had a problem getting the butcher at the local market to understand what I was talking about and the thought came to me of a butcher’s chart. You do not see those any more. I remembered when I was a kid and also when I was in FFA that there was always a chart of the different cuts and where they came from so I compared the United States version and the Brazilian version and they were greatly different. You can print one out by going to google and searching up Brazilian cuts of beef. You can also use kosher salt instead of rock salt both give a wonderful experience. I found I made a mistake in my research you will want your grill to be hot and slow. Put your pinacha on the slow end.
      I like the history of grilling for the simple fact that it is the oldest form of cooking there is. I have found it fascinating how much it varies from country to country and region to region. The spices area different as well as the attitude.

  6. I absolutely love Brazilian BBQ.  There are a few places in Niagara Falls and Toronto that have amazing Brazilian BBQ.  The meat is so tender and flavourful.  

    This was a really interesting history lesson on how it all started and how they cook the meat.  I wish I could do this at home, but I don’t have a BBQ big enough or a rotisserie. Any suggestions on how cook it just like they do in the restaurants?

    • One thing I found out from experience is to put the picanha on the slow end of the grill and turn it a quarter turn by hand every 15 minutes and it will cook evenly. If you have a meat thermometer after about 1 1/2 hours check to see what the temperature is 120F is medium rare, 130 is medium and 140 is well done. If you do not have rock salt to rub on the meat then use kosher salt. I have tried it both ways and both ways are wonderful. If you have any other questions just send me an email and I will answer it for you.

  7. Hi

    I love learning new things and this article did not disappoint.

    Learning the Churrasco way of cooking seems very interesting.  I am now thinking of trying this in the summer on the BBQ

    It is always amazing to me the amount of different ways of cooking the same thing.

    Thank you for this article I will be sharing this with my friends and family so that we can arrange a BBQ event in the summer.


    • Not only is it amazing to try new ways of cooking but the tastes and textures are so different as well. I tried the picanha when I was doing my research and the results were amazing. I have a 2 1/2 year old granddaughter that is extremely hard to cook for until it comes to grilled food then her radar goes to high alert. Her father and I can grill the exact same thing at the same time and she chooses mine every time. When I did the picanha, she almost hurt herself since she at around 5 ounces at one sitting. She ate all of her sides as well that I had grilled. I would be happy to get back to you with some Brazilian recipes. One of the brothers in an organization has moved to the United States from Brazil and we are exchanging recipes on our favorite grilled items. This way you will have a recipe from a true Brazilian. These are recipes his mother has passed on to him.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I am doing this for every country to see how many variations there are. Plus it is a lot of fun since I have been grilling for over 40 years. I like a good challenge. Please check back often to see if I have posted from a part of the world you have a particular interest in.

  8. Hi Jerry

    What a fascinating read this was – thank you! And I have to say, my mouth is watering, all while I have learned some interesting facts about Brazil.

    Here in our corner of paradise we only get wooden and stainless steel kebab sticks, but those would be far too short and not strong enough (I would think), for what you have described here. The skewers that the Churrasco is grilled on, what would that be called? I also assume they are much longer and thicker than a kebab skewer, are they?

    Wishing you an awesome day, Jerry!

    • They are much longer and thicker. You can find them at restaurant supply company. They are really good when used on a rotisserie.
      Thanks for the visit.


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