Grilled steak is a classic dish enjoyed all around Buenos Aires. Today we feature a recipe and instructions how to cook the perfect steak, Argentinian style, as if it was straight off the parrilla (BBQ). So read on to learn how to grill a steak like you’re in Argentina.
The quantity of beef consumed in Argentina is quite staggering really but is no surprise once you have tasted beef from stock raised on the famous, Argentine pampas. What makes it so good? We give you the lowdown on the pampas, how steaks and all other meat (and vegetables) are cooked around Buenos Aires as well as nominate some great steak restaurants to sample the fabulous meat. We also visit an estancia, Santa Susana, a great day trip out of Buenos Aires for a great day of parrilla, gauchos and Malbec wine.
The Pampas, Gauchos and the Parrilla
What is the pampas? And why is it so famous for beef (and lamb) production?
The Pampas of South America are flat, fertile plains covering an area of 300,000 sq. miles or 777,000 square kilometers, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Andes Mountains. The pampas is primarily in Argentina and extends into Uruguay. The word Pampas comes from the Guarani Indian word for level plain. The Argentinean Pampas are the home of the ‘Gaucho’, the original South American cowboy. It is a perfect environment for meat production, where beef and lamb abounds.
Indeed, Argentina has always been up there for the highest red meat consumption in the world. It is well ahead of the US on that scale. In years gone past, Argentina was one of the world’s biggest exporters of beef. It has a very mature beef industry that is well regarded.
Gauchos are still revered in Argentina. And yes they still ride horses! Gauchos, work on “estancia” which are very large farms or cattle ranches. For a fabulous day trip from Buenos Aires you can visit Estancia Santa Susana.
Here you can visit the estancia, enjoy fabulous steaks and other meats cooked on the parrilla, and watch a gaucho show to demonstrate their cowboy skills. You can see first hand how to grill a steak in Argentina! And they sing as well! All washed down with fabulous, Argentinian Malbec and other refreshments, From the moment you arrive and greeted with a drink, you feel like a welcome guest. It is a great day for young and old.
But you don’t need to visit an estancia to enjoy a good steak in Buenos Aires. B-A is full of steak restaurants, where the meat is always cooked on the parrilla. Here were some we really enjoyed:
- Cabana Las Lilas. Located in Puerto Madero and a great venue to enjoy one of the best steaks you will ever eat. Try the mega-rump. Enjoy complimentary limoncello and grappa (you can read about Buenos Aires Italian heritage here).
- Lo de Jesus. For us this restaurant won the best value award. The bife de chorizo (sirloin or porterhouse) was excellent.
- La Cabrera. There are 3 locations around Buenos Aires. A little touristy perhaps but there were lots of extras provided in the price without the need to order sides (a common practice in Buenos Aires is that they just serve the meat). We thought it was good value. The bife de chorizo was excellent.
- Don Julio. Popular with the locals and has an excellent reputation. Again, the bife de chorizo was very good. Maybe a little more expensive than the above restaurants.
If you do visit Buenos Aires, it is mandatory to visit a great steak restaurant.
In fact, and to be honest, you probably won’t have a choice. Of all the countries I have visited, this is without doubt the most red-meat society I have observed. And cooking method? On the grill, always! And vegetables? Anything that can be cooked on the grill, think potatoes, bell peppers, onions, squash. Salad? Hmmm what can I say, it is just not a highlight in Buenos Aires!
If you are vegetarian, you will have limited options. OK if you are there for a week you may be ok, there are plenty of vegetarian pizza options, but if there for an extended period, I would learn how to eat red-meat or your options will be seriously limited.
Argentinians frown on cooking steak any more than medium rare and I doubt you would be able to order a steak cooked well done (I’m serious). Argentinian steaks are huge. I was put to shame watching the lady next to me eating a steak twice the size of mine. My male ego was shot to pieces! And Argentinians like to dine late in the evening. Restaurants do not start filling until after 9pm.
How to Grill a Steak Like You’re in Argentina
Now that you have a bit of background as to how important steak is in Buenos Aires, you will be pleased to know the cooking method is quite simple.
The method below assumes you are using an outside BBQ or grill or Weber. Try and buy steaks which are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick, or thicker. And make sure they are at room temperature before you start cooking. I used beef tenderloins (eye fillets) for this recipe.
If you want to know how to grill a steak like you are in Argentina, then just follow the method below and you will see why porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) consider this the (unofficial) national dish of Argentina.
Oh and need a good, red wine to enjoy with that steak? Go to the effort of buying any good, Malbec from Argentina. There is a reason it is considered the best Malbec in the world. Try it with this steak and find out why. You won’t be disappointed.
Want a quintessential South American sauce to accompany the steak? Here is a recipe for chimichurri sauce, found throughout Argentina.